European Commissioner Karmenu Vella, responsible for fisheries, today condemned “infringements and malpractices” that have led to the suspension of the director of Malta’s fisheries department director, Andreina Fenech Farrugia.
“We strongly condemn the infringements and malpractices as reported by the Spanish Guardia Civil under ‘Operation Tarantelo’. They are in breach of EU and international rules and as such cannot be tolerated,” Vella said in a statement.
The European Commission has been in contact with all the relevant national authorities and other relevant actors in this operation (i.e. Europol) to follow up on the ongoing Tarantelo investigation, which is now at the level of the “Audiciencia Nacional” in Spain.
We stand ready to provide any further assistance that may be required to the relevant authorities working on the ‘Operation Tarantelo’,” Vella said.
Andreina Fenech Farrugia, was suspended following allegations that she demanded money from a major Spanish tuna operator.
Environment Minister Jose Herrera has confirmed that he had suspended the official after Spanish news outlet El Confidential published leaked phone intercepts by the Spanish authorities allegedly showing how Farrugia asked Spanish bluefin tuna kingpin José Fuentes García for payment.
She is denying the allegations.
A commission spokesman also provided answers to the following questions:
Is it true that the DG MARE Director General met Ms Farrugia on 20 June 2018 in Bulgaria to discuss about Bluefin tuna? What problem did he have to fix?
The Director General of DG MARE was in Bulgaria for an informal meeting of the Directors General from all Member States organised by the Bulgarian Presidency to discuss the Commission’s proposal for a control regulation. He participated in that meeting and had no bilateral meeting with Ms Farrugia.
What has the European Commission done to react to the Operation Tarantelo?
The European Commission has been in contact with all the relevant national authorities and other relevant actors in this operation (i.e. Europol) to follow up on the ongoing Tarantelo investigation, which resulted in 79 arrests and is now at the level of the “Audiciencia Nacional” in Spain. Moreover, the European Commission conducts regular audits in tuna farms. An audit in Maltese tuna farms, carried out in October 2018, highlighted a number of shortcomings.
The Commission takes the findings very seriously. We are now in the process of discussing corrective measures with the Maltese authorities as a matter of priority. Other measures may be taken by the European Commission in line with the Treaty. The Commission will continue to closely monitor and scrutinise the activities of blue fin tuna fisheries in all member states concerned.
Furthermore, the European Commission is working with all Member States concerned and with the European Fisheries Control Measures to strengthen ICCAT control measures applicable to Bluefin tuna and in particular to farms.
How is it possible that this situation has gone unnoticed for so long?
It is important to note that this case was originally detected because of food safety issues, which eventually led to wider ramifications in terms of non-respect of fisheries rules.
The fishery for BFT from the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean is often considered as the most controlled fishery in the world. Nevertheless, this fishery has also some specificities which make it challenging to control, in particular in relation to live fish being kept in farming installations.
The practices reported by the Spanish Guardia Civil show a high degree of sophistication in the malpractices involving several companies and nationals in a number of EU Member States operating in full coordination to ensure the secrecy of their activities.
The results of the Spanish Guardia Civil’s investigation clearly show the need to consider the tightening of control rules for BFT farming and the revision of traceability rules to avoid the marketing of illegal fish. The European Commission is working on such measures with EU Member States and the EFCA at both EU and ICCAT levels.
What can be done to avoid that this happens in the future? Are there any other legal loopholes that we would need to close?
We have carefully taken note of the events reported by the Guardia Civil. We are also analysing the information collected by the Commission’s inspectors to decide on possible amendments to the current legal framework and/or update the existing monitoring, control and surveillance practices.
Could the reported practices have an impact on the status of the stock and on the BFT total allowable catch (TAC)? Does it need to be revised?
For the time being we have no clear estimate of the BFT quantities concerned, the origin of the fish and the possible ICCAT Contracting Parties involved. It is therefore difficult to evaluate if these illegal catches might have an impact which would require revisiting the TAC agreed in 2017 in ICCAT for the year 2018.
There have been reports that the illegal trade in the Bluefin tuna fishery is twice as large as the legal trade. Can you confirm this?
This refers to the illegal quantities imported by the operators under the Tarantelo investigation in Spain. Despite some wider ramifications in other Member States, this corresponds to only a small portion of the legal trade for Bluefin tuna, and one should be careful to extrapolate the results from this case onto the entire fishery.
How is the European Commission cooperating with the national authorities?
There are a number of EU legal provisions (notably EU IUU Regulation 1005/2008 and Control Regulation 1224/2009) laying down the repartition of competences between the EU and its Member States in cases related to fisheries infringements.
Member States are responsible for undertaking investigations related to fisheries infringements in conformity with their national laws. They also need to establish a system of sanctions in their legal system for those infringements, ensure the liability of legal persons and take the appropriate measures against the nationals involved.
The European Commission cannot replace the national authorities in their responsibilities, but we stand ready to offer any assistance that may be required.
Having said this, in accordance with the powers conferred to the Commission by the Control Regulation, the Commission may carry out its own verifications or inspections in Member States and to private operators. In this particular case, the Commission has recently deployed its inspection teams in selected BFT farms to verify compliance with EU and ICCAT rules. The analysis of those inspections’ findings will establish whether additional action may be required from Member States. We are in also in the process of contacting other ICCAT Contracting Parties in order to request further clarification on possible ramifications of this operation in non-EU countries.
What are the autonomous tools available for the European Commission to take action in cases like this one?
The European Commission, as the guardian of the Treaties, is responsible to ensure that Member States properly comply and implement the relevant EU Regulations and the rules of international organisations to which we are signatories.
In this regard, we are pleased to see that the Guardia Civil has taken swift action against the very serious infringements reported in their press release. We look forward to a prompt decision by the court.
For those cases where there are legal persons or nationals from other Member States involved we encourage now the relevant authorities to follow suit and take appropriate action.
As noted above (see previous question), in addition to the role of the European Commission as watchdog of the Treaties, the Commission may undertake its own inspections in Member States.
What does the Commission intend to do from now on?
We will continue to follow up the case in coordination with the authorities of the relevant Member States to ensure that appropriate action is taken and that the EU Regulations are fully complied with.
The European Commission will also use its powers in the framework of the EU legislation including through inspections and verifications in the concerned Member States and appropriate follow-up actions.
We will assess the findings of the recent Commission’s inspection to a number of BFT farms to reflect on how to improve the current legal framework and/or update the system of monitoring control and surveillance.
In parallel, we will continue working with ICCAT Contracting Parties to strengthen control activities in Bluefin tuna farms in the framework of the new adopted Bluefin Tuna managed plan (to be completed by B2)
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