An EU study says inspection authorities in 15 EU states, including Ireland, are failing to manage engine power as a way of controlling fishing effort.
Physical engine power verifications conducted on board 68 fishing vessels across 14 of the 15 member states surveyed found “misreporting” to be a “widespread phenomenon”, the report says.
The report for the EU Maritime Affairs and Fisheries directorate found that “measured” engine power exceeded “certified” engine power in 51% of inspections.
This meant vessels certified to catch a certain amount of fish were, in theory, able to catch more.
Engine power is regarded as a good indicator of fishing effort, and also indicates the size of gear that can be towed and speed of same.
The report also found there were “secondary indications of non-compliance” in some 16% of inspected vessels. There were “no indications of non-compliance” in some 35% of vessels inspected.
In Ireland, the inspections took place in Killybegs, Co Donegal, in conjunction with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) and the Marine Survey Office (MSO).
The report says “secondary” indicators of non-compliance were detected and outlines issues found on two unnamed vessels.
One one of the vessels, evidence of tampering with engine settings prior to the physical verification was found. “An explanation for the fact that only indirect evidence has been found could be that the owners of the vessels were informed about the verification by the local authorities earlier than as agreed with the contractor,” the report says.
Verifications were conducted in co-operation with member state authorities and were meant to take place on an “unannounced basis”.
The SFPA confirmed that, as the national single authority, it assisted the commission inspection team in co-ordinating inspections in Ireland “at their request”.
“The verification inspections were undertaken on an unannounced basis and conducted by EU appointed inspectors, accompanied by an inspector from the MSO,” the SFPA statement said.
In the case of the Spanish fleet, the EU report says several cases of a “substantial magnitude” of non-compliance were found. In spite of several attempts, the consultants were unable to conduct verifications in Greece.
The report says authorities in Germany, Ireland, and Scotland questioned the authority of their own inspectors to conduct physical engine power verifications. It also notes that member states did not have the authority to require co-operation from vessel owners.
The report notes that only 11 of the 15 EU states studied have implemented a sampling plan, and five states conducted verification only once from 2012 to 2014. Some six states selected a sample of vessels for verification on a recurring basis, as in every six or 12 months.
The report says the certification system “needs to be improved” in all EU states.