BLOOM calls on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the massive fraud of Dutch industrial fishing

As the United Nations’ Ocean Conference opens today in Lisbon, BLOOM requests the European Public Prosecutor’s Office to open a judicial enquiry following revelations made by BLOOM and Mediapart on a massive public subsidies fraud, facilitated by the Dutch government and which benefited industrial fishers during the COVID-19 crisis.

The investigation on the allocation of COVID aid in the Netherlands, conducted by BLOOM and Mediapart, originated from a French fisher’s alert, who suspected significant public subsidies fraud from the Dutch industrial fishing fleet. The results of our study show that more than 95% of the Dutch vessels that received a COVID subsidy cheated to various degrees and unduly received 5.8 million euros between 15 May 2020 and 3 December 2020. The Dutch government’s complicity with its industrial fishing fleet is caught red-handed: on the one hand, the state arbitrarily excluded small-scale fishing (vessels under 12m) from its aid scheme; on the other hand, it turned a blind eye to the fraud committed by vessels when they did not comply with the subsidy allocation criteria.

For the first time, BLOOM is using the new judicial tool that the European Public Prosecutor’s Office represents for citizens. Active since 1 June 2021, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office is responsible for “investigating, prosecuting and bringing to judgment crimes against the financial interests of the EU”.[2] It is possibly the first time that a case of fraud against the Union’s financial interests in the field of industrial fisheries is brought before the Prosecutor’s Office.

The creation of the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office is a great opportunity for BLOOM to demand integrity and fairness with regards to fisheries subsidies. Other tools such as the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), have proven unable to overcome their internal conflicts of interest and put an end to corruption, abuse, or influence in the fishing sector,”[3] noted Laetitia Bisiaux, a researcher at BLOOM and co-author of the study. Since the appointment of Romanian anti-corruption magistrate Laura Codruța Kövesi as its chief prosecutor, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office indeed raises citizen hopes of a judicial organization with integrity and significant powers.[4]

Just when the UN Ocean Conference opens, our investigation questions the States’ true intentions, behind political postures, to act against the climate and biodiversity crises, and to implement “major structural transformations and common shared solutions that are anchored in the SDGs”.[5]The complicity of the Dutch government, the lack of transparency and the systemic fraud of industrial fishing must be condemned. Public money should only be used for one thing: the rapid transition of the fishing sector to a model that serves the recovery of marine ecosystems and coastal economies,” said Frédéric Le Manach, scientific director of BLOOM and co-author of the study.

Through its report, BLOOM hopes for an investigation and a rapid clean-up of the fraudulent practices of industrial fishers, which are often made possible by the tacit and sometimes explicit support of political networks.

These practices harm ecosystems, fishers, and the trust that citizens have in our democracies.

To go further

In response to the health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in April 2020 the European Union amended certain rules of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF, 2014-2020[6]) to quickly release temporary cessation aid for the fisheries sector.

This type of subsidy was intended to compensate fishers who were forced to remain in port, i.e. without fishing, for their loss of revenue. The European Commission hence proposed on April 2, 2020, to amend the EMFF Regulation. These measures were adopted by the Parliament and the Council of the European Union on April 23, 2020, in the form of Regulation (EU) 2020/560, which entered into force two days later. Following these changes at EU level, each Member State was responsible for deciding on the allocation criteria of these temporary cessations.

In 2021, BLOOM analysed the COVID aid allocated to the French fisheries sector and showed that the most powerful companies and the most destructive fishing practices (such as bottom trawling, dredging, and demersal seining) were the main beneficiaries.[7]This situation was the direct result of the discriminatory allocation criteria introduced by the French government, which BLOOM denounced as soon as they were published.

Our new study concerns the allocation of COVID subsidies in the Netherlands. BLOOM is well aware of the Dutch lobbies and public authorities’ harmful practices for the environment, coastal economies and democracy. Our team indeed fought for over two years to obtain a ban on electric fishing, a fishing method developed by the Dutch industry and deployed on a commercial scale while trampling on European law. Throughout its campaign, BLOOM identified and exposed countless lies and cheating by Dutch industrial fishers and their policymakers.[8]

Notes and references

[1] https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/eppo/

[2] Only Member States and the European Commission have the power to refer cases to the Court of Justice of the European Union. Prior to the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, BLOOM had reported another grant fraud in 2018 to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Our complaint, despite its evident merits, was closed without our knowledge. See: https://www.bloomassociation.org/en/corruption-commission-olaf/

[3] See for example: https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2019/07/31/les-defis-europeens-de-laura-codruta-kovesi-icone-de-la-justice-roumaine_5495134_3232.html

[4] https://www.un.org/en/conferences/ocean2022

[5] Regulation (EU) No 508/2014, available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32014R0508

[6] 82.5% (i.e. 12.2 million EUR) of COVID subsidies were allocated to vessels using destructive fishing methods. Furthermore, seven companies/groups representing only 0.8% (53 vessels) of the French fleet received 28.5% of all subsidies. Our scientific publication is available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X21002815

[7] See the reports on electric fishing fraud: “Hand in hand” https://www.bloomassociation.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/electric-fishing-moral-corruption.pdf or “Beyond illegal” http://www.bloomassociation.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/beyond-illegal.pdf

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