Oceana to mount legal challenge over lack of Spanish data Published: 27 February, 2007
THE conservation group Oceana has announced legal action against Spain’s fishery authorities to guarantee the free access to information that it says is essential for its campaign for the conservation of sharks in Europe
In contrast, Oceana says, the Portuguese government has provided Oceana with all of the information requested regarding its fleet
Oceana has in the meantime voiced disappointment with the Spanish General Secretary of Marine Fisheries (GSMF) over a refusal to supply the list of Spanish fishing boats to which the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food has granted licenses to cut the fins off sharks on board. Oceana says this basic information is necessary for them to carry out investigations related to the conservation and restoration of the marine environment.
A similar letter was also sent to other European Union countries involved in this fishery.
Oceana says that according to the IUCN (World Conservation Union), one third of all elasmobranch species (sharks, rays, saw fish, etc.) in European waters are listed as threatened with extinction and another 20% is at immediate risk of becoming so. Even so, according to Council Regulation (EC) No 1185/2003 on the removal of fins from dead sharks on board vessels, this activity is permitted as long as the vessels have a special fishing permit granted by the Member state. Oceana says it is already aware that in 2005, Spain issued a total of 186 permits to remove fins, but what it has requested from Spains General Secretary of Fisheries are the names of the boats for which these permits have been granted.
But despite the fact that what was requested was routine information regarding a presumably legitimate activity, the Spanish department has denied release of such data under claims that it affects the confidentiality of those carrying out the activity. According to Oceana the Fishery Secretarys attitude contradicts the current governments promises for transparency in public management. Whats more, the ship owners these licences were given to benefit from numerous subsidies coming from public money collected through citizen taxes, and these citizens have a right to know what activities have resulted from their contributions.
“It should be pointed out that, faced with a similar request, the Portuguese General Director of Fisheries and Agriculture did not have any problem with releasing the full list of Portuguese-flagged vessels which have special licenses to remove fins from sharks on board. Oceana has sent a letter of appreciation to the Portuguese administration for the transparency it demonstrated and its willingness to help the organization carry out its work,” says Oceana
Now, the organization has announced its intention to use all the legal initiatives it has in hand to obtain the information requested from the Spanish General Secretary of Fisheries.
This data is necessary, it says, for the organization to carry out its investigations to determine the level of pressure that targeted and accidentally caught shark species are really faced with. Oceana is member of the Shark Alliance, a coalition of more than 20 non-governmental organizations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving European fishing policy. It is a paradox, notes Oceana, that while the Administration and fisheries sector demand rigorousness in claims from conservation organizations, they are at the same time concealing official data that would help their work.
If there is nothing to hide, why not release this information that should be public, without having to demand it? asks Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe. It is unfortunate that we cannot count on the collaboration of the General Secretary of Marine Fisheries in a task that complements, and is in the interest of, those of the Administration.