EU Court Sinks Bid to Duck Swordfish Limits

     (CN) – Italian fishermen cannot challenge the European Commission’s restrictions on how they catch swordfish in the Mediterranean Sea, the EU’s general court ruled on Tuesday.
     After determining that Italian fishermen were not complying with all aspects of the EU’s fisheries policy in 2012, the commission created an action plan the following year to bring the industry into line.
     The plan – which specifically addressed the catching of “highly migratory fish” like swordfish – ordered the adoption of new technical gear to the fishermen’s use of traditional small-mesh drift nets, reporting requirements, minimum catch sizes and a substitution for Italy’s lack of satellite surveillance over Mediterranean waters.
     EU regulators also ordered Italy to impose harsher penalties for fishermen who seriously or repeatedly broke the rules.
     Several fishermen associations filed suit in the European General Court to annul the commission’s new regulations. But the court dismissed the action on Tuesday, finding the groups lacked standing under the Treaty of Lisbon to challenge the commission’s action plan.
     Prior to 2009 – when the treaty took effect – individuals could only challenge commission rules addressed specifically to them or that were of direct and individual concern to them. The treaty added a third option, allowing individuals to seek annulment of regulatory acts that concerned them directly but did not involve implementing measures.
     But the Luxembourg-based court noted that the commission lacks the power to impose rules directly on the fishermen, and instead tasks the member state – Italy in this case – with implementing the action plan.
     Furthermore, the court found that the commission’s action plan does not concern the fishermen’s associations individually, since the measures affect all 7,300 vessels licensed by Italy to fish for swordfish equally.
     The legal challenge therefore did not meet the requirements laid out by the Treaty of Lisbon, the court concluded.
     Its opinion was not made available in English.
     The trade groups have 60 days to lodge an appeal with the European Court of Justice.

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