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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Tuna Fishers Lose Spat Over Early Season End

(CN) - The rapid decline of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and Atlantic had led the European Commission to emergency measures in 2008.

It ended the fishing season early and ordered French authorities to revoke commercial fishing licenses two weeks before they expired.

Fishermen in France sued the commission for damages, claiming the early end of the tuna harvest caused them financial hardship. Claiming to have not even met their catch limits when their licenses were revoked, the fishermen alleged unfair persecution.

The EU General Court dismissed the suit in 2012, however, finding that the absence of actual harm cleared the commission of liability. Saying that catch limits did not guarantee a right to fish up to those limits, the court noted that the fishermen still may not have reached their quotas by the time their licenses expired naturally at the end of the season.

Upholding the judgment Tuesday, the European Court of Justice agreed that the commission did not exceed its authority in ending the tuna fishing season early.

The fishermen certainly have the right to pursue their livelihoods, the court said, but regulators also have a legal obligation under EU law to take emergency conservation measures when it has evidence of a "serious threat to the conservation of living aquatic resources or to the marine ecosystem resulting from fishing activities."

When overfishing occurs, the commission need not wait for the end of the season or until fishermen reach their catch limits to close the ocean, the high court ruled.

Since that is what the law requires, the fishermen should have expected it, the court added.

The court did find that the fishermen proved that the revocation of their licenses caused actual harm, but it said that mistake does not invalidate the aforementioned finding for the commission.

An English translation of the ruling was not available.

The European Commission has aggressively fought overfishing, not just in EU waters but worldwide. Also on Tuesday, regulators banned the import of fish products from Sri Lanka in an effort to force the government there to deal what it called "illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing."

Regulators additionally announced plans to lift bans against Belize, Fiji, Panama, Togo and Vanuatu because of strides those countries made strides in tackling overfishing in their waters.

"Our policy of resolute cooperation is yielding results," maritime and fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki said in a statement. "Five countries receive today our appreciation for getting serious on illegal fishing. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Sri Lanka. I hope that the message we are sending today will be a wake-up call for this country."

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