Major concerns raised as Netherlands acknowledges lack of control in fisheries sector

Published on December 13, 2023

In a startling revelation, the Netherlands has publicly acknowledged the likelihood of unchecked fish illegally entering the EU market. The disclosure unfolded as the Hague Administrative Court issued a ruling on the matter.

Environmental law organization ClientEarth and the Low Impact Fisheries of Europe (LIFE) took legal action against the Dutch authorities, asserting that lax catch checking procedures had left the door wide open for fish fraud. This claim gained momentum following a newspaper investigation exposing the responsibility of just two individuals in ensuring the legality of the thousands of tons of fish brought ashore each week. The Netherlands has the home ports of some of three world largest fishing vessels, freezer trawlers of more than 100 meters long that fish for small pelagic fish like herring, whiting and mackerel and land these in huge tonnage.

The court ruling, while citing a lack of specificity in the complaint against the Dutch authorities due to the challenges of accessing pertinent data, acknowledged the admissions made by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Safety Authority (NVWA) and government throughout the case. This confirmation aligns precisely with the primary objective of ClientEarth and LIFE in bringing the case to court, making it imperative for the Netherlands to take decisive action to improve fisheries control. Already as the cases progressed, the NVWA started to put the wheels in motion on portside security improvements, promising to significantly increase the staff employed for catch control, implement a new method for port checks, and check vessels called reefers that previously fell outside of their scope.

With approximately 400 million kilograms of seafood passing through the Netherlands’ ports annually, constituting roughly a third of EU quotas for the bloc’s most sought-after stocks, the implications of potential fraud are far-reaching. At the core of the EU’s efforts to combat overfishing lies the establishment of quotas, along with stringent monitoring and documentation of all incoming catches to ensure compliance. However, structural shortcomings within the control authority raise concerns about the potential entry of illegal seafood into the market at a significant scale, posing a threat to ocean protection and risking the presence of unlawfully caught fish on consumers’ plates.

Compounding these issues, the European Commission has initiated an ongoing infringement proceeding due to serious apprehensions regarding fisheries control in the Netherlands.

The revelation and subsequent court ruling underscore the urgency for the Netherlands to address these systemic failures and implement robust measures to safeguard the integrity of its fisheries sector, thereby preserving ocean ecosystems and ensuring the delivery of legally caught seafood to consumers.