Oceana announces legal action to guarantee the free access to information that is essential for its campaign for the conservation of sharks in Europe.
In contrast, the Portuguese government has provided Oceana with all of the information requested regarding its fleet.
Oceana, the international marine conservation organization, has expressed its disappointment with the Spanish General Secretary of Marine Fisheries’ (GSMF) denial to supply the list of Spanish fishing boats to which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food has granted licenses to cut the fins off sharks on board. This basic information is necessary for Oceana to carry out investigations related to the conservation and restoration of the marine environment.
This January, as part of its campaign for the conservation of sharks in European waters, Oceana addressed a letter to the Spanish General Secretary of Fisheries, Juan Carlos Martín Fragueiro, requesting information on the shark fishery undertaken by the Spanish fishing fleet. A similar letter was also sent to other European Union countries involved in this fishery.
In particular, Oceana requested the list of Spanish-flagged vessels that have licenses to remove the fins from sharks on board -- data which is essential to increase knowledge and improve management of sharks in Europe, as intense fisheries pressure in the past decades has provoked a considerable decline in their populations. 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 is already aware that in 2005, Spain issued a total of 186 permits to remove fins, but what it requests from the General Secretary of Fisheries are the names of the boats for which these permits have been granted.
Despite the fact that what was requested was routine information regarding a presumably legitimate activity, the GSMF has denied release of such data under claims that it affects the confidentiality of those carrying out the activity. As a foundation statutorily tasked to protect common interests regarding marine resources, Oceana has criticized this denial to supply the data which the organization believes it has a right to have. According to the organization, the Fishery Secretary’s attitude contradicts the current government’s promises for transparency in public management. What’s more, the ship owners these licenses 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.
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 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.”