Greenpeace welcomed Thursday (5 July) a proposal (1) tabled by the European Commission which will prevent the use of EU public money for the transfer of fishing vessels to Flag of Convenience (FOC) countries. The criteria proposed by the Commission is to deny subsidies to EU companies whenever they want to re-flag their vessels to countries that have been identified by the relevant fisheries organisations as countries that permit pirate fishing – fishing “in a manner which jeopardises the effectiveness of international conservation measures” (2).

So far, EU boat owners were perfectly entitled to request EU public funding to transfer their vessels permanently to FOC countries such as Belize, Honduras and the like. This proposal signals a significant change in policy – so far the EU was just happy to get rid of fishing vessels no matter where they went.

” The European Commission proposal is a promising step in the right direction”, said Hélène Bours of Greenpeace International. “The least the EU can do is to stop encouraging its member states to reflag to FOCs. Now, the EU must also consider measures to actively prevent EU companies from owning or operating such pirate vessels.”

Greenpeace estimates that there are some 1300 industrial-scale fishing vessels flying flags of convenience. The “registered” owners of the vessels are located in some 80 countries, but most are based in Taiwan, the European Union (primarily Spain), Panama, Belize and Honduras (3).

Despite hosting the majority of EU companies owning or operating FOC fishing vessels, Spain is likely to support this proposal. Indeed, Spain has begun to tackle the problem and has adopted new national legislation which allows the Spanish authorities to withdraw the licence of Spanish skippers involved in illegal, unregulated or unreported fishing, which includes FOC fishing.

Greenpeace has been actively campaigning against pirate fishing. In the past two years, it conducted two ship expeditions in the Southern Ocean and one to the Atlantic Ocean to document pirate fishing for Chilean seabass (Patagonian toothfish) and tuna.

Greenpeace demands that governments:

  • close ports to FOC fishing and support vessels; · close markets to FOC-caught fish;
  • close or otherwise prevent companies and nationals from owning or operating FOC fishing and support vessels.

Finally, EU institutions are concerned about the impact of FOC fishing and are starting to act.

The proposal tabled by the EU Commission is an amendment to the EU regulation on subsidies in fisheries, the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG). The proposal will now be referred to the European Parliament for consultation and to the EU Council of fisheries ministers for adoption. The next meeting of EU ministers is on 22 October. The European Parliament has already recommended that FIFG be amended in that sense.

The European Parliament held a hearing on FOC fishing on 19 June, with representatives of the French and Spanish governments, the FAO, the European and Japanese fishing industry and NGOs. There was a broad consensus that FOC fishing was a plague that needed to be eliminated through a wide range of measures, including port and market measures as well as measures to prevent nationals from being engaged in or supporting FOC fishing. The European Parliament will adopt a report and a resolution on this matter this fall.

Hélène Bours, Greenpeace International, tel. +32 844 77 177
Luisa Colasimone, Greenpeace Press Desk, mobile +31 6 21 29 69 20
Greenpeace report ” Pirate Fishing Plundering the Oceans” is available at


  1. Proposal for a COUNCIL REGULATION amending Regulation (EC) No 2792/1999 laying down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector (COM(2001) 322 final) “Fishing under flags of convenience is an increasing concern for the European Union. Article 19 of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU) says: “States shall discourage their nationals from flagging vessels under the jurisdiction of a State which does not meet its flag State responsibilities”. The European Community has agreed to this Plan. Although Article 7(3)(b)(i) of Regulation (EC) No 2792/1999 already provides for restrictions on IUU, the Commission finds it appropriate to reinforce them. For this reason the proposed amendment to the FIFG Regulation prohibits the granting of public aid for the transfer of vessels to third countries that have been identified by the relevant fisheries organisations as countries that permit fishing “in a manner which jeopardises the effectiveness of international conservation measures”.”

  2. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has identified 11 countries as engaging in fishing activities that undermine the effectiveness of its management and conservation measures: Belize, Cambodia, Guinea-Conakry, Equatorial Guinea, Honduras, Kenya, Philippines, Singapore, Sierra Leone, St Vincent & the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago.

  3. Top 10 countries where the owner companies of the FOC flagged vessels are based (Country of ‘Beneficial Ownership’) :

Country # of FOC Vessels owned by companies based in country

Taiwan 169

European Union* 168

Belize 145

Panama 121

Honduras 109

Singapore 62

South Korea 52

Japan 41

China 37

Equatorial Guinea 36

Lloyd’s Maritime Information Services 1999. Spain/Canary Islands (116), Portugal (12), Greece (11), UK (10), Denmark (4), France (4), Ireland (4), Netherlands (3), Italy (2), Finland (1), Sweden (1)