Italian Fishers Lose Spat Over Early Season End
By WILLIAM DOTINGA
(CN) — Italian fishermen whose bluefin tuna fishing season ended a week earlier than Spanish fishermen did not experience disproportionate discrimination for which the EU can be held liable, the European Court of Justice ruled Wednesday.
In 2008, the European Commission — concerned that bluefin tuna were being overfished — closed the Mediterranean season two weeks early for seine-net fishing fleets flying the flags of Italy, Greece, France, Cyprus and Malta. Seine fishing involves dragging a net through a school of fish congregating near the ocean surface.
But the commission allowed Spanish seine fishermen to continue operating for an extra week, leading to a flurry of discrimination lawsuits by fishermen who were forced to shutdown early.
The European Court of Justice invalidated parts of the commission’s order in 2011, finding that while the regulatory body had the authority to end the fishing season early it should have ended the season for everyone at the same time.
The ruling opened the floodgates for fishermen from the five member states shut down early to sue the European Union for damages.
On Wednesday, the EU high court again noted that giving Spanish fleets an extra week to fish amounted to discrimination. But that discrimination was not severe enough to create noncontractual liability on the commission’s part.
The Luxembourg-based court said that in order to find liability on the part of the EU, three conditions must be satisfied: the commission’s conduct must be unlawful; there must be real and definable damage; and the damage must be directly caused by the unlawful conduct.
However, because the commission’s order also forced Spanish fleets to end their season early and was tied to the goal of conservation and recovery of the bluefin tuna stock rather than to giving Spanish fishermen an unfair advantage, the EU high court said the breach of the principle of nondiscrimination was not serious enough to warrant a finding of liability.
The high court’s opinion was not made available in English by press time.