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Fishing industry rep calls ICIJ investigation an ‘explosive cocktail that damages the Spaniards’

Nine organizations of the Spanish fishing industry attacked ICIJ's 'Looting the Seas II' investigation during a press conference in Madrid. Photo: Mar Cabra

MADRID — The latest investigation of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is part of an “international campaign against Spain and its fishing industry," representatives of the Spanish fishing industry announced at a press conference held today in front of the Spanish Fishing Secretariat in Madrid.

ICIJ’s investigation published earlier this month in leading international media outlets, including Spain's El Mundo and El País, exposed how the Spanish fishing industry has received more than $8 billion (€5.8 billion) in subsidies since 2000 to expand its capacity and global reach. The analysis showed that nearly one-in-three fish caught on a Spanish hook or raised in a Spanish farm is paid for with public money. That public fortune supports a fleet with an extensive record of flouting regulations and breaking the law. It also spurs the depletion of threatened fish stocks.

After the publication of ICIJ’s investigation, the European Union’s top fisheries official, Commissioner Maria Damanaki, said her office is investigating Spanish shipowners’ involvement in illegal fishing and possible misappropriations of EU funding. The probe into the Spanish fishing industry has also prompted a parliamentary question in the Dutch Parliament and moved Europe’s largest department store, El Corte Inglés, to pull out a batch of more than a ton of mislabeled fish from its shelves. The series is the latest installment of Looting the Seas, an ongoing investigation into the forces that are rapidly depleting ocean resources.

Nine industry groups present at the press conference said they wrote a letter to the Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, asking for the government’s support. Trade unions initially had been included in the campaign, but those groups were absent from the letter produced by the industry. One trade group announced it did not agree with the campaign's "tone and objectives." A draft of the letter provided to the press does not allege inaccuracy in ICIJ's reporting. Instead, it focuses on some ICIJ’s funding sources – foundations such as Adessium in the Netherlands, Waterloo in the UK and the Oak Foundation in Switzerland. ICIJ is the international arm of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, an independent, nonprofit investigative journalism organization. CPI and ICIJ make all their funding information available on their website.

“The figures are tweaked," said Javier Garat, Spain’s main fishing lobbyist and secretary general of the Spanish fishing confederation, Cepesca. "True and false information is mixed in order to have an explosive cocktail that damages the Spaniards.”

When asked to identify inaccuracies in ICIJ’s investigation, the groups did not provide specific examples. Garat said Cepesca is still reading the articles to give a more detailed response. He criticized the inclusion of fuel tax breaks as subsidies.

According to ICIJ’s calculations, since 2000, the Spanish fishing sector has avoided paying $2.7 billion (€2 billion) in taxes on fuel to the Spanish Treasury. Organizations such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank as well as renowned economists consider this form of public aid a subsidy.

(Read more about ICIJ’s methodology here.)

The industry representatives also criticized recent reports on Spain and EU-wide fishing subsidies by the environmental groups Greenpeace and Oceana.

The European Union is currently revamping its Common Fisheries Policy, a legislation that affects its 27 members and will rule for approximately a decade. At the same time, Brussels officials are determining how much and what types of fishing subsidies to provide the industry. Spain is the EU’s most powerful fishing fleet and has received one-third of all the EU’s direct fishing aid since 2000 –far more than any other member state.

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