The European Union agreed Tuesday on tougher penalties to counter illegal fishing, considered a major cause of the depletion of fish stocks in European waters, particularly of prized cod and bluefin tuna.
The penalties include fishing boats being banned after four infarctions and fines being imposed on member states failing to enforce controls.
Illegal fishing has been blamed for dwindling fish populations over the past two decades, and the EU has been unable to crack down on the practice. Outdated regulations have failed to deter fishermen from landing protected fish illegally at a high profit.
Under the new rules agreed Tuesday, ships will be monitored by satellites and logs surveyed electronically to make sure that they do not overfish and bring in illegal catches.
"A major problem with overfishing is that certain fishers intent on beating the system can do so almost unnoticed," said EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg. "Now, it has become much more difficult."
Fines and penalties used to be so insignificant that fishermen would simply include them in the cost of the operation and still make a profit if they got caught.
"With the new control regulation the dissuasive element is significantly strengthened so it is no longer so easy for fishers to carry out illegal activities," Borg said.
Under the new rules, recreational fishermen landing threatened fish such as cod in the North Sea and bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean will not have their catches included in their nation's catch quotas, but surveillance will be increased to determine what impact their catches have on overall stocks.
The PEW environmental group estimated last year that the cost of illegal fishing to EU member states by 2020 will be euro10 billion ($15 billion) in lost catches, and euro8 billion ($12 billion) of lost fishing stock value.
PEW's Uta Bellion said Tuesday's decision "emphasizes the pressing need to reverse some of the damage done by overfishing, such as decreased fish stocks and fewer fishing jobs." She insisted it should go hand in hand with measures to further cut the EU's bloated fleet, a prime reason for illegal fishing in the first place.