NGOs Applaud Creation of Sanction System to Tackle Mediterranean Overfishing and Illegal Fishing

Date: November 10, 2023

Crucial step towards building a culture of compliance

Split, Croatia, November 10, 2023:NGOs today commended the decision by Mediterranean states to create a sanction system that will empower the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) to take action against countries which continue overfishing or illegal fishing, calling it “a crucial step towards building a culture of compliance, which is essential to start rebuilding Mediterranean fish populations”.

FR: Les ONG applaudissent la création d’un système de sanctions pour combattre la surpêche et la pêche illicite en Méditerranée

ES: Las ONG aplauden la creación de un sistema de sanciones para hacer frente a la sobrepesca y a la pesca ilegal en el Mediterráneo

AR: المنظمات غير الحكومية تدعو إلى اتخاذ إجراءات عاجلة: تدابير صون وحماية الثروة السمكية والنظم البيئية في البحر الأبيض المتوسط

The binding recommendation adopted by the GFCM during this week’s meeting in Croatia (GFCM 46) will finally allow the organisation to act against member states who fail to adhere to its conservation measures, using a system that will go into force in 2025 [1]. Together, the 22 GFCM member states (plus the EU) can now take action if a member fails to stop its trawl fleet from fishing in no-trawl areas, or if a member does not respect GFCM rules on fishing gear or catch restrictions. 

“After decades of inaction against illegal fishing and Mediterranean countries not complying with the rules, times are changing”, said Helena Álvarez, Senior Marine Scientist at Oceana in Europe. “Starting in 2025, the GFCM will finally have the power to make its members act against those who fail to adhere to catch or landing requirements or those who do not stop trawlers from fishing in areas where it’s forbidden”. 

Measures that can be taken by GFCM will include, for example, a restriction of fishing authorisations or a reduction of the allowed fishing days at sea. However, the NGOs say that it is crucial that the system is completed with further available sanctions, in order to also tackle a failure to provide the required data or to conduct port controls. 

“The measures taken by the GFCM will ensure better compliance with all the conservation and management measures adopted within the framework of this organisation,” said Nils Courcy, Senior Jurist, Marine & Mediterranean, at ClientEarth. “Compliance with the rules adopted by the GFCM members is an essential step towards improving the status of fish stocks and marine ecosystems in the Mediterranean. This new recommendation and the clear intentions announced by the GFCM to extend it to the monitoring, control and reporting obligations by ‘2026 at the latest’ are much needed improvements to secure a healthy marine environment in the Mediterranean”. 

“We have a breakthrough in the protection of Mediterranean fish populations and marine ecosystems”, said Steve Trent, CEO and Founder of the Environmental Justice Foundation. “The GFCM will now be able to sanction breaches of conservation rules, which is a vital step on the road to recovery. The success of conservation efforts in the Mediterranean basin will depend in large part on how effectively this tool is implemented and enforced and I urge GFCM members to apply it fully when the rules are broken.”

Ahead of the meeting, NGOs urged the adoption of a system of sanctions that would allow the GFCM to tackle illegal fishing and cases of non-compliance within its region – a call backed by a legal analysis published this week that shows that GFCM has the competency to impose such measures [2]. 



Dave Walsh, Med Sea Alliance Communications Advisor,, +34 691 826 764 


[1] General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean – GFCM

46th session of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), 6-10 November 2023

More more details, contact 

[2] NGOs Call for Urgent Action: Conservation Measures Vital for Protection of Mediterranean Fisheries and Ecosystems, November 6, 2023

Scovazzi, T., and Vezzani, S. (2023) Legal opinion on compliance and corrective measures in the GFCM system.

Professor Tullio Scovazzi, retired; former professor of international law in the Universities of Parma, Genoa, Milan and Milan-Bicocca, Italy.

Professor Simone Vezzani, associate professor of international and European Union law, University of Perugia, Italy.

The legal analysis by Professor Tullio Scovazzi – retired former professor of international law at the Universities of Parma, Genoa, Milan and Milan-Bicocca, Italy – and Professor Simone Vezzani, – professor of international and European law at the University of Perugia, Italy – confirmed that the GFCM has the competency to impose corrective measures in cases of non-compliance [3]. The analysis was commissioned by the Med Sea Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organisations working to improve the health and productivity of the Mediterranean Sea, in response to questions raised during the GFCM Compliance Committee meeting in May 2023 about the compatibility of such a system with international law [4]. The legal analysis concludes that the current lack of a compliance mechanism is not a legal, but rather a political question

According to a briefing on the legal analysis, prepared by ClientEarth, Environmental Justice Foundation and Oceana, “in accordance with international law and GFCM rules, the GFCM has the competence to establish a system that incentivises and ensures compliance through robust corrective measures, including trade-related sanctions [5]. Setting up such a system would also bring the GFCM in line with the practice of several other Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs)”. 

Briefing on the legal analysis: The legal case for an effective GFCM compliance mechanism

ClientEarth, Environmental Justice Foundation and Oceana, October 2023.

About the Med Sea Alliance

The Med Sea Alliance is a campaign movement created in 2020 to bring together non-governmental organizations and networks working to improve the health and productivity of the Mediterranean Sea.

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