Original publication: February 2016
Authors: Blomeyer & Sanz: Mike Beke, Roland Blomeyer
Short link to this study: http://bit.ly/2HNtZ9r
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Objectives and methodology
Social and Economic Impact of the Penalty Point System

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The European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries commissioned Blomeyer & Sanz to conduct a research study on the social and economic impact of the penalty point system for serious fisheries infringements. The purpose of the research study is to assess the impact of the system on working conditions. The main research questions are:

  • What is the socioeconomic impact of the penalty point system on different fleet segments?
  • How accessible and transparent are the regulations and it implementation?

Data has been collected from August 2015 to the end of October 2015, through desk research, stakeholder interviews and surveys.


The European Union (EU) has established the Common Fisheries Policy in order to manage the European fishing fleet and conserve fish stocks. The rules aim to manage common resources, provide equal access to EU waters and allow for fair competition. To enforce the common rules, the EU established a control system that: ensures that allowed quantities of fish are caught; collects relevant data to manage fishing opportunities; defines the role of EU Member States and the European Commission; ensures equal applications and harmonised sanctions; ensures that fish products are traceable from net to plate.

Diversity between the implementation of rules in the different Member States poses challenges to the EU, especially when ensuring equal application and harmonised sanctioning. Therefore, the EU has established a list of serious infringements. Member States are to include in their legislation effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions. As from 1 January 2012, EU Member States have to have a point system for serious infringements introduced which aims to: assess alleged infringements involving vessels registered under its flag; impose a pre-set number of penalty points on vessels involved in serious infringements; suspend a vessel’s licence for a period of time when points have been accumulated over time.

Key findings

Fishery rules on the EU level affect many different stakeholders, from decision-making bodies on the national and EU level, to industry players, civil society and citizens in general. Deciding on the right approach for fisheries management is a continuous debate. The Common Fisheries Policy sets common principles but allows for flexibility on the different approaches Member States can adopt to manage fisheries. As a consequence, fisheries management involves a wide variety of tools (e.g. output/input control, spatial management, technical measures, self-regulations, international cooperation and control measures). There is no one-size-fits-all solution on how to deal with challenges in fisheries. In order to assess the effectiveness of the penalty point system, one should assess the functioning of the fisheries management system as a whole. In addition, the diversity of the fisheries industry, lack of complete economic data and lack of detailed data on sanctioning of infringements complicates measuring socioeconomic impact of the penalty point system.

Nevertheless, the introduction of the penalty point system has required Member States to adjust their legal framework and adopt an administrative structure in order to be able to implement the system. In addition, the EU regulations specified that the penalty point system should, apart from applying to fishing license holders, also be adopted for masters of vessels. This study finds that Member States struggle on different levels with the introduction and implementation of the system. Especially the adoption of the system for masters of vessels is posing challenges, including significant opposition from industry stakeholders.

This study finds that, overall, the industry stakeholders confirm the added value of a harmonised sanctioning system in the EU. However, stakeholders are concerned about general concepts in the penalty point system, such as the possibility to suspend a license permanently. This is perceived as disproportionate. Other elements that raise industry concerns relate to the internal working of the system, such as the possibility that discrepancies in implementation of the system between Member States can cause discrimination. A salient issue is that despite the fact that industry identifies these problems, this study finds that few industry stakeholders are interested in addressing this. Arguably there is a risk that, for industry players, advantages from weak implementation of the penalty point system on the EU level weighs up against the advantage of an equal level playing field in terms of enforcement.

Apart from anecdotal evidence and expectations on the impact of the penalty point system, no quantitative evidence was identified on its impact. The industry stakeholders surveyed and interviewed for this study note that the system has impact on their members. Segments of concern include small-scale vessels, family-owned vessels and those fishing with complex quotas. The Member States consulted for this study indicate that to-date no data is available or analysis has been done to measure the impact of the system. The main reason is the fact that the system has only recently been put in place. Civil society feedback also confirms the lack of information on its implementation. An important element according to them is that lack of access to data impedes assessing impact. Both economic data and data on the use of the penalty point system is missing. The European Commission points out that the  system aims to create a level playing field and prevent recidivism. At this stage, the focus of the Commission’s work is on ensuring that Member States have a legal and administrative framework in place. Currently, clear benchmarks are lacking for measuring impact of the system. The European Commission also notes that generally research focus is on the effect on larger vessels due to the coherence with Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing regulations.


Overall challenges identified in relation to the penalty point system and its implementation relate to lack of transparency (e.g. on access to information at the national and EU level), problems of accountability (e.g. who is responsible for inspection and follow-up and how can this be enforced by the European Commission), and lack of participation (e.g. concerns from the industry on the system’s working and integrity, but also from civil society on the complete lack of transparency which does not allow for public scrutiny). Therefore, first and foremost, it is recommended to integrate transparency, accountability and participation as key principles for the EU’s control mechanisms and the penalty point system in particular.

In addition, this study highlights the following recommendations:

EU control regulations leave room for manoeuvrability when enforcing fisheries rules. The European Commission reports periodically on Member State implementation.
Ensure real time and transparent monitoring of implementation of enforcement by the Member States.

Serious infringements defined by EU rules relate to violations of different fisheries management tools such as spatial planning, technical measures, input and output control measures. Prevention of serious infringements relates to many different elements of fisheries management.
Ensure also harmonisation and/or better understanding of the use of management tools behind the detailed infringements in order to prevent serious infringements from happening and to enhance sanctioning.

A multitude of factors have been identified that contribute to good or bad economic performance of the fisheries sector.
Include the cost of serious fisheries infringements on the economy as a research focus when collecting and reporting on economic performance data from Member States.

Industry players confirm the added value of a harmonised sanctioning system in the EU. At the same time, the industry lacks willingness to address this issue with their respective authorities.
Include industry stakeholders in dialogue and engage them to strengthen equality in implementation of the penalty point system across the EU.

Risks have been identified that inspection authorities do not always have access to relevant data to effectively inspect foreign vessels. In addition, different approaches to output control, such as national rules on TAC swaps, poses problems to Member States when ensuring effective follow-up with flag states on detected infringements.
Ensure that all fisheries monitoring centres have real time data exchange on fisheries activities. Also ensure that Member States exchange information on the use of control measures and avoid abuse of flag state rules in order to avoid points to be assigned.

Despite the lack of hard data, some anecdotal evidence points to fleet segments that are particularly vulnerable to the point system, such as small-scale vessels, family-owned vessels, and vessels fishing certain species.
For the future, develop a clear methodology to assess the impact of the penalty point system on certain fleet segments. At this stage, make sure to prioritise and monitor those that are currently identified as vulnerable.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/573-413

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Figure 1: EU inspections and infringements

The ratio for suspected infringement by inspection in JDP varies per year. In 2014 the ratio of suspected infringements in the Mediterranean Sea JDP increased significantly from approximately 6% to 16%. This is primarily due to the increase of the scope of the JDP to other species of fish.

1 Comment

Erwan · February 28, 2018 at 4:25 pm

All we can see is that there is less an less fish in the sea an more and more infringement. The sanctions aren’t efficient at all. Why ? Too much tolerance from states.

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