The audit covered these three elements, and the results of testing at the Commission and in the six principal Member States1 in fisheries terms led the Court to conclude that:
- catch data are neither complete nor reliable, and the real level of catches is thus unknown. As a consequence this prevents proper application of the TAC and quota systems. In the Member States, the regulatory framework and the procedures in force guarantee neither that the data collected are complete, nor that inconsistencies are detected when it is validated. For its part, the Commission is not in a position to identify satisfactorily errors and misstatements in the data forwarded by the Member States and to take the timely decisions necessary to protect the resource (paragraphs 18 to 51);
- the inspection systems do not provide assurance that infringements are effectively prevented and detected; the absence of general control standards is an impediment to adequate control pressure and optimisation of inspection activities in the Member States. Moreover, in actual fact it restricts the extent and scope of the Commission's work of evaluating national arrangements and consequently limits the latter’s ability to give an opinion of the overall effectiveness of national systems (paragraphs 52 to 87);
- the procedures for dealing with reported infringements do not support the assertion that every infringement is followed up and still less that infringements
- attract penalties; even when penalties are imposed their deterrent effect is, on the whole, limited. As regards infringements of Community legislation by a Member State, the only instrument of proven effectiveness available to the Commission is an action before the Court of Justice for failure to fulfil an obligation; however, some of the inherent characteristics of such actions limit the utility of such actions and make this an insufficiently responsive instrument (paragraphs 88 to 106);
- overcapacity detracts from the profitability of the fishing industry and in a context of decreasing authorised catches is an incitement to non-compliance with these restrictions. It also affects the quality of the data forwarded. After the failure of the programmes for adapting fishing capacity, the current approach, which is essentially based on reducing the fishing effort, is unlikely to resolve the problem of overcapacity (paragraphs 107 to 120)
If this situation continues, it will bring grave consequences not only for the natural resource, but also for the future of the fishing industry and the areas associated with it.