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European Court Of Justice To Rule In Azzopardi Tuna Case

The Court has asked the European Court of Justice to rule on its restrictions on tuna caught by purse seiners, in an attempt to determine a case instituted by AJD Tuna Ltd.

AJD Tuna, registered in Malta, filed a case against the Director of Fisheries and the Attorney General after the former stopped the company’s tuna breeding in 2008 because of an EU Directive aimed at protecting tuna stocks for becoming depleted.

The directive refers to tuna caught by purse seine in parts of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

AJD Tuna (part of Azzopardi Fisheries) has 2 tuna pens in Malta, with capacities of 2,500 tons and 800 tons.

It was given an annual quota of 3,200 tons by the National Commissioner for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, under the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT). It subsequently reached agreements with Italian and French fishermen, before the season started, for the purchase of their quotas, which it would then breed in its pens.

In 2008, the European Commission established emergency measures to prevent overfishing, banning fishing with purse seine nets after June 16 for Greek, French, Italian, Cypriot and Maltese ships, and after June 23 for Spanish ships.

Once these measures were came into force, the Director of Fisheries blocked AJD Tuna from buying or importing the blue fin tuna – including fish caught outside the waters covered by ICCAT.

However, AJD Tuna had already bought 465.5 tons of fish and had contracted to buy a further 1,400 tons to fulfill its quota. It went to Court saying that the ban was “illegal, abusive and unreasonable”. It also argued that the European Commission had failed to provide information to back up its emergency measures – which were selective and lacking in proportionality.

The ECJ is also being asked to clarify whether the ban refers to purse seine vessels which fly a non-EU flag as well as to vessels which fly an EU flag.