All rights reserved. Credit: Tom-Morgan Jones/ Greenpeace
Antionio Vidal Pego is the boss of the Spanish family operation

You might not think that the criminal underworld smells of sea salt and fish guts, but when there are millions of euros up for grabs for Europe's fishing fleet, the crooks with hooks surface.

A recent investigation of ours exposed a shocking tale of organised crime and vested interests related to Spain's industrial-scale fishing fleet. We also discovered the Spanish government putting the profits of its fleet over healthy fish stocks for the future. We put the spotlight on ‘Tono’, Spain’s most notorious fishing baron and head of the Vidal family network of fishing operators. Even though they have a list of convictions for illegal fishing, their network continues to operate a fleet of ships, endangering important fish populations.

Astonishingly, since 2002 they have received at least 15.8 million euros in subsidies. That means that European taxpayers have been funding the activities of this illegal fishing network for years.

Spain has the largest, most destructive and most lucrative fishing fleet in Europe. It also receives the most EU fishing subsidies – more than 1.1 billion euros.

The Spanish government is prioritising the short term interests of industrial scale fishing fleets at the expense of long-term sustainable fisheries management. And they can do this because the rules that govern European fishing - the Common Fisheries Policy - are broken and permit public money to go to the most destructive companies, like Tono.

Vested interests make Spain the leading nation blocking progressive reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. But we have an opportunity to change that over the course of the coming year. The CFP is undergoing a once-in-a-decade reform process with new regulations coming in from January 2013.

But if there is to be any chance of reform, then politicians who support reform will have to stand up to the Spanish fishing barons and their representatives in Brussels.

The EU must stop paying for illegal fishing. We need a new fisheries policy that prevents overfishing and supports a healthy and sustainable fishing industry. Sign up to get email updates to find out how you can help in the coming weeks and months.

Read our full report below.

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