A joint operation this week between Spanish police and INTERPOL has resulted in the arrest of 6 people linked to the fishing company Vidal Armadores. The company, along with it’s affiliates, have long been connected to a string of illegal fishing cases and have most recently been in the spotlight as renewed efforts have finally led to high profile captures of the group of six infamous toothfish poaching vessels: the Thunder, Viking, Kunlun, Perlon, Songhua and the Yong Ding.

The six detainees are the founder of the company, Antonio Vidal Suárez, his sons Bethlehem, Angel and Antonio Vidal Pego, his brother Joaquin Manuel Perez Maino and Francisco Rama Gago. The arrest warrant is reported to have stated that ‘this organised group, through a network of national and international companies have been illegally fishing toothfish since at least 2006 and used several ships registered to companies in third countries with flags of convenience and constant name changes.’ Charges relate to crimes against the environment and criminal organization for illegal toothfish fishing as well as laundering and forgery.

Significant changes to Spanish legislation introduced at the end of 2014 have given officials new grounds to act against Spanish nationals taking part in the operation, management and ownership of stateless vessels or vessels linked with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

‘The intention was to remove any space for impunity for IUU fishing’ commented Mónica Corrales, Deputy General Director of Legal Affairs at Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture Food, adding ‘we have introduced a new specific, very serious infringement for IUU fishing which has significant sanctions attached.’

These legal changes have enabled two major multi-agency investigative operations, Operation Sparrow and Operation Sparrow 2, to take place over the last year. There are hopes from the international community that this combination of political will, a strong legal framework, investigative capacity and national and international cooperation will finally see the end of one of the world’s most controversial and notorious illegal fishing operations.

For Mozambique, still waiting for payment of the $4.5 million fine imposed in 2008 as a result of illegal fishing by the Antilles Reefer, whose ownership was linked to Vidal Armadores through a 100% owned subsidiary, hopes have been raised anew that justice may be done.

Per Erik Bergh, Stop Illegal Fishing, commented that ‘we have long recognised that identifying those involved in illegal fishing operations is not enough, having the means to secure convictions and collect fines is vital. We hope that more countries will follow suit and make their nationals accountable for illegal fishing and fisheries crime.’