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Court opinion threatens bluefin discrimination cases

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Court opinion threatens bluefin discrimination cases

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(LUXEMBOURG) - Europe's highest court said Thursday that a European Union decision in 2008 to end the bluefin tuna fishing season in Spain a week later than in rival Mediterranean states was "invalid."

The legal opinion was given after a Maltese court referred a claim from a local importer, AJD Tuna, that sought damages saying it was unable to secure the volumes agreed in advance deals with French and Italian fishermen that season.

The court's opinion could open a flood of cases in Maltese, Greek, French, Italian and Cypriot national courts.

The European Court of Justice "concludes that the regulation is invalid in so far as it treats Spanish purse seiners differently from other purse seiners without such difference in treatment being objectively justified in view of the objective pursued, which was the protection of the bluefin tuna stock," it said in a statement.

The decision "breache(d) the principle of non-discrimination in so far as the prohibition took effect from 23 June 2008 for Spanish purse seiners whereas it took effect from 16 June 2008 for Maltese, Greek, French, Italian and Cypriot purse seiners."

It "has not been established that Spanish purse seiners were in a situation which was objectively different from that of other purse seiners," as regards national quotas, the mechanism used for stocks control.

The court did not invalidate the moratorium on fishing the much-prized bluefin, an endangered sushi staple.

The eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean season is normally open between January 1 and June 30.

The Luxembourg-based EU legal arbitrator underlined "it is for the national court or tribunal to dispose of the case in accordance with the court's decision, which is similarly binding on other national courts or tribunals before which a similar issue is raised."

Judgement of the European Court of Justice in Case C-221/09 - full texts

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