UK taxpayers are unwittingly funding illegal fishing which is over-exploiting stocks and devastating the marine environment, Greenpeace has warned.
The environmental group singled out Spain for overlooking illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by its industrial fleet, which is receiving more than one billion euro (£900 million) in European Union (EU) subsidies between 2007 and 2013.
According to a report by Greenpeace, UK taxpayers have contributed almost 140 million euro (£120 million) to the current subsidies for Europe's fishing fleets.
Spain has the largest fishing fleet in Europe and takes more than a quarter of EU subsidies under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
But officials are failing to stop illegal activities by members of the industry, including fishing without licences in other countries' waters, exceeding quotas, using illegal gear and mislabelling how fish is caught to suggest it has been harvested in more sustainable ways, Greenpeace's report claims.
Already three-quarters of EU fish stocks are overfished and the environmental group is warning that if Spain and Brussels carries on with business as usual less than 10% will be at sustainable levels by 2022.
Greenpeace oceans campaigner Ariana Densham said: "According to some estimates, up to 49% of the global catch is illegal, unreported and unregulated, and this is one of the reasons why our over-exploited fisheries are in such rapid decline.
"The fact that in Europe this theft of fish is being subsidised by taxpayers' money, that we're actually paying pirates to steal our fish, destroy one of our oldest industries and devastate the marine environment, shows just how corrupted the CFP is."
The Common Fisheries Policy is currently up for reform, with countries such as the UK pushing for radical changes to make Europe's fishing industries more sustainable.
UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said: "Illegal fishing is putting British fishermen at a competitive disadvantage and could be disastrous for our oceans. That's why the UK is leading the fight in Europe to clamp down on illegal fishing and overhaul the broken and wasteful quota system."