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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Thursday, 17.01.2019, 15:39

Combating illegal fishing in third countries

Eugene Eteris, BC, Copenhagen, 26.04.2016.Print version
Commission expands the global fight against illegal fishing by warning several countries in the Pacific, the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean. Such states as Kiribati, Sierra Leone, Trinidad and Tobago risk being listed as uncooperative in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The estimated global value of IUU fishing is approximately €10 billion per year.

Commission’s decisions are based on the EU's 'IUU Regulation', which entered into force in 2010. This key instrument in the fight against illegal fishing ensures that only fisheries products that have been certified as legal can access the EU market.


Since November 2012 the Commission has been in formal dialogue with several third countries (pre-identification or "yellow card"), which have been warned of the need to take strong action to fight IUU fishing. In case of significant progress, the Commission can end the dialogue (lifting the pre-identification status or "green card").


Formal dialogue is being held with Curacao (since November 2013), the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (since December 2014), Thailand (since April 2015) and with Taiwan and the Comoros (since October 2015).

The rules to fight illegal fishing

The EU IUU Regulation entered into force on 1 January 2010. The Regulation applies to all landings and transshipments of EU and third-country fishing vessels in EU ports, and all trade of marine fishery products to and from the EU. It aims to make sure that no illegally caught fisheries products end up on the EU market.


To that aim the Regulation requires countries to certify the origin and legality of the fish caught by vessels flying their flag, thereby ensuring the full traceability of all marine fishery products traded from and into the EU. The system thus ensures that countries comply with their own conservation and management rules as well as with internationally agreed rules.


In addition to the certification scheme, the Regulation introduces an EU alert system to share information between custom authorities about suspected cases of illegal practices.


At the same time, the Commission lifts the red card and associated trade measures off Sri Lanka, as it has significantly improved its national fisheries governance.


The estimated global value of IUU fishing is approximately €10 billion per year. Between 11 and 26 million tons of fish are caught illegally a year, which corresponds to at least 15% of world catches.


European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said: that Commission’s decision is another sign of EU's determination to combat illegal fishing globally. It also shows that the EU can bring important players on board: Sri Lanka has now a robust legal and policy framework to fight illegal fishing activities. As the fight against IUU fishing is part of the EU's commitment towards sustainability and good ocean governance, each third country that comes on board is an asset, he added.

Countries’ capacity to control fishing

The EU's warning to Kiribati is based on concerns about the country's capacity to control fishing activities by foreign fleets. There are serious risks that illegally caught fish could be laundered through the ports of Kiribati, as they do not have robust traceability systems in place for fisheries products. Kiribati's unwillingness to share important information on third country vessels operating in their waters undermines the Commission's work to improve transparency and sustainability of tuna resources in the Western and Central Pacific.


In Sierra Leone legal texts governing fisheries are outdated and sanctions fail to deter illegal operators operating internationally under the flag of Sierra Leone, without the fisheries authorities' knowledge. In addition, the number of licensed vessels exceeds the available resources and authorities fail to monitor or control their waters.


Trinidad and Tobago also has a large fleet operating internationally where authorities do not control or inspect foreign vessels, nor cooperate with relevant flag States. The poor traceability system also causes the risk of laundering of fisheries products.


The Commission is proposing a tailor-made action plan that will help put in place robust fisheries management control systems for these countries. If identified issues are not resolved within six months, the EU can consider taking further steps, including trade sanctions on fisheries imports.


On a more positive note, after a lengthy dialogue process Sri Lanka has now successfully reformed its fisheries governance system. The country was issued with a yellow card in 2012 and been listed by the Council in February 2015. Presently it has amended its legal framework, strengthened sanctions and improved its fleet control.


Sri Lanka joins the growing list of countries (Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Korea, the Philippines, Fiji, Belize, Panama, Togo and Vanuatu) that have reformed their systems, following a warning by the EU.


In this context, the Commission attaches particular importance to the ongoing dialogue with Thailand. The country was warned with a yellow card due to its inadequate fisheries legal framework and poor monitoring, control and traceability systems. Like all pre-identified countries, Thailand was proposed an action plan to address shortcomings. The Commission is currently evaluating progress. The dialogue is proving difficult and there remain serious concerns about the steps taken by Thailand to fight IUU fishing activities. This means that further action by the Commission cannot be ruled out. A meeting with the Thai authorities in May will be a new opportunity for them to show their good will and commitment.

Commission’s warning

The Commission's decision to issue a yellow card to Kiribati, Sierra Leone and Trinidad and Tobago was taken after thoroughly analysing each country's system for fisheries governance and record for meeting international obligations. The countries' respective levels of development and engagement against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) resulted inadequate.


The specific shortcomings detected have been clearly outlined and communicated to the competent authorities of Kiribati, Sierra Leone and Trinidad and Tobago, with particular focus on their non-compliance of international obligations as flag, coastal, port and market States.


The Commission will now enter into a more formal dialogue with the authorities of Kiribati, Sierra Leone and Trinidad and Tobago and will propose a formal Action Plan to address the problems.


Sri Lanka was listed as uncooperative by the Council in February 2015. The proposal to remove Sri Lanka from the list is the result of constructive cooperation between the country and the Commission, which has led to structural reforms in the national fisheries management system. The country has developed new legislation, increased sanctions, improved monitoring, control and inspection and strengthened traceability systems.

Third states improving their situation

Discussions with Kiribati, Sierra Leone and Trinidad and Tobago have been going on for some time and insufficient progress has led to today's pre-identification. This step opens a new stage of formal dialogue in which the Commission will propose an action plan with specific measures and clear benchmarks and criteria to demonstrate progress. The Commission will then evaluate progress within 6 months from the publication of the Commission's Decision.


The Commission hopes that the issues that Kiribati, Sierra Leone and Trinidad and Tobago face can be solved through dialogue and cooperation. If, however, the countries do not fulfil their duties under international law and fail to take remedial action, the Commission may consider proceeding to identification ("red card") and listing actions, including trade measures.

Other cases under investigation

Curaçao received a formal warning by the Commission in November 2013 (IP/13/1162). The Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines were formally warned in December 2014, Thailand received a warning in April 2015 and the Comoros and Taiwan were warned in October 2015. The Commission continues to evaluate progress by these countries in addressing their shortcomings in line with their respective action plans on a bilateral basis, and dialogue and cooperation are on-going.

Countries receiving "red cards" in the past

Following Commission proposals, the Council adopted trade restrictions against Cambodia, Guinea and Belize in March 2014 (IP/14/304) and against Sri Lanka in October 2014 (IP/14/1132). Despite ongoing dialogues and efforts, the situation for Cambodia and Guinea remains unchanged and fisheries products caught by vessels from these countries are still banned from entering the EU. Belize was withdrawn from the blacklist in December 2014 and Sri Lanka is being withdrawn from the list today. Both countries have adopted lasting measures to address the deficiencies of their fisheries systems.


The main shortcomings that led to Thailand's pre-listing were: inadequate fisheries legal framework, with sanctions that failed to deter; poor monitoring, control and traceability systems; and problematic fisheries management.


Associated problems include human trafficking and slave labour in the fisheries sector. While the EUIUU Regulation does not address human trafficking and working conditions on-board fishing vessels, improvements in the fisheries control system will also improve the control of labour conditions in the seafood industry. At the same time, several Commission services continue to work on the issues of human trafficking and slave labour in Thailand.

Modern achievements

Since its entry into force in 2010, the IUU Regulation's outreach and impact on the fight against IUU fishing has been increasing year-on-year. These far-reaching impacts include:


·         investigations on presumed IUU vessels and the subsequent imposition of sanctions by the flag states and coastal states concerned;

·         refusal of imports into the EU;

·         pre-identification and identification of non-cooperating countries;

·         listing by the Council of non-cooperating countries;

·         speeding up of international cooperation against IUU fishing in Regional Fisheries Management Organisations and at bilateral level with more than 50 countries;

·         better exchange of information on IUU activities;

·         acceptance of the EU catch certification system by third countries.


So far, 91 third countries have notified the Commission that they have in place the legal instruments, procedures and administrative structures to certify the catches by vessels flying their flag.


Since 2010, the Commission has investigated more than 200 cases involving vessels from 27 countries. As a direct consequence of these actions, flag and coastal states have imposed sanctions against almost 50 vessels, amounting to roughly €8 million.


Cooperation with states to enhance control

The IUU Regulation can only be effective if proper control applies both within the EU and in third country waters. In EU waters the obligations stem from the Control Regulation (1224/2009 EU).


In practice, about 200 alert messages were sent to EU Member State authorities to direct their controls, check situations of risk, and request investigations on presumed IUU fishing activities and serious infringements. The Commission has also promoted a wider exchange of information and cooperation between the competent authorities in EU Member States. As a consequence Member States have taken more than 200 decisions to refuse imports into the EU.

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