Catch Certificates and Swordfish Imports into the EU


Earlier this year the Spanish fishing authority, with input from CEPESCA, uncovered suspected illegal, unregulated, unreported (IUU) swordfish entering the Spanish market from Indonesia and Vietnam. Spain has since suspended swordfish imports from Vietnam and it is unclear whether similar measures will be taken in respect of Indonesia. Alarm bells were raised after the Spanish association of longliners called on the authorities to review relevant catch certificates after a plunge in the price of swordfish entering the Spanish market.

Swordfish (Xiphias Gladius). Photo Credit: world

Swordfish (Xiphias Gladius). Photo Credit: world

Whilst catch certificates have contributed to detecting fraud, these recent cases of suspected IUU imports also spotlight the weaknesses needing to be addressed to increase the efficiency of the scheme. The EU IUU regulation is currently the most sophisticated and holistic policy tool to tackle IUU imports internationally. IUU fishing is of course considered a serious threat to the sustainability of fisheries and food security. Within this, Catch Certificates (CC’s) are one of the core schemes intended to eliminate illegally caught fish entering EU supply chains. All vessels entering ports must provide a validated catch certificate which “should contain information demonstrating the legality of the products concerned”, demonstrating inter alia flag state compliance with international law on conservation and fisheries management. (EU IUU L 286/1)

In the case at hand, the inspection of catch certificates allowed the identification of a spectacular rise of 1870% of imports in provenance of Indonesia which went from exporting 248 tonnes of swordfish to the EU in 2009 to 4,908 registered tonnes in 2013. In the case of Vietnam, only 372 metric tons of the species were declared at the Spanish border in 2012, yet upon further investigation, it was revealed that the total figure was actually 502 metric tons.

Following the discovery, the minister of Agriculture, Food, and the Environment, Carlos Dominguez, stated that Spain “will not allow the imports of products whose traceability to known sources is not guaranteed.” (June 6. Europa Press) However, this remains optimistic in view of some fundamental weaknesses within the CC scheme.

First and foremost CC’s should be directly linked to actual catch. At present, CC’s are only issued for consignments destined for export. There are no requirements to register processing yields, facilitating the introduction of IUU into consignments to make up for the weight lost through processing.

Additionally CC’s are still in the form of paper documents which are easily falsified and especially problematic for tracking consignments splits. When a consignment is split for different destinations, photocopies of the original document are considered valid proof, opening various opportunities for fake documentation and consignment tampering. Consequently, containers transporting several species, can declare more or less of a species, particularly if a species such as swordfish fetches lucrative gains on the market.

To avoid falsification through photocopies, splits should be recorded on the original CC to show the date of splits, the quantities, and the receiver. Even better, the implementation of electronic traceability systems should be set up which would allow customs officials to immediately trace the catch. Furthermore, there should be a stronger focus on the inspection of highly valued species coming into the EU knowing that these are more subject to IUU.

Since the EU is keen to be seen as a torchbearer in the fight against IUU, increasing the efficiency of CC’s would be a good starting point for deterring illegal fishing. Yet as things stand, the likelihood of swordfish having entered other European ports illegally is extremely high. There is an urgent need for key aspects of the scheme to be re-examined and the data recording and cross-referencing elements of the catch certificates to be tightened and strengthened.



EU IUU Council Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008

Institute for European Environmental Policy,  An independent review of the EU illegal, unreported and unregulated regulations,  (2013)

Sasama Consulting, Traceability, legal provenance & the EU IUU  Regulation, Russian white fish and salmon imported into the EU from Russia via China, (2013)