Illegal Fishing of Swordfish Highlights Weaknesses in IUU Control Mechanisms
Swordfish has been in the limelight this year, not less because of the recent ban handed by the EU to Sri Lanka, a swordfish exporter to European markets. The ban is likely to be implemented in early 2015 and will close the Union’s doors to a substantial volume of seafood. According to the European Commission, Sri Lankan seafood imports into the Union border 7,400 tonnes, with an approximate value of €74 Million. A significant part of this volume is swordfish.
A swift review of recent months’ media reports suggests that this ban may not be enough to significantly curb overfishing of this iconic commercial species.
In June this year, Oceana Europe revealed evidence of extensive illegal swordfish driftnetting operations in Moroccan Waters. The fish was being introduced into Europe for final consumer sale in Italy, where it is a highly prized food. The unlawful use of driftnets in Italy has been regularly highlighted by European NGO Blackfish in recent years. Drifnets have been subjected to a United Nations moratorium and are banned in Mediterranean waters by the regional regulatory body, ICCAT due to their destructive and indiscriminate nature.
Eradicating the use of driftnets in the Mediterranean is proving to be a difficult task, no less because the deployment of this indiscriminate fishing art is as difficult to detect as is obtaining hard evidence of its systematic use.
Under the regime established by European Council Regulation 1005/2008 (the IUU Regulation) most seafood imports must be accompanied by a ‘catch’ certificate. This certificate has to be validated by the authorities in the country responsible for regulating the capture of the fish. However, the catch certificate does not include a declaration on the type of gear used during the fishing operations and consequently, it is not possible for European authorities to decline a landing simply on the basis of a fraudulent declaration on the certificate. A request to declare gear type on the certificate could raise the level of due diligence being exercised by fishing authorities such as Morocco, a long standing partner of the EU in the context of fisheries, and in whose waters Oceana discovered the driftnetting operation.
Also this year, the Spanish Directorate General for Fisheries raised a warning about unusually high volumes of swordfish being sold into Europe through Spanish borders, originating from Vietnamese and Indonesian fishing vessels. Having temporarily suspended Vietnamese imports, the Spanish authorities have requested the Commission’s intervention.
This event has highlighted another tear in the European illegal fishing control system, which appears to lack a mechanism to ensure collection and coordination of species-specific import data. This affects the EU’s ability to detect instances where particular species captured by third countries are imported into the EU in excess of regulatory quotas.
Countries who are members or who cooperate with Regional Fishery Management Organisations (RFMOs), the organisations who govern the fishing of swordfish and other commercial species in specific ocean regions, must declare the level of their captures. Failure to cooperate with RFMOs is classed as either “unregulated” or “unreported” fishing by the United Nation’s Fish Stocks Agreement and classed as IUU by the IUU Regulation.
Incidents like these suggest that systemic response mechanisms to under-declaration of quota to RFMOS are sluggish and patchy. Vietnam and Indonesia export substantial amounts of swordfish and other seafood products to international markets including the EU and the US. Whilst international cooperation is paramount in ensuring that minimum IUU control standards are implemented internationally, relatively straightforward improvements to our existing IUU control systems could also make a valuable contribution in increasing transparency and efficiency.