Dying in a Lawless Sea

The author of this blog post is Juan Vilata, a fisheries biologist with an MSc in Marine and Fisheries Science from the University of Aberdeen (UK), and over 12 years experience working in fisheries.  Juan works as a consultant specialised in the analysis of fisheries data, and has extensive knowledge of IUU fishing and sustainability concerns, as well as broad experience as an observer in Atlantic and Indian Ocean fisheries. He has served as an observer on board of tuna purse seiners, pelagic trawlers, and long liners.

Juan makes his first contribution to the IUU fishing blog with a poignant post about the plight of fisheries observers in light of the recent, tragic and unexplained disappearances of four colleagues. His post highlights the risks observers face in the conduct of their work, and the responsibility that the tuna industry, and we all in the sector, owe to ensuring their safety.

DYING IN A LAWLESS SEA

By Juan Vilata

Since late 2017 and early 2018, a few online journals, newspapers and community radios mostly based in Pacific ocean nations have echoed a terrible fact: The “disappearance at sea” -death- of several fisheries observers from Papua New Guinea, whilst working onboard tuna fishing vessels over the last few years [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. The available information is scant and somewhat uncertain, and thus the exact number of disappearances is as of yet unclear. But there are at least four confirmed cases. Regardless of what the total number might be once confirmed, any death of a fisheries observer is an extremely worrying event, and more so if the circumstances of the disappearance/death are left unexplained. Sure enough, some of these cases could actually had been accidents (and there seems to be partial evidence that it might have been so in one case); after all, fishing is certainly a very dangerous activity, even in the absence of criminal circumstances. But all four?

Tuna vessel, by Juan Vilata

On board and at sea, by Juan Vilata

It is important to be aware of the crucial role undertaken by fisheries observers: at the very minimum, their presence onboard a fishing vessel is aimed to check whether the fishery is conducted within the legal framework. But also, most fisheries’ claims to sustainability would be impossible (or at least very hard) to prove, if the vessels weren’t carrying observers onboard. By the very nature of their task, observers are always at risk of being deemed intruders by the crew. More so if that crew is used to engage in illegal fishing activities, of which there can be many modalities: for instance, they could be using banned gear, targeting moratoria species, exceeding their allotted quota, fishing in waters where they don’t have license to, finning sharks, or illegally transhipping their catch. The level and intensity of occurrence of these and many other kinds of illegal fishing activities is very variable amongst the different fleets; they can range from being very rare events, up to basically daily routine. And there’s also a wide array of fishing regulations which need to be monitored, such for instance, limits to the capture of vulnerable species, or measures and technical implements aiming to reduce discards. Depending on how strict the regulatory framework is (regulations are not always compulsory), their breach might be deemed illegal or else it might be still legal but clearly unsustainable. Regardless of these distinctions, an unmonitored fishing vessel is much more likely to engage into these practices than another one which carries an observer onboard.

So, in short, although there are other means to monitor the activity of a fishing vessel (for instance, satellite monitoring systems, which are being continuously improved), the first and foremost check of the activities of the vessel is up to the observer. Depending on the specification of the observer program, if the observers witness some serious infringement, they might be required to report it by radio, or at least write it down in their reports. And the crew knows this. It is certainly not a comfortable situation. Depending on the seriousness of the circumstances -including the gravity of the infringement, the value of the catch, the vessel’s legal story, and other variables- observers might be subjected to anything ranging from the offering of bribes to serious threats, in order to prevent them from reporting what they observed.

Now, one obvious question about the missing PNG observers could be “How can this happen?” How can (at least) four people vanish into thin air after boarding their assigned vessels? Well, it does happen because tuna fisheries are a multi-billion industry [8], hence there’s a lot of money at stake, and because out there in the sea, onboard the distant water fishing fleets, there’s in practice a legal void [9, 10, 11, 12]. As things are now, in all likelihood, anything that happens onboard a distant fishing vessel will be left unpunished. Most nations owning large distant water fleets deny against all logic that they have any responsibility for what happens in their vessels. And yet, it stands to reason: similarly to diplomatic outposts, any vessel sailing under the flag of a given country should be considered an extension of such country. And therefore, the flag country should be accountable for whatever happens onboard. This issue of the current impunity of flag countries has been reviewed by multiple sources, one of which is the excellent short documentary by the NGO Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) about human rights abuses at the Taiwanese distant waters fishing fleet [13].

But let’s not forget about the missing observers. They boarded the vessels, alive, never to return. It’s not as if they were anonymous: they had names, faces, and families. And it is registered which vessel was boarded by each one of them, and on which day. The names of the vessels are likely to have been changed by now, in an attempt by the vessel owners to escape prosecution from the authorities. However, the vessels always belong to a fishing and/or seafood trading company, and this can be traced, even though they’re almost always screened behind ghost companies based in convenience countries. Unmasking the real identity of the company owning a given vessel can in fact be a detective’s job. But it can be done.

Since no one else seems to care or do much about their safety, fisheries observers have organized themselves within APO -the international Association for Professional Observers-, and are running a project called OSIRS: the registry of all Observer Casualties, Injuries, and Near Misses [14]. OSIRS tries to keep track of every incident affecting the safety of fisheries observers, regardless of their nationality or the flags of the vessels they boarded. APO is a non-for-profit association with limited means; nevertheless, they’re doing a remarkable effort by keeping track of all these incidents. Given the secrecy around most of them, this is no easy task.

On board transhipping vessels, by Juan Vilata

On board transhipping vessels, by Juan Vilata

But now a second obvious question would be: “What is being done about it?” Well, not much, apparently. At the national level, PNG authorities do not seem to be making very strong advances in tracing the companies and identifying the people responsible. Whether this is for lack of funding, insufficiently prepared staff, or any other reason, the investigation does not bode well. Let’s not forget though that PNG is one of the world’s poorest nations [15], and its political stability is very fragile [16, 17, 18], all of which might undermine its capacities to take this investigation through to the end. But this shouldn’t be taken exclusively as an internal PNG’s issue: the vessels from which the observers disappeared belong to foreign fleets, and they caught tuna that by now has likely entered the global supply chain, and thus might have arrived to our plates.

And here’s the point: “What are the international tuna market actors doing about this?” Let’s imagine for a moment that the nationality of the observers had been different: Can anyone imagine four Australians (or French, or Americans, or Spaniards, or British, or Norwegians) working as fisheries observers, going missing onboard tuna fishing vessels (at least three of them in as of yet completely unexplained circumstances), and that nothing was done about it? Where are the international mass media, why aren’t they denouncing this?

These disappearances cannot, and must not, be left unresolved. This is a question of responsibility to the victims’ families, but also to ourselves: if we acquiesce with this impunity, we’ll be sharing the responsibility, as long as we keep consuming tuna whilst asking no questions. And more crucially, by doing nothing about it, we’re practically guarantying that this will happen yet again.

References

[1] Papua New Guinea Post Courier (2018). Increased Deaths of PNG observers. https://bit.ly/2IMhV9b

[2] RNZ (2017). PNG seeks to investigate purse seiner after observer’s death. https://bit.ly/2GkM1BX

[3] RNZ (2018). PNG parliament told about fisheries observers who disappear. https://bit.ly/2CHNcpn

[4] Keith Jackson – ASOPA (2018). On the trail of the missing PNG fisheries observers. https://bit.ly/2GkgTCJ

[5] www.wikitribune.com (2017). Updated: Murder and abuse – the price of your sashimi. https://bit.ly/2pDfX22

[6] The National (2018). Safety of fisheries observers a priority. https://bit.ly/2pAfIWg

[7] Human rights at sea.org (2017). Investigative report and case study: Fisheries abuses and related deaths at sea in the Pacific region. HRAS Report 1 December 2017.   https://bit.ly/2G5YxC7

[8] Galland, G., Rogers, A., & Nickson, A. (2016).The Pew Charitable Trusts. Netting Billions: A Global Valuation of Tuna. https://bit.ly/1W1T97C

[9] Urbina, I. (2015). Sea Slaves: The Human Misery That Feeds Pets and Livestock. The New York Times, 07.27.2015. https://bit.ly/2ulHTx3

[10] Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), (2010). All at Sea: The Abuse of Human Rights Aboard Illegal Fishing Vessels. EJF, London (2010). https://bit.ly/2pGBeb9

[11] Marschke, M., & Vandergeest, P. (2016). Slavery scandals: Unpacking labour challenges and policy responses within the off-shore fisheries sector. Marine Policy, 68, 39-46. https://bit.ly/2pFdyUx

[12] Rosello, M. (2016). Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Control in the Exclusive Economic Zone: a Brief Appraisal of Regulatory Deficits and Accountability Strategies. Croatian International Relations Review, 22(75), 39-68. https://bit.ly/2pJtmXl

[13] Environmental Justice Foundation. Exploitation and lawlessness: the dark side of Taiwan’s fishing fleet. https://bit.ly/2GkDWxe

[14] APO/OSIRS. http://www.apo-observers.org/misses

[15] UNDP (2018). About Papua New Guinea. https://bit.ly/2DT0Czy

[16] May, R. (2013). State and society in Papua New Guinea: the first twenty-five years. ANU Press. https://bit.ly/2pEMeqp

[17] Allen, M. G. (2013). Melanesia’s violent environments: Towards a political ecology of conflict in the western Pacific. Geoforum, 44, 152-161.

[18] May, R. J. (2017). Papua New Guinea Under the O’Neill Government: Has There Been a Shift in Political Style? SSGM discussion paper 2017/6. State, Society and Governance in Melanesia. The Australian National University. https://bit.ly/2ISjAK8

 

 

 

 

Satellite Technology and IUU Fishing

We end the year with this timely blog post from Beatriz Ortega-Gallego. Our contributor has a lifelong curiosity about all things nautical, and a passion for the ocean that led her to complete a degree in Environmental Sciences. She is currently pursuing a career as a fisheries inspector, and we wish her the best in her endeavour.

This topical blog, which surveys the main satellite technology applications for IUU fishing control, will be of special interest to those concerned with fisheries compliance. With increasing emphasis on the eradication of IUU fishing across domestic domains and internationally, and with global efforts to establish high seas marine protected areas underway, satellite technology is taking centre stage across the sector.

In this informative contribution to the IUU Fishing Blog, Ms Ortega-Gallego unveils the mechanisms and functions of Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), Electronic Recording and Reporting Systems (ERS), Automatic Identification System (AIS), Vessel Detection Systems (VDS), and voluntary Electronic Monitoring Systems.

Happy New Year!

SATELLITE TECHNOLOGY to address IUU FISHING

Control and management tools are essential in order to fight overfishing, protect fish stocks, and ensure fish supplies for future generations. The main fishing management tools are based on access requirements (fishing licenses or authorisations), technical measures (when, how and where it is possible to fish), limitations on fishing effort (that is, the time spent at sea by a fishing vessel of a given engine power). Also they are based on the management of total allowable catches and on quotas.

These management tools are effective in theory, but they must be combined with control tools which monitor the fulfilment of legal obligations, while identifying and sanctioning breaches. The traditional way of doing this is through fisheries inspections. However, in practice there are insufficient traditional control resources (a lack of trained inspectors, aircraft or vessels) to adequately monitor the correct implementation of domestic legal requirements on each fishing vessel in any part of the ocean.

How technology solves these surveillance difficulties 

In the 80s, Inmarsat and IMO (International Maritime Organisation) established the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). This is a combination of a global positioning and a satellite communication system. Throughout the decade of the 90s this system was revealed as a very efficient tool in the control of the fishing vessels activities at sea.

The development of new monitoring, surveillance and control technology has gone a long way in counteracting the aforementioned difficulties, and is now able to detect suspicious illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activity effectively, in any part of the ocean, and without any additional monitoring support.

Credit: European Commission DG Mare

Which systems are useful as a fishing control tool?

There are several different types of control technologies. The most widespread of them is the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS). It is a satellite-based monitoring system placed on board of certain fishing vessels. It receives position data signals from satellites and retransmits them at regular intervals to the flag State´s monitoring and information centre, which in turn forwards them to other control centres and inspection authorities. In addition to knowing the vessel´s position, this system is also able to determine the vessels course and speed.

All this data is stored in a closed and sealed box to avoid manipulation. This allows that, if an action suspected of constituting an infraction was not detected immediately, it could be discovered later by contrasting data.

Why is this data useful?

Knowing the position of vessels allows, for instance, monitoring of the closed areas or fishery protection zones, contrasting effort data and capture area with the data entered by the captain in the logbook, and/or ascertaining the exact coordinates of the vessel, allowing an on board inspection to be carried out.

From course and speed data we can calculate the estimated time of arrival at port, whether a vessel is fishing (3-5 knots) or sailing (10-12 knots) and even determine the type of fishing activity that is being carried out. For example, a trawler shows many consecutive positions in a small space and traces that intersect each other. A longline vessel can show numerous positions in a certain direction to set the fishing gear and others in the opposite direction to pick it up.

Therefore, VMS is considered a powerful instrument in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and is present in more and more RFOs like NAFO, NEAFC, ICCAT, CCAMLAR or IOTC. The contracting parties must send the VMS data to the control centres of the RFMOs with the frequency established by these organisms. For the purposes of EU legislation, for instance, VMS is mandatory for vessels of 12m in length and over, and they must transmit their data with a minimum frequency of 2 hours, as a general rule.

Another control technology is the Electronic Recording and Reporting System (ERS) or electronic logbook. It is a system that allows the recording, processing, storing and transmitting of data relating to fishing activities such as catch, transhipment, landing declarations, prior notifications, etc.

Through this system, illegal practices can be detected, alarms can be set up in case of non-compliance with legislation, and it is also a way of recording catch data facilitating quota control.

By cross-referencing electronic logbook data with VMS data, control authorities can detect untimely notifications, captures in fishery restricted areas, lack of mandatory prior notifications, or any other IUU activity. It replaces paper logbooks and also sales notes.

In 2002, the IMO approved the Automatic Identification System (AIS). It is used for maritime safety and security, but it may be used for control purposes. It allows identification, position, course and speed data to be communicated from vessels to other proximate vessels, to control authorities or to anyone interested in reviewing the data globally. The AIS is an autonomous and continuous system which implies an advantage over VMS, which transmits data approximately (varying according to legislations) every two hours. It does, however, have the disadvantage of not being able to be used in the high seas.

It is a system with a great potential as a tool again IUU fishing but will need implementation at a global level.

It may be the case that vessels turn off their AIS or VMS. The Vessel Detection System (VDS) allows position data derived from images captured by remote sensing (satellite imaging of sea areas) to be contrasted with vessel data transmitted by the VMS or AIS. Thus, if a satellite image shows, for example, the presence of 6 vessels in an area, but only a signal of 5 ships is received, it could be assumed that the vessel not transmitting is a vessel suspected of being IUU. It also determines the number of fishing vessels and their position in a given area and cross-checks the positions of the fishing vessels detected by VDS with position reports from VMS.

This system is still implemented experimentally in some RFMOs.

New technologies for the control of fishing continue to be developed and tested, like the Electronic Monitoring System. This is being used experimentally and voluntarily in some fishing fleets. It consists of multiple on board cameras recording all fishing activities.

None of these technologies substitute traditional control methods, but nevertheless they do focus efforts and as a consequence it increases the effectiveness and reduces costs of inspections. At the same time, control technologies improve the access to good quality fisheries data and make it possible to cross-check information from different sources.

Author: Beatriz Ortega-Gallego

Sources:

[1] http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/fact-sheets/2016/05/tracking-fishing-vessels-around-the-globe

[2] https://es.mongabay.com/2016/04/quieren-acabar-la-pesca-ilegal-hagan-todos-los-barcos-sean-rastreables-declaran-los-investigadores/

[3] https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/cfp/control/technologies/vms_en

 

 

Brexit and IUU Fishing

Introduction 

The Government of the United Kingdom (UK) has announced that it will trigger the procedure for withdrawal from the European Union (EU or Union) in March this year. As part of this process, the UK is likely to leave the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), reclaim its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and resume international activity as a single State for the purposes of exercising rights and responsibilities as a flag, coastal, port and market State. Consequently, it will take its own decisions in international fisheries fora and bilateral negotiations, including for the purposes of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing control. This blog post discusses what the UK’s withdrawal from the EU may mean for the fight against IUU fishing, and related fisheries control policies that have so far been shared between the UK and the other States in the Union.[1]

Background to the Legislation for IUU Fishing Control in the European Union

Council Regulation (EC) 1005/2008 (the IUU Regulation) was adopted by the European Council on 29 Sept 2008, and came into force in January 2010, alongside implementing Commission Regulation 1010/2009.[2] The IUU Regulation and its complementing legislation establish a legal and institutional framework for cooperation in the fight against IUU fishing. They articulated a set of administrative and operational controls across the Member States of the EU, through which non-EU States with regulatory authority over fishing activities are engaged in respect of detected IUU fishing activity.

Axiomatic to the regulatory framework of the IUU Regulation is State compliance with all applicable international fishery conservation laws, and regional conservation and management measures. The IUU Regulation primarily concerns IUU controls on imports of non-excluded seafood products from outside the EU,[3] as well as re-exports. Failure to observe international obligations in respect of flag, coastal or market State responsibilities may prompt warnings,[4] and under certain circumstances also trade suspensions. The IUU Regulation is based on the premise of mutuality in cooperation among Member States as well as third countries, which is underpinned by information exchange and verification processes.[5]

The IUU Regulation and the UK

As a member State of the European Union, the UK responded to the adoption of the IUU Regulation by adapting its domestic legal, operational and administrative framework in support of the shared regulatory objective to control IUU trade. DEFRA contributed to the development of operational systems, regulatory structures, training and the strengthening of communications with the Commission and with the other Member States of the Union. DEFRA and SeaFish published information on the main provisions of the Regulation, and its implementation in the United Kingdom. Regulatory adjustments were made under the powers conferred by section 2(2) of, and paragraph 1A(f) of Schedule 2 to, the European Communities Act 1972, and section 30(2) of the Fisheries Act 1981 for the implementation of the Regulations by way of the Sea Fishing (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing) Order 2009.[6] UK businesses, particularly importers and retailers, have invested considerable effort in adapting to the requirements of the IUU Regulation, and arguably have an interest in the maintenance of IUU controls as a domestic policy.

UK Withdrawal from the EU and IUU Fishing Control

Given its full integration in the regulatory arrangements that underpin IUU control in the Union, and the high rate of importations recorded by UK authorities, the withdrawal of the UK from the EU will not be consequence-free. Some of the effects of its withdrawal are likely to be potentially damaging for both parties, and detrimental to the objectives of the IUU Regulation.

Among the regulatory processes that appear less vulnerable to the impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU are catch certification arrangements. The flexibility of the regime is evidenced by existing agreements between the EU and non-member States, including New Zealand, the United States and Norway. These arrangements recognise the similarity of domestic regulatory approaches for the purposes of certification, agency interaction, and record keeping.[7] The UK’s integration in the regulatory fabric of the EU in all aspects of IUU fishing control to date suggests that certification arrangements are likely to be perpetuated. There may, however, be loss of coherence between the arrangements if there is no parallel reflection of planned future improvements.

Other cooperative arrangements under the IUU Regulation may be more vulnerable to the negative consequences of the UK’s exit. Among these, the removal of the UK from the internal administrative web of cooperation that supports the operational dimension of the IUU Regulation. This includes intelligence-sharing arrangements concerning IUU risk and verification data under Chapter IV of the IUU Regulation, which establishes the Community Alert System. The sharing of methodologies is essential to avoid misreporting and discourage port-hopping, one of the most important factors in the perpetuation of IUU fishing practices. Inter-agency cooperation and risk assessment systems are key for controls to be effective, and for enabling learning and adaptive growth and resilience against the highly dynamic nature of IUU fishing capture and ensuing transport and processing practices.

Responses to Confirmed IUU Fishing Activity 

The European Commission has adopted a high profile policy of warning third countries that it suspects as being non-cooperating for the purposes of IUU fishing control. The yellow and red carding system follows a formal process of approval that may culminate in the adoption of restrictive measures, including the possibility of trade suspensions, under Article 38 of the IUU Regulation. Once the UK leaves the EU, it will no longer engage in the participatory processes whereby carding decisions are taken, and resulting restrictions will not involve the UK market. This is likely to weaken the reach of some of the measures, as these commonly depend on scale and homogeneity for effectiveness, such as  restrictions in the provision of services to third country IUU listed vessels.[8]  Although there is likely to be loss of coherence in sanctioning approaches, some vessel black lists should persist, insofar as they concern regional fishery organisations of which the UK becomes a party. Lastly, the risk of deregulation in the UK, if ultimately realised, would accentuate discrepancies in market controls.

The IUU Regulation and Shared Stock Management

Upon exit, UK exports to the EU will be subject to the controls and conditions of the IUU Regulation.[9] Regular EU importation processes have been built on a certification strategy that is currently shared by the UK, and should not need major adjustment. International legal obligations exist for both parties in respect of the conservation and cooperative management of shared and straddling stocks under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, and other applicable global and regional treaties. Potential breaches are in principle relevant for the operationalisation of the IUU Regulation, although only in respect of stock intended for exportation to the EU.

Conclusion

The UK’s departure from the Union has the potential to be detrimental to IUU fishing control policies, given the UK’s prominence as an import market. The overall loss of EU market size, impoverishment of intelligence-sharing mechanisms, and loss of integrity in the articulation of responses to IUU fishing, may erode the efficiency of the system, and cause it to lose global impact in some cases. For the UK, there may be a loss of resilience and opportunity for adaptation to IUU threats, resulting from the withdrawal from EU cooperation, data-sharing and training networks. In order to minimise negative impacts, and given that currently there are no fundamental differences in the IUU control mechanisms in place in the UK and the rest of the Union, the perpetuation of harmonised administrative and operational arrangements should, where possible, be maintained.

There is a risk that the current success of the EU’s approach to IUU fishing control may be unnecessarily damaged, especially if there is loss of good will as a consequence of frictions in shared or straddling stock management negotiations. The IUU Regulation is a flagship tool in the EU’s continuing external fisheries policy, and one of which the UK has been a strong supporter. Maximising the integrity and resilience of the processes it has helped create is essential for the success of IUU fishing control worldwide. The continuing observance of applicable international conservation and cooperation commitments by both parties will be instrumental to ensure the perpetuation of its success.

Mercedes Rosello, February 2017.

[1] This blog post is a considered opinion by the author only, and has not been written or published for the provision of legal advice.

[2] Later additions include Regulation 86/2010, updating the list of excluded products.

[3] Article 8.2 of the IUU Regulation states: ‘fishery products’ mean any products which fall under Chapter 03 and Tariff headings 1604 and 1605 of the Combined Nomenclature established by Council Regulation (EEC) No 2658/87 of 23 July 1987 on the tariff and statistical nomenclature and on the Common Customs Tariff (1), with the exception of the products listed in Annex I (…).

[4] Article 31.3 of the IUU Regulation.

[5] See Preamble paragraph 38, and Article 12.4 of the IUU Regulation.

[6] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2009/3391/pdfs/uksi_20093391_en.pdf. The Order implemented sanctions under Regulation 2847/93, later repealed by Regulation 1224/2009 (the Control Regulation). In Scotland, similar arrangements were made through the Sea Fishing (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing) (Scotland) Order 2013.

[7] Specimen catch certificates and provision for the development of assistance and data exchange processes are set out in Regulation 86/2010.

[8] See Articles 4.2, 5.2 and 6.1(b) of the IUU Regulation.

[9] Article 31.4(a) of the IUU Regulation.

EU External Strategy on Ocean Governance: Implications for IUU Fishing Control

The European Commission has this week issued a communication of fundamental importance for the future of global ocean governance. The statement sets out the Commission’s strategy for the development and implementation of the external dimension of the European Union’s maritime policy. The document outlines how the EU intends to respond to the challenges posed by the realities of ocean degradation and overexploitation within the framework the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Illegal Fishing

Credit: European Commission.

The EU plans significant resource mobilisation and capacity building in respect of ocean affairs across a wide spectrum of objectives. Focus areas include improving the governance framework, ensuring maritime security, promoting cooperation and coordination of existing institutional regimes, and investing towards ambitious sustainability targets.

Combatting IUU Fishing has been a priority for the EU for several years, and this is reflected in the strategy. The Commission currently values IUU fishing to be worth between EUR 8-19 Bn, involving at least 15% of global captures. The Commission has stated its intention to prevent unregulated fishing in the Arctic, and generally to address governance gaps through the promotion of regional cooperation and management, and the banning of contributory subsidies through WTO mechanisms.

Lack of knowledge of the impacts derived from ocean activities has been identified as a critical weakness preventing IUU fishing and overexploitation control. The Commission will seek to promote mechanisms for the identification of vessels and persons engaged in illegal practices, and to foster inter-agency cooperation, through Interpol where necessary. Member State based electronic tools should undergo development, and third country capacity and cooperation fostered for the purposes of the implementation of the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA). Engagement processes under the IUU Regulation will be strengthened.

More specifically, the EU projects to support the creation of a global fleet register, the allocation of a unique vessel identification number through the IMO system to commercial fishing vessels, and the establishment of a global catch certification scheme. Operations of the external EU fleet will undergo enhanced supervision, and full chain involvement and technological mediation in IUU fishing control will be enhanced as part of the strategy.

Sources:

http://ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/sites/maritimeaffairs/files/join-2016-49_en.pdf

http://ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/sites/maritimeaffairs/files/swd-2016-352_en.pdf

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Eradication of IUU Fishing

The sustainable use and conservation of the oceans is an objective recognised in the United Nation’s Agenda for 2030, as part of an overarching commitment to protect the planet from destructive production and consumption patterns.[1] The Agenda for Sustainable Development is a declaration establishing 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), and 169 associated targets that are meant to build on previous sustainable development commitments of the UN, and specifically address the unmet objectives of previous international sustainability agendas.[2]

p1010105-copy

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is global and aspirational, and is meant to be universally applicable. It has overarching objectives, namely the eradication of poverty and the realisation of a sustainable and resilient world with human rights at its centre.[3] In line with its broad objective to eliminate poverty, it addresses fisheries sustainability as an antidote to food insecurity and underdevelopment.[4] The sector’s sustainability is critically important to human wellbeing: around 12% of the world’s population depends on fisheries and aquaculture for work, and the sector supplies 17% of animal protein in human diets.[5] In addition, fisheries is strongly supportive of satellite economic sectors, particularly in developing island States.[6]

The role of fisheries in development is highlighted in SDG 2, but the prioritisation of policies for the sustainable use and conservation of the oceans is underlined by the adoption of an entire and ambitious goal, SDG 14. The goal is directly relevant to fishery production and utilisation, and to the improvement of fisheries institutions. For the purposes of IUU fishing control policies and their relationship to specific legal regimes, the following aspects of SDG 14 are important:

14.4 By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics.

14.6 By 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation.

14.c Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of “The future we want”.

SDG 14 is designed to work as a catalyst for the convergence of relevant governance strategies.[7] Specifically on the issue of the eradication of IUU fishing, SDG 14 situates targets in two interrelated but distinct contexts: On the one hand, the attainment of fairness in global trade through the regime of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and the eradication of detrimental subsidies.[8] Secondly, the sound and accountable governance of natural resources as the underpinning to just societies at a global level.[9] It is in this second context that SDG 14.4 sets a target to end IUU fishing as part of the commitment of restoring fish stocks to maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels by 2020. SDG 14.c specifically links this objective with the requirement to implement international law, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans. Allegiance to UNCLOS and its satellite treaties is therefore at the core of SDG 14, and all States with an interest in the sustainable management of living marine resources ought to prioritise ratification or accession, and domestic implementation. Further, they should clearly outline their commitment to UNCLOS in the context of international cooperation.

Finally, IUU fishing is one of the intractable problems of our time, and its complexity must not be underestimated. It both impacts and is impacted by corruption and poor governance, lax implementation of international law and global policy objectives, underdevelopment and marginalisation, and a lack of participation of the appropriate stakeholders in conservation, management and compliance policies. Hence, the objectives of SDG 14 must not be considered in isolation. The following are also relevant:

Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and amongst countries:

10.6 Ensure enhanced representation and voice for developing countries in decision-making in global international economic and financial institutions in order to deliver more effective, credible, accountable and legitimate institutions. 

Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels: 

16.6 Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.

Target 16.6 inherits part of the meaning of Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration, whereby it is recognised that environmental issues are best handled in a manner that permits participation by members of the public. This principle led to the adoption of the 1998 ECE Aarhus Convention.[10]

Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development data, monitoring and accountability:

17.18 By 2020, enhance capacity-building support to developing countries, including for least developed countries and small island developing States, to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.

17.19 By 2030, build on existing initiatives to develop measurements of progress on sustainable development that complement gross domestic product, and support statistical capacity-building in developing countries.

Mercedes Rosello, October 2016.

References:

[1] United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), ‘Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ (2015) A/Res/70/1.

[2] Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 3–14 June 1992, vol. I, Resolutions Adopted by the Conference (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.93.I.8 and corrigendum), resolution 1, annex I. 2012 Rio +20 Conference ‘The Future We Want’, which culminated in the adoption of a Resolution for, amongst other objectives, the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals. Report of the International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, 5–13 September 1994 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.95.XIII.18), chap. I, resolution 1, annex.7. Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 4–15 September 1995 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.96.IV.13), chap. I, resolution 1, annex II.

[3] UNGA Res 70/1, Preamble.

[4] UNGA Res 70/1, para 24.

[5] FAO SOFIA 2016, pp. 81.

[6] Ibid.

[7] FAO SOFIA 2016, pp 82.

[8] UNGA Res 70/1, paras. 27 and 30.

[9] UNGA Res 70/1, paras 33 and 35.

[10] Freestone, D ‘Problems of High Seas Governance’ in Vidas D and Schei PJ (Eds) The World Ocean in Globalization: Climate Change, Sustainable Fisheries, Biodiversity, Shipping, Regional Issues (2011) 127.

Lack of Transparency: the Achilles Heel in IUU Fishing Control

 

Who Fishes Far recently announced the availability of new information through their pioneering database, which represents an unprecedented achievement in affording visibility to information that is rarely accessible to the public.

The announcement, which can be accessed here, warns of gaps in the information. Amongst these, the ongoing lack of availability of a unique vessel identification number is highlighted as being of concern, despite the fact that European vessels have an authorisation number. The reason for this is that there is a recognised need for a global tool for the identification of vessels across all registries and ports. This deficiency has been of widespread concern in the sector, and has been discussed extensively in the global forum of the FAO.

IUU fishing success depends upon opacity

The absence of this vessel identification number across the spectrum of ocean-going fishing and support vessels is important, because vessels flagged not just to European member states, but to the majority of distant water fishing states, are not constrained to perpetually operate under the same flag. Owners are able to re-register vessels to other flags in pursuit of commercial or practical preferences. Through this re-registration process, the traceability of a vessel’s identity can easily be lost, and a unique vessel identifier, such as the universally acknowledged IMO number, may be the only element of permanence in what may otherwise be an unrecognisable ship.

It is clear from Interpol’s purple notices amongst other sources that a recurrent modus operandi of vessels engaged in IUU fishing operations that the masking of a vessel’s identity, nationality and history by way of frequent re-flagging is a persistent strategy adopted by IUU operators. Yet states that ostensibly subscribe to all the major international treaties on fisheries conservation and management persistently decline to make essential vessel information available and verifiable.

For instance, clear registration procedures, the identity of their vessels and specification of licence conditions is rarely accessible even though disclosing this information is in principle cost-neutral. An unfortunate recent example is the case of Thunder, a known IUU vessel whose registration and licensing status by Nigeria has never been fully disclosed.

Image Credit: Sea Shepherd Global

Image Credit: Sea Shepherd Global

Insufficient progress despite key importance of transparency

The potential and specifics of a global record of fishing and supply vessels and reefers has been repeatedly discussed by COFI, whose strategy document makes clear that a globally adopted system of vessel identification would form the lynchpin in the convergence of IUU fishing control data-sharing, and in the coordination of regional and global control regimes. This includes the much hoped for operational success of the 2009 Port State Measures Agreement, which came into force this month, and which relies for functionality on the disclosure and availability to port authorities of key data involving vessel identity and authorisations.

In addition to vessel identification numbers, the importance of minimum standards for vessel registration procedures and their public availability for vessel verification purposes cannot be overstated: vessel registration provides a mechanism for identity traceability that can easily be lost if minimum standards, such as those set out in the 2014 Voluntary Guidelines for Flag State Performance, are not followed with rigour. The accessibility of this information in order to verify vessel identity claims should be a key feature of any public vessel register, yet it is undermined by pervasive opacity.

Conclusion

Lack of transparency is the metaphorical Achilles heel of IUU fishing control, but it is in the power of flag, coastal and port States to ensure certain key disclosures, such as vessel identity and licensing data, are made and maintained. Given that the nature of this information is commercially non-sensitive, there seems to be little justification for refusing to disclose such data.

International legislation on IUU fishing control, from the 2001 International Plan of Action, to the IUU Regulation and the Port State Measures Agreement, has been constructed around the central role of the vessel in activities that can be classed as illegal, unreported and/or unregulated. Yet, an unidentifiable vessel is just an additional shield protecting the perpetrators.

Clearly, leadership initiatives by civil society have an important role to play, but the leverage potential of international markets should also be articulated to promote transparency. There should be little patience with current hesitancy, given that the stakes have never been higher.

Operation Sparrow brings an important message to the fight against IUU fishing

Awareness that cooperation is key for the successful governance of wild fisheries has increased exponentially in recent decades, and European Council Regulation 1005/2008, also known as the EU IUU Regulation, has been instrumental in fostering and incentivising such cooperation.

The IUU Regulation is Europe’s flagship law for the identification and control of IUU activities, products and interests. Crucially, the IUU Regulation includes measures to address a difficult issue: the participation of European interests in IUU fishing, including those conducted with vessels registered outside the EU.[1]

Illegal Fishing

Credit: European Commission.

Adaptive legislative measures were taken in Spain in 2014 in response to the requirements of the Regulation.[2] This has permitted the Spanish government to undertake a series of operations aimed at addressing the suspected involvement of nationals in IUU fishing schemes involving three vessels: Kunlun, Yongding and Songhua.[3] All three had been documented conducting unauthorised fishing activities in waters regulated by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).[4]

Three of the operations launched by Spain, Sparrow, Sparrow II and the latest, Banderas, are of an administrative character. A fourth, operation Yuyus, has been developed under the auspices of Spain’s National Criminal Court. These operations, coordinated with the assistance of Interpol, bring together the goodwill and expertise of several other countries, including Belize, New Zealand, Australia and Cape Verde, as well as public and non-public actors including NGOs.

The launch of the first of such operations, Sparrow, by Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and Environment, MAGRAMA, led to the announcement of unprecedented fines in respect of IUU fishing activities by Spanish persons in Antarctica.[5] The administrative process, now drawn to a close, has resulted in combined penalties of €17,840,000 being formally imposed on several Spanish companies, namely Vidal Armadores, Viarsa Energía, Viarsa Cartera, Primary Capital, Alimenta Corporación, Alimenta Túnidos, Gallega de Pesca Sostenible, Propegarvi, y Proyectos y Desarrollos Renovables as well as seven individuals.[6] The financial penalties include sanctions for obstructing the work of officials and destroying documents during the investigations. In addition to sanctions of a financial nature, prohibitions to carry out fishing activities spanning between 5 and 23 years, and prohibitions to request public funds in connection with fishing activities spanning between 5 and 26 years have also been imposed.[7]

redesybarcos1_tcm7-415210_noticia

Credit: MAGRAMA

With this announcement, MAGRAMA has drawn Operation Sparrow to its intended conclusion.[8] Meanwhile, MAGRAMA has dealt another blow in the fight against IUU fishing, as vessels Northern Warrior and Antony, both linked to finding under Sparrow II, were seized in the port of Vigo on Friday 18th March as part of MAGRAMA’s Operation Banderas.[9] It has been reported that persons responsible for the operation of the vessels relied on forged documentation to access the port, and that forgeries had also been used to obtain fishing authorisations in the course of 2015. The vessels, which appear to be currently stateless, are being held subject to the payment of bonds of over € 1 Million.[10]

In parallel with the above operations, a separate criminal investigation has also been under way for the past few months.[11] This investigation, named Yuyus by reference to IUU fishing, concerns suspected activities that are classified as infractions of Spanish penal law. Months of investigative work by operatives of the Spanish Guardia Civil and Interpol culminated on Monday the 14th, when down raids carried out on properties linked with the Vidal family resulted in the arrest and incarceration of six individuals who were later released on bail.[12] It has been widely reported that the infractions leading to the criminal charges would concern activities such as integration in a criminal organisation, money laundering, fraud, and unspecified activities amounting to environmental crimes recognised by Spanish law.[13]

Spain’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and Environment, Isabel Garcia Tejerina, has publicly congratulated MAGRAMA’s Fisheries Directorate General for their accomplishments, and highlighted the reception by the Directorate General of an ISO 9001/2015 certification in recognition of Spain’s quality management systems in respect of fisheries control. [14] This recognition confirms Spain’s leading role in the control of IUU fishing activities in Europe and abroad. [15]

igt01_tcm7-415248_noticia

Spanish Minister Isabel Garcia Tejerina. Credit: MAGRAMA

The importance of Operation Sparrow does not lay only in the highly symbolic nature of its ambitious objective: to disable some of the most persistent and high profile transgressions against fisheries conservation. Time only will tell if Sparrow has been able to deliver its intended coup de grace. However, Sparrow sets a precedent that must also be framed against the background of the EU IUU Regulation: the law requires an unwavering commitment by EU member States not only for its effectiveness, but also for the establishment and development of credible long term internal and extraterritorial standards of cooperation. The extraordinary complexity of operations Sparrow, Sparrow II, Banderas and Yuyus, which have variously been assisted by at least fourteen countries,[16] underlines the essential role that international cooperation and sound legal frameworks play in the fight against IUU fishing.

Efforts to bring fairness and sustainability to the sector may be far from over. However, the extraordinary events of the past few months serve to remind all those invested in the fight against IUU fishing that this is a fight that must and can be won.

REFERENCES

[1] The full text of the Regulation can be accessed via http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX%3A32008R1005

[2] http://www.magrama.gob.es/es/prensa/noticias/-la-reforma-de-la-ley-de-pesca-mar%C3%ADtima-del-estado-fortalece-el-futuro-del-sector-pesquero-y-acu%C3%ADcola-español-/tcm7-358461-16

[3] http://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News/2015/N2015-003

[4] https://www.ccamlr.org

[5] As reported on IUU Watch on December the 24th 2015: http://www.iuuwatch.eu/2015/12/operation-sparrow-a-landmark-in-the-fight-against-iuu-fishing/

[6] http://www.magrama.gob.es/es/prensa/noticias/la-resolución-del-expediente-de-la-operación-sparrow-sanciona-a-9-empresas-y-7-personas-f%C3%ADsicas-por-su-implicación-en-la-actividad-de–buques-qu/tcm7-415229-16

[7] http://www.magrama.gob.es/es/prensa/noticias/la-resolución-del-expediente-de-la-operación-sparrow-sanciona-a-9-empresas-y-7-personas-f%C3%ADsicas-por-su-implicación-en-la-actividad-de–buques-qu/tcm7-415229-16

[8] It is at present unclear whether the vessels Songua, Yongding and Kunlun, or any property of the sanctioned companies or individuals has been impounded.

[9] http://www.magrama.gob.es/es/prensa/noticias/el-ministerio-de-agricultura-alimentación-y-medio-ambiente-retiene-a-dos-buques-por-la-posible-comisión-de-infracciones-muy-graves-relacionadas-/tcm7-415451-16

[10] Ibid

[11] Audiencia Nacional: http://www.poderjudicial.es/cgpj/es/Poder-Judicial/Audiencia-Nacional/

[12] http://www.lavozdegalicia.es/noticia/maritima/2016/03/08/detenidos-pesca-ilegal-antartida-cuatro-miembros-vidal-armadores/0003_201603G8P31994.htm

[13] http://www.elmundo.es/cronica/2016/03/14/56e3f37546163f3e638b4588.html

[14] http://www.magrama.gob.es/es/prensa/noticias/garc%C3%ADa-tejerina-españa-es-l%C3%ADder-indiscutible-y-un-referente-a-nivel-mundial-en-el-control-e-inspección-pesquera–/tcm7-415092-16

[15] http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail?csnumber=62085

[16] http://www.fishnewseu.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=15038:the-tooth-the-whole-tooth-and-nothing-but-the-tooth&catid=46:world