IUU: Is it a bird or a plane? Is it illegal fishing, unregulated fishing or crime? Look to the Fish Stocks Agreement for answers

The first global instrument to introduce the expression IUU fishing was the 2001 International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA), a non-binding international tool.

Known as a toolbox for States to guide them in the fight against undesirable fishing practices, the IPOA is extensively referenced as the source of the definition of IUU fishing, contained in its paragraph 3. This definition has now been integrated in treaty law, the legal regimes of several States, and European Union legislation. Yet, despite its popularity, the term is controversial due to its lack of legal clarity.

In this blog post we explain that, rather than understanding the term as a single tool with which to assess conduct, it is useful to think of it as three distinct but overlapping categories. Each category presents a different perspective on undesirable fishing activities. Except for the first one, which is all-encompassing in its descriptive simplicity, the categories are not comprehensive. Further, they do not comprise a set of standards on which to judge the illegality of a fishing operation, or the conduct of a State in respect of its international obligations. In this respect, the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement is better equipped to deal with such tasks.

First and second categories: illegal and unreported fishing

Cephalopod vessel in the waters of Thailand

Cephalopod vessel in the waters of Thailand

The first category, that of illegal fishing, is set out in paragraph 3.1 of the IPOA. It is a straightforward description of what makes a fishery conduct a wrong in law at the domestic and international levels.

Firstly, domestically: when the conduct of a vessel (a more accurate reference would be to the person or persons responsible for its operation) contravenes applicable domestic law, it is illegal. Secondly, internationally: certain conducts by vessels may demonstrate a shortfall by the State responsible for their control in the observance of its international legal obligations.  When this occurs, there may be an international wrong.

Ultimately, however, whether any illegality has indeed occurred will need to be determined by a relevant authority. Domestically, this may be an administrative authority or a court of law. Internationally, a tribunal with jurisdiction.

A second category, that of unreported fishing, is set out in paragraph 3.2 of the IPOA. Domestically, it refers to vessel conducts that contravene the specific laws that regulate the reporting of fishing activity or catch. Internationally, paragraph 3.2 goes on to refer to activities that contravene the rules of regional fishery management organisations (RFMOs) in areas of the high seas where they have regulatory competence. The reference to a contravention implies that the subject (a State) must have agreed to abide by those rules [Ref 1]. If such State permits a vessel in its register to operate in a manner that is inconsistent with those rules, the State may be committing an international wrong. Hence, domestically as well as internationally, unreported fishing is a sub-category of illegal fishing. Curiously, other than RFMO rules no reference is made in the IPOA to the contravention of international laws that oblige States to report on fishery data. Given this incompleteness, unreported fishing has little value as a legal category beyond national and regional management contexts.

These categories describe what illegality looks like, but they do not act as legal yardsticks. Domestically, the illegality of a fishing activity can only be determined by way of assessment of the conduct of an operator against the applicable municipal laws by a competent authority. These laws may vary from country to country. However, before the birth of the IPOA, the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement (FSA) had already typified a number of fisheries activities that it referred to as serious violations. State parties to the FSA are required to address those violations in their respective domestic legal regimes. The non-exhaustive list in FSA Article 21.11 includes conducts such as fishing without authorisation, failing to report catch, using destructive fishing gear, or obstructing an investigation by concealing evidence, to name a few. Hence, in FSA State parties at least, those will be the conducts that will be restricted or outlawed – they will be the illegal fishing conducts to which the IPOA refers or, at least, some of them.  

Reef fish in the Celebes Sea, a frequent target of dynamite fishing

Reef fish in the Celebes Sea, a frequent target of dynamite fishing

However, the regulatory influence of the FSA does not extend to non-parties, or to the conservation and management of stock that is neither straddling nor highly migratory. Where non-transboundary stock is located in the EEZ of a coastal State, it is left to the discretion of that State to determine what fishing activities should be restricted or outlawed. It will need to do this within the general parameters of international law, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other treaties to which it is bound, including bilateral agreements.

Whether illegal fishing conducts may also be typified as criminal will depend on the discretion of each State. The FSA does not oblige State parties to criminalise any fishery behaviours, only to address certain conducts as serious violations. Most countries choose to do this by way of non-criminal public law and administrative measures. Currently, illegal fishing is not considered a transnational crime in accordance with the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, and therefore States are not obliged to treat it as such. Further, the IPOA discourages this, considering the rigours of criminal law in terms of proof and process too onerous. It is, however, noteworthy that some States have chosen to criminalise some specific conducts associated to illegal fishing practices (click here for information in respect of criminalisation in Korea). In other cases, strategy documents have referred to illegal fishing as a crime, but the relevant legislators have failed to adopt the necessary laws to ensure criminalisation in their domestic regimes (click here for information on the integrated maritime security strategy of the African Union).

Finally, a domestic instance of illegal fishing – whether criminal or not – will be of little significance internationally unless an international legal standard of conduct has also been contravened by a State with responsibility. At the time of writing, such legal standards are principally found in general international law, UNCLOS, the 1995 Compliance Agreement and, in respect of straddling and highly migratory stock, the FSA. Whilst several paragraphs of the IPOA have substantially defined some of those rules, its voluntary nature makes it unsuitable as a yardstick against which the conduct of a State can be assessed in order to determine its possible illegality.

Third category: unregulated fishing

The third category, unregulated fishing, is set out in paragraph 3.3 of the IPOA. It has two distinct prongs:

The first one refers to activities carried out inside areas and for stocks under the regulatory competence of RFMOs, in a manner that is inconsistent with their conservation rules. Such activities must be carried out by vessels without nationality, or by vessels flying the flag of a State that has not agreed to be bound by the rules that RFMO (for States who have agreed to this, the activity contravening the rules would be categorised as illegal fishing, as explained above). In effect, this label is slightly misleading, because the sea areas and stocks to which it refers are regulated by RFMOs, notwithstanding the States or vessels’ choice to disregard such regulation.

Transhipment in the Central Pacific (www.underwatertimes.com)

Transhipment in the Central Pacific (Source: http://www.underwatertimes.com)

The second prong refers to activities carried out in a manner inconsistent with the flag State’s international obligations in respect of high seas areas or stocks not affected by RFMO conservation or management rules. Hence, the label unregulated fishing here refers to the absence of RFMO rules.

Although superficial reading of paragraph 3 of the IPOA may suggest that unregulated fishing is an entirely separate category from illegal fishing and is therefore legal, this is not the case. As paragraph 3.4 of the IPOA subsequently clarifies, unregulated fishing will also be illegal if it is inconsistent with the flag State’s international obligations. Beyond obligations acquired in the institutional context of RFMOs, States also have conservation and cooperation obligations derived from general international law and applicable treaty law. However, the protection offered to those ocean areas and stocks by international law is generally considered thin and unclear in practical terms, making assessments of legality particularly difficult. This is specially so in cases where States have not agreed to important treaties such as the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea or the 1993 Compliance Agreement, or where no other binding rules (such as those that may be established in a bilateral agreement) exist.

Hence, unregulated fishing is a wide spectrum category comprising high seas activities that are always pernicious insofar as they undermine conservation and cooperation efforts, but whose illegality may be uncertain in accordance with the current international framework. The value of this category lies not in its ability to facilitate an assessment of what may constitute legal or illegal conduct, but in its usefulness to ascribe a negative value to certain fishing activities irrespective of their illegality. This can be practical for a State or group of States who have adopted certain conservation rules, and have to deal with other States who have not done so. The conserving States may be reluctant to commence international proceedings against the non-conserving States for many reasons, ranging from the political undesirability of engagement in a high profile dispute, to cost, to lack of confidence in the international legal framework, to name a few. In this context, such States may opt for the deployment of trade measures against non-conserving States. Amongst the advantages of this process are the presence of incentives, as well as the avoidance of the rigours associated to international legal process. Subject to a number of procedural conditions, if the products from the non-conserving States have been captured in a manner that is detrimental to conservation and are excluded by the conserving States on the basis of a non-discriminatory process, they may be considered compliant with the rules of the World Trade Organisation and be, therefore, viewed as legitimate. See the commentary on the Shrimp Turtle decision of the WTO Appellate Body in respect of Paragraph (g) in Article XX of the 1994 GATT for more information.

Conclusion

The ‘hold all’ composite term IUU Fishing is instrumental in ascribing a negative value to a wide range of fishing and fishery support activities whose illegality is uncertain in order to enhance the accountability of operators and States through trade measures. Beyond this, paragraph 3 of the IPOA does not constitute a proper standard against which the conduct of an operator or a State can be legally assessed by a relevant administrative or judicial authority. Its voluntary nature makes it unsuitable for this task in any event. Appropriately therefore, the IPOA does not list actual behaviours by private actors that States can then domestically class as illegal. By contrast, the FSA does contain such list in respect of fishery activities targeting straddling and highly migratory species. The list in its Article 21.11 should be replicated, expanded and changed where necessary to be made applicable to non-transboundary stocks across domestic regimes, and in the context of bilateral fishery agreements [Ref 2]. This, plus the treaty’s integral management of RFMO conservation consent by State parties makes its adoption and implementation essential in the management of illegal fishing and the delimitation of unregulated fishing to cases where there is no RFMO regulation. The FSA is, therefore, an essential tool in the regulation of fisheries and the eradication of illegal practices, and States should work hard to foster its generalised adoption alongside the adoption of national plans of action and the Port State Measures Agreement.

[Ref 1] Theilen, Jens T. “What’s in a Name? The Illegality of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.” International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law 28, no. 3 (2013): 533–50.

[Ref 2] The list in FSA Art. 21.11 has been replicated and expanded upon by Council Regulation (EC) 1005/2008 (the EU IUU Regulation).

Bearing Witness: glorious reefs, seas of plastic and the horrors of dynamite fishing

An unexpected opportunity has recently taken me to the archipelagic waters near the Malaysian city of Tawau in the Celebes Sea. Near the port of Semporna, the islands of Mabul, Kapalai and Sipadan are set amongst reefs of rich biodiversity, offering a range of breathtaking underwater landscapes.

Photo credit: Sipadan.com

Photo credit: Sipadan.com

The area, where the EEZs of Borneo, Malaysia and the Philippines converge, is a dream destination for scuba divers, keen to explore the warm waters, varied life and lively dynamics of the reefs.

The reefs and their inhabitants are vulnerable to human activities and their balance is delicate. A stark reminder of this fact are the names that had originally been given to some of the diving sites by the pioneers of the once nascent diving industry here, such as Stingray City, Lobster Wall or Eel Valley. Yet, these sites no longer harbour the creatures that named them.

Whilst there are many factors that can affect marine biodiversity, some of the causes that are operative in this region became apparent as soon as my first immersion took place. Hard and soft plastics, which litter beaches and the sea surface in much of the region, were also present with alarming regularity on the reefs, sometimes alongside discarded fishing gear.

My elation at seeing a hawksbill turtle foraging soon turned to concern when I discovered a plastic glove resting by soft coral less than half a metre away from the animal. Though I rushed to pick it up and secure it to my wetsuit, I wondered how long it would be before the turtle encountered another piece.

Devoid of infrastructures, people in Semporna and the Celebes islands frequently discard plastic bottles and bags into the sea, and large hills of plastic debris can be seen slowly creeping into the ocean.

Photo Credit: AlJazeera.com

Photo Credit: AlJazeera.com

A less obvious, if even more insidious consequence of leaving plastics in the sea is that they break down into very small microscopic pieces, ending up being consumed by plankton and other creatures, becoming embedded in the ocean’s trophic chains and in fish that can make its way to human plates.

Despite the conservation slant of some of the diving operators, efforts can hardly dent the problem in the face of systemic failures of infrastructure, education and willingness.

Additionally, but perhaps saddest of all, every one of my dives was regularly marred by the startling underwater boom of repeated dynamite fishing. The sight of two large dead green turtles, one with its shell cracked open, and countless dead and dying fish was a desperate reminder of the devastation that dynamite fishing inflicts on the marine environment. Under the surface of the sea, the ruined reef can no longer harbour any life, becoming barren.

Image credit: oneocean.org

Image credit: oneocean.org

Whilst locals to Mabul informally confided that artisanal fishers from the Philippines regularly dynamite reefs in the archipelago, it also transpired that the borders between the three countries are frequently breached by unauthorised fishermen of any of the three nations.

The extremely destructive and wasteful practice of dynamite fishing is forbidden by the United Nations’ 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement. All State parties to this treaty are obliged to treat dynamite fishing as a very serious offence, and to seek its eradication whether it is engaged in by national vessels anywhere in the world, or by foreign vessels in the State’s jurisdictional waters. Philippines, a party to the agreement since 2014, has an international responsibility to eradicate the practice from its own waters, as well as those of its neighbours where its own vessels are involved.

Photo Credit: NOAA

Photo Credit: NOAA

Philippines was officially warned by the European Commission in respect of uncontrolled illegal fishing practices but such warning was withdrawn in April 2015.

Yet, in this region at least, dynamite fishing continues to be rampant and, what is worse, expected.

The beauty and richness of the reefs and the marine life they harbour certainly shines through. With so many threats, however, I wonder for how long.

Mercedes Rosello, 2015.

Sources:

1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, available on: http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_overview_fish_stocks.htm

The US, the EU and IUU – Part 2

Nobody can tackle IUU fishing alone: Will opportunities for global leadership be grasped?

Vessel suspected of IUU fishing awaiting auction in South Africa. Credit: Muscat Daily

Vessel suspected of IUU fishing awaiting auction in South Africa. Credit: Muscat Daily

Those who doubted the potential of the European Union’s Council Regulation 1005/2008 (the IUU Regulation) to change the laissez-faire culture that has been prevalent for too long in respect of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities inside and outside EU borders have had plenty of food for thought over the past four and a half years. In the time since the IUU Regulation came into force, the yellow card warning system, followed up on occasion by a trade-suspending red card, have seen a significant change in the administrative practices of a number of fish producing countries. Most importantly, the IUU Regulation has placed IUU fishing high in the agendas of nations that had previously not been predisposed to delve into the issue.

True, the regime is not perfect and there is yet much work to do to make a true dent in the global IUU trade. IUU fishing practices continue to cause vast losses to the worldwide economy (Eur. 10 Bn, according to the European Directorate for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries – DG Mare- which is equivalent to 19% of the reported value of catches worldwide). In addition, the destructive and insidious nature of IUU operations cause important harm not only to fish stocks and the marine environment, but also undermines every seafood producing fleet that plays by the rules. The ungovernable nature of covert IUU activities means that administrations that are keen to ensure sustainable exploitation have their work systematically undermined by the covert, dishonest nature of unreported captures.

Millions of people depend on seafood for nutrition as well as work and income, not just in producing countries, but also through the processing, importation and distribution and retail of seafood products. Further, many of those involved in fisheries have close, even ancestral, cultural ties to the activity. In many regions of the world (including of course the EU) domestic fishery production cannot match internal demand, and imports from third countries have become a necessity.

What this means, of course, is that the conservation and sustainable management of fishery resources is a collective, thoroughly intertwined effort of many actors and of very diverse nationalities. Nobody can tackle IUU fishing alone, irrespective of how much they may want to.

Yet, not everyone wants to. Routine commercial narratives evidence attitudes where business as usual, and turning a blind eye to stock erosion and illegality creep, are rife. A good illustration of such attitudes was a recent comment made to the Thai press by the head from a national fishery association, asserting his view that the yellow card presented to Thailand over IUU fishing by the EU must have more to do with protectionism and political intervention rather than with the relevance of Thailand’s mismanagement of the considerable presence of IUU activity in their production chains (not to mention the serious mistreatment of people, including their trafficking and abuse, marring the Thai seafood industry). If a comment ever represented a lack of consciousness as well as conscience, then this is it.

The interviewee’s suggestion that Thailand should seek to export to the Middle East, rather than put in an effort to clean up its act is sadly representative of a type of viewpoint that prioritises short-term, entrenched approaches that are not only ultimately doomed to failure, but which also represent a real risk for all administrations working toward long term, rational and fair approaches to seafood production and trade.

It is clear that a sustained collective effort is needed in order to address and change such attitudes and get to the root of IUU activity. With this in mind, the Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud has recently presented its Action Plan for Implementing the Task Force Recommendations has caused some degree of concern at House of Ocean. Whilst much of what is contained here is ambitious and commendable, it is striking that no mention is made anywhere in the report with regard to trade measure compatibility with existing programmes and regimes. In particular, coordination with the EU is only mentioned in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) agreement, the negotiations of which are still ongoing. No mention is made anywhere in the Action Plan of the specific measures adopted by the EU to combat IUU fishing to date, nor those adopted by Regional Fishery Management Organisations since the onset of the 21st Century. Perhaps the Task Force is reluctant to admit that the US has lagged behind in the development of IUU-specific trade measures?

However, it now has a golden opportunity to seek convergence with existing regimes, to make a substantial contribution to their improvement and expansion, and to become a formidable co-architect and a leading engineer in the fight against IUU operations. To sacrifice such an important global role for the sake of less cooperative solutions may only serve to perpetuate the tragedy of our ocean.

Sources

http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/documentation/publications/2015-04-tackling-iuu-fishing_en.pdf

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ia/iuu/noaa_taskforce_report_final.pdf

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/EUs-motive-behind-yellow-card-queried-30259466.html

 

 

The US, the EU, and IUU

On 17th June 2014, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum in which some initial measures to combat illegal and unregulated fishing were established. A task force which included representatives from Environment, Commerce, Department of State, Interior, Justice and Defence was integrated with the aim of advising the White House on the design of a comprehensive framework to counteract IUU fishing.

The task force has now passed its recommendations, and opinions are being sought on their implementation from a wide range of stakeholders.

Imports from Sri Lanka have been banned by the EU (photo credit: The Grocer)

Imports from Sri Lanka have been banned by the EU (photo credit: The Grocer)

Amongst other things, the US is seeking to develop in cooperation with RFMOs and other governments catch traceability systems that are compatible with those already established regionally.

The US should do well to look across the Atlantic to the EU’s catch certification system implemented under Council Regulation 1005/2008 (The IUU Regulation). The certification system is already widely used by a large number of exporting nations and has been designed with RFMO and WTO compatibility in mind.

Amongst its strengths is the scheme’s ability to engage exporting flag States in the catch certification process, hence affording a high degree of definition to the general international obligation to cooperate in an objective and transparent manner. Further, by endorsing the catch certificate at point of capture, exporting flag States are, in a single act, publicly assuming their international responsibilities of vessel control, effectively declaring to any purchaser the legality of the catch.

The consequences of illegality being subsequently demonstrated have already been shown, as a number of exporting flag States have been yellow-carded since the scheme came to life in January 2010. Others who had systematically endorsed the legality of IUU products have already seen the large, lucrative European markets close their doors to them, in essence being made to assume to cost of illegal fishing by their fleets. Belize, Guinea, Cambodia and Sri Lanka have all been at the receiving end of this treatment, with Belize being so far the only one re-admitted to trading upon making legislative improvements.

In fact, the toothmarks of the IUU Regulation are already visible: The Republic of Korea is tightening controls over its mighty distant water fleet, and Ghana and Philippines have publicly highlighted multiple initiatives to combat IUU fishing since they were notified of a yellow card by the Commission. Even Thailand, who has not been formally warned yet, is reportedly hurrying to improve fisheries controls. Fiji, Panama, Togo and Vanuatu have also addressed structural regulatory deficiencies in vessel control, whilst other countries still under warning (Curacao, St Vincent & Grenadines, Tuvalu, St Kitts & Nevis, and Solomon Islands) are said to be working through their respective regimes.

With the US now looking outward to implement its own trade and traceability system, there is a unique opportunity to strengthen and unify market mechanisms to filter out illegal produce and reward those who are able to demonstrate the legality of their catch.

There is also a unique chance to contributing to strengthen the capability and resilience of the EU catch certificate by making a push towards a joint move from paper to electronic certification – something that would make the traceability element of the certification more reliable and the system in general less susceptible to tampering.

Lastly, electronic schemes capable of coordination should also be capable of integrating two fundamental elements for effectiveness: the ability to trace imports by species, quantity, capture location and nationality, and the ability to marry import data with exporting vessel identity and its VMS readings.

Because, ultimately, only knowing and sharing the truth about capture data will arm regulators with the right tools to defeat IUU fishing.

Sources:

http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/cfp/illegal_fishing/info/index_en.htm

http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/12/235173.htm

http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2015/01/26/thailand-reportedly-scrambles-to-fight-iuu-as-eu-yellow-card-looms/

IUU fishing vessel Thunder has been spotted: what next?

The IUU Fishing Blog ends the year sharing the good news that the IUU fishing vessel Thunder has been sighted and may be close to being apprehended.

An Interpol Purple Notice was issued in December 2013 in respect of the Thunder, which is flagged to Nigeria. The vessel is sought by the governments of New Zealand, Australia and Norway for various fishery related infractions as well as possible fraud.

The Sea Shepherd Vessel Bob Barker

The Sea Shepherd Vessel Bob Barker

Thunder was spotted with its fishing gear deployed by none other than the SS Bob Barker. The Sea Shepherd flagship has been deployed to hunt poachers seeking to capture a regulated and highly prized species known as toothfish or Chilean bass in the Southern Ocean. Sea Shepherd activists are paying special attention to this small fish due to the temporary withdrawal of the Japanese whaling fleet following an order by the International Court of Justice.

Members of the Coalition of Legal Thoothfish Operators (COLTO) have welcomed the news and expressed gratitude to the captain of the SS Bob Barker, American Swede Peter Hammarstedt. The coalition is also supporting a call from member company Austral to the Nigerian government to de-register Thunder. This would render the vessel stateless, and its lack of diplomatic protection would make the process of apprehension by Norway, Australia or New Zealand much more straightforward.

Whilst the Bob Barker is poised to stalk the Thunder in the dangerous waters of the Southern Ocean, news have yet to emerge on whether any coastal guard or navy vessels from the countries associated with the publication of the Purple Notice are on their way.

Not everyone has welcomed the intervention of the Sea Shepherds: The Tasmanian Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies has been critical of the organisation. Comments made to The Mercury (Australia) seem to suggest that the Institute considers that the actions of SS could potentially endanger the Thunder’s apprehension.

We certainly hope officials are on their way to apprehend the Thunder, given its known location. The IUU vessel was discovered fishing with highly destructive fishing gear in an area of the high seas regulated by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

The Institute purports that being outside of the Exclusive Economic Zone of any coastal State, the activities of Thunder are ‘unregulated’ rather than ‘illegal’ and that this places them beyond the administrative jurisdiction of coastal States for its current activities. At House of Ocean we dispute this view because, whilst Nigeria is not a member of CCAMLR, it is a party to the Fish Stocks Agreement. Hence, any activities carried out by their vessels in the CCAMLR management area that breach the organisation’s conservation measures should be considered illegal. The Thunder can and should be boarded and inspected by CCAMLR States, and communications with Nigeria should be ongoing to determine its fate. Further, Norway, Australia and New Zealand could still intervene with regard to the activities that induced the publication of the Purple Notice.

Neither the vessel nor its flag State are beyond the reach of other possible measures. These could include the Thunder being black-listed in ports and prevented from selling its fish, for example. As for Nigeria, it could find itself at the receiving end of enquiries in respect of its failure to control IUU fishing by vessels flying its flag. A large number of Nigerian fishing vessels are currently authorised to export catch to the EU, so Nigeria’s interests would not seem to be aligned with those who own and operate the Thunder.

We will certainly be watching the next steps with interest but, in the meantime, may we wish you all a very prosperous New Year.

Editor’s Note, 27 Dec 2014: 

We understand assertions have been made stating that the position of the Tasmanian Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies in this matter suggests they are being tolerant of fisheries illegality – we would like to clarify that we do not support such assertions in any way. The Institute’s work against IUU fishing speaks for itself ( http://www.imas.utas.edu.au ). Clearly, the Institute are entitled to take a view on the specific circumstances surrounding the identification of the Thunder by SS on the basis of their expertise and experience of Australian legal process and fisheries regulation, and to communicate such views to the press as they feel appropriate in order to foster constructive debate – something we fully support.

Sources

http://www.colto.org/2014/12/22/22nd-december-2014-de-register-thunder-company-calls-for-australian-government-support/

http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/148/18136.pdf

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/18/sea-shepherd-calls-for-australian-intervention-southern-ocean-standoff

http://www.themercury.com.au/news/tasmania/activists-told-to-lay-off-sea-shepherds-high-seas-arrests-counter-productive-say-marine-experts/story-fnj4f7k1-1227163757671

https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/sanco/traces/output/NG/FFP_NG_en.pdf

http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/reviewconf/FishStocks_EN_C.pdf

 

 

 

 

IUU Fishing and Europe: Control Begins at Home

Oceana has reported on the concerning state of swordfish fisheries in the Mediterranean, highlighting in particular the indiscriminate targeting and trading of this fish by EU (particularly Italian) vessels.

Photo Credit: Greenpeace, sourced from worldfishing.net

Photo Credit: Greenpeace, sourced from worldfishing.net

According to the NGO, EU inspectors recorded a series of serious incidents in Italy during March 2013. These included the widespread trading of undersized swordfish, unusually large volumes of landings, pervasive irregularities in vessel and catch documentation, disinterest by local authorities and disregard for regional conservation measures.

Oceana have also denounced the fact that high market prices are working as an incentive for this irresponsible harvesting of vulnerable Mediterranean swordfish populations. The NGO is calling for the EU to work towards defining sustainability measures in ICCAT and be coherent with European sustainability objectives.

Having visited the beautiful coast of Southern Italy last year, I was struck by the widespread presence of undersized fish in markets, the ubiquitous presence of monofilament net in small fishing vessels and the presence of gill nets in areas that were supposedly protected. In addition, superficial enquiries revealed that flaunting fisheries laws in respect of tuna and swordfish appears to be accepted as common.

Of course this was in no way a scientific research exercise and I accept that the views of the people I spoke to may not be representative of others in the region. However, the reports made by the Commission’s own inspectors are, according to the NGO, alarming and strongly suggestive of a widespread culture of non-compliance.

In my opinion, this should concern the Commission deeply, and not just from the perspective of swordfish conservation.

Firstly, whilst some countries in Europe are making an effort to implement the Control and IUU regulations, it is becoming increasingly obvious that others are not. The strength of our common legislation lies in the success of coordinated control measures. Any systemic compliance voids are, effectively, tears in the European fabric of fisheries control and they must be identified and closed before they become gaping wounds.

Further, and perhaps most importantly, the EU has sustained a very high-profile campaign against IUU fishing internationally. The IUU Regulation is a legal achievement whose technical and political success at global level may not have been possible just a few years back. However, if the EU wants to continue to lead the fight against IUU fishing unchallenged, it must be itself a model of compliance.

The Commission now needs to act urgently and decisively to ensure the uniform implementation of our common fisheries laws in the territory of the Union and to show the world that IUU fishing will not be tolerated wherever it occurs. If our domestic fleets’ depredations go unaddressed, others may begin to question the legitimacy of the Control and the IUU Regulations and the significant compliance efforts that some European countries have made may yet turn sterile.

Mercedes Rosello

PhD Candidate (University of Hull)

Sources:

http://www.thefishsite.com/fishnews/24421/european-commission-documents-prove-illegal-fishing-of-swordfish

Illegal Fishing of Swordfish Highlights Weaknesses in IUU Control Mechanisms

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.

Swordfish (xiphias gladius). Photo Credit: Sue Flood, naturepl.com

Photo Credit: Sue Flood

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.

Sources:

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-584_en.htm

Click to access Italian_Driftnets.pdf


http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:286:0001:0032:EN:PDF#page=27
http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2014/06/30/spain-seeks-eu-wide-suspension-of-vietnamese-swordfish-imports/
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N95/274/67/PDF/N9527467.pdf?OpenElement

Catch Certificates and Swordfish Imports into the EU

BY GUEST BLOGGER ELIZABETH P. DAY

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 fishing.net

Swordfish (Xiphias Gladius). Photo Credit: world fishing.net

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.

 

Sources

http://www.cepesca.es/las-asociaciones-de-palangre-de-superficie-de-cepesca-analizan-con-carlos-dominguez-propuestas-de-actuacion-para-mejorar-la-rentabilidad-de-esta-flota/

http://www.europapress.es/galicia/pesca-00247/noticia-pesca-espana-suspende-importaciones-pez-espada-vietnam-exceder-capturas-declaradas-20140606150711.html

http://www.farodevigo.es/mar/2014/05/26/palangre-alerta-subida-1879-entrada/1030530.html

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)

Illegal Fishing and Vessel Identity Usurpation: Smoke and Mirrors or Dereliction of Duty?

The recently reported case of the Der Horng 569 / Naham No. 4 proves that vessel identity can be usurped with relative ease.

A vessel flagged to Oman and purporting to be the Naham 4 was granted permission to dock in a South African port. Upon inspection on arrival it was found to have mis-declared the amount of fish in was carrying in its hold.

The Naham 4 awaiting auction in South Africa. Credit: Muscat Daily

The Naham 4 awaiting auction in South Africa. Credit: Muscat Daily

Further investigations by South African authorities uncovered the fact that the vessel had been engaged in IUU fishing activity. Its owners, a Taiwanese-owned (but Oman based) company called Al-Naham, are reportedly being prosecuted for their various breaches of South African law as well as the regional conservation rules of the Indian Ocean Trade Commission (IOTC).

Further investigations by NGOs FISH-I Africa and FIS also unearthed that the identity of the Naham 4 was in fact fake. The vessel may have been previously known as the Der Horng 569 and been flagged to Belize.The Taiwanese owners of the Der Horng 569 had reported it stolen in 2009.

It has been reported that upon changing hands the vessel may have been renamed Naham 4 – a name already in use by a different, smaller vessel registered with the IOTC. Apparently up to four vessels may have been operating under the name Naham 4, and that at least two identification numbers have been associated with that name (allegedly IMO 8650057, corresponding to the Naham 3 and IMO Number 7741550, corresponding to the actual Der Horng 569).

The previous owners of the Der Horng 569, a Taiwan-based company, are understood to have commenced legal proceedings against the people behind Al-Naham, with whom they are thought to have been business partners before the Der Horng 569 was declared stolen.

This case illustrates a number of important issues.

The effectiveness of NGO participation and integration in investigative and evidence-obtaining structures is evident here, for example.

Further, the Naham 4 saga perfectly showcases the multi-jurisdictional affair that IUU fishing often is. The cross-border nature of vessel ownership and fishing activities requires a regulatory approach that can only be successful if robust cooperation and effective coordination between different States and agencies. Unfortunately, this means that each regulatory chain is only as strong as its weakest link and that the failure of any one agency responsible for carrying out checks and verification lets down the entire system.

In this particular example Oman, the flag State of the rogue vessel, did not observe agreed international due diligence standards to carry out the pre-registration and historical checks that would have enabled it to know that the vessel had a false identity. By registering the vessel they showed considerable lassitude, giving the Naham 4 the ability to operate under the appearance of legality. For more information on due diligence standards for Flag States in the combat against IUU fishing, please see the 2013 FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Flag State Performance.

The notion that using a fake vessel identity would be more difficult if vessels owners had an obligation to acquire IMO numbers for their ships is well known. We have mentioned in past blog posts that this obligation is coming in, if rather late. It will not be in place in the IOTC area until 2016 at the earliest (see our earlier post “Towards compulsory IMO numbers” here).

Finally, it is worth highlighting that, whilst the pretend Naham 4 rusts awaiting auction in a South African port, its owners have absconded, leaving their South African agent behind with considerable debt. Unsurprisingly perhaps, sources appear to suggest that the pretend Nahab 4’s owners may be linked to previous illegal fishing operations. Vessels are the tools with which unscrupulous individuals engage in illegal fishing, environmental crimes and other types of maritime illegality. All cross-checking and black-listing by governments and public bodies must rightly identify vessels, but if IUU fishing vessels must come out of the shadows, their owners must be brought out with them.

­Sources

http://www.stopillegalfishing.com/sifnews_article.php?ID=151

http://www.muscatdaily.com/Archive/Oman/Naham-No-4-awaiting-auction-in-SA-could-be-stolen-Taiwan-vessel-3d5x

European Policy on Illegal Fishing: Emergence of an International Trend?

Google Earth image featuring illegal fishing in European waters

Google Earth image featuring illegal fishing in European waters

Editor’s Note: This blog post was first published on http://iuufishing.ideasoneurope.eu on the 3rd of July 2014.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Union (EU) have singled out illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing as one of the main factors contributing to fishery depletion and a key obstacle to achieving sustainability.[1]

IUU fishing and overfishing have already affected the food security of vulnerable populations on land.[2]

At a time when fish has a growing importance in feeding the world, against a backdrop of our rapidly increasing human population, the environmental impacts of IUU fishing are a food security time bomb. This is made worse by the fact that pollution and climate change may also be undermining the ocean’s ability to produce food.

IUU fishing refers to fishing or fishing support activities performed in breach of fisheries management or conservation laws in national or international waters. It is a persistent phenomenon that thrives due to complex interactions.

IUU fishing is a complex problem, symptomatic of underlying factors that can also contribute to insecurity. Examples include a lack of distributive justice in resource access opportunities, inadequate and/or fragile legal and institutional frameworks, an absence of integrated monitoring, control and surveillance mechanisms and poor observance of the rule of law in maritime spaces.

For policies against IUU fishing to be successful, difficult problems such as the lack of governance accountability or the success of illegal global markets in wildlife and natural resources must be tackled.[3] The EU, current leader in the fight against IUU fishing, has developed a trade policy to address some of these issues.

In January 2010 the EU started to enforce a comprehensive system of port and market controls. By way of a pan-European law (Council Regulation 1005/2008 “the IUU Regulation”), the EU has devised a WTO-compatible methodology for detecting IUU fishing trade flows as well as identifying States that do not address the illegal fishing activities of their fleets.[4]

By engaging exporting States in a certification system that guarantees fish capture legality, the European Commission is able to identify exporting countries that allow IUU fishing trade flows to reach Europe. The Commission deals with this by working with such countries in the first instance, under a warning that failure to improve IUU fishing compliance controls may result in trade restrictions.

To date, the Commission has formally warned several countries, namely Panama, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Togo, Vanuatu, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Korea and Ghana. The European Council, following the Commission’s recommendation, has banned seafood imports from Guinea, Belize and Cambodia on IUU fishing concerns.[5]

The IUU Regulation also enables European governments to use port tools in the fight against IUU fishing. For example, it establishes a system of notifications and inspections for fishing vessels and refrigerated seafood cargo vessels. It has also established the foundations for the creation of an EU illegal vessel black list. Vessels that feature in this list are not able to access European ports for commercial purposes.

The fact that combatting IUU fishing is considered a priority in European policy is also exemplified by the recent publication of the Commission’s External Action Service ‘s Security Strategy for the Gulf of Guinea.[6] IUU fishing has been integrated in this document as a priority due to its impact on food security as well as its links with transnational organised crime.[7]

This is a policy trend with international echoes. It is unlikely to be coincidental that the African Union’s new strategy has this year been expanded to include IUU fishing. Further, in the United States, President Obama has recently announced the creation of a comprehensive framework to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud.[8]

There have also been international developments, with the UN Fisheries Committee (COFI) formally endorsing the Guidelines for Flag State Performance. This voluntary instrument sets out a common minimum due diligence standard for combatting IUU fishing. COFI has also assessed the ratification status of the Port State Measures Agreement, an agreement widely hailed as a vital legislative tool to prevent illegally obtained seafood from entering the ports of signatory nations.

IUU fishing is a global problem that requires the collective, sustained effort of governments as well as industry and civil society. Despite the challenges, the above policy developments demonstrate that there is a deepening understanding of IUU fishing and a growing will to address it.

[1] The IUU strategy of the European Union is set out in the DG Mare website. For more information, please see http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/maritime_affairs_and_fisheries/fisheries_resources_and_environment/l66052_en.htm

[2] See, for example, the Madagascar food security study carried out by Le Manach et al in 2012 concerning unreported fishing and stock decline.
[3]https://www.europol.europa.eu/sites/default/files/publications/4aenvironmental_crime_threatassessment_2013_-_public_version.pdf
[4] http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/cfp/illegal_fishing/index_en.htm
[5] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-1215_en.htm
[6] http://eeas.europa.eu/statements/docs/2014/140317_01_en.pdf
[7] https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/2011/issue-paper-transnational-organized-crime-in-the-fishing-industry.html
[8] Full press release: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/17/presidential-memorandum-comprehensive-framework-combat-illegal-unreporte