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

 

 

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.

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

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/

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