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

http://www.theblackfish.org/files/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)