Brexit and IUU Fishing

Introduction

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

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

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

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

The IUU Regulation and the UK

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

UK Withdrawal from the EU and IUU Fishing Control

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

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

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

Responses to Confirmed IUU Fishing Activity 

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

The IUU Regulation and Shared Stock Management

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

Conclusion

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

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

Mercedes Rosello, February 2017.

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

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

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

[4] Article 31.3 of the IUU Regulation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illegal Fishing

Credit: European Commission.

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

The 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 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

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)