The need to reinforce RFMO regulation for effective domestic enforcement: the case of Operation Sparrow II

By Mercedes Rosello (the author thanks Eva van der Marel and Richard Caddell for their feedback on an earlier draft of this blog piece. Any errors remain the author’s alone).

 

Abstract

This blog post discusses the extent to which the effectiveness of administrative enforcement decisions may depend on the clarity, objectivity, and functionality of the international legal and policy frameworks within which they are situated. In particular, it is argued that ambiguities in the rules and processes of regional fishery management organisations (RFMOs), may thwart attempts at enforcement. The case study, which is focused on the subject of stateless vessels, illustrates the need to ensure that RFMO rules cover known risk scenarios and are objective, and that processes are sufficiently timely to be fit for purpose, as is appropriate to organisations that perform a public regulatory function.

 

Introduction to Operations Sparrow I and II

The community of researchers, practitioners, and volunteers who work to achieve the eradication of the broad range of undesirable fishing activities known as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing will no doubt recall ‘Operation Sparrow’. This was the eye-catching name given to a series of high-profile initiatives by the Spanish General Secretariat for Fisheries, the executive agency that deals with fisheries regulation in Spain, under the auspices of the Ministry for Agriculture and Environment. Operation Sparrow unfolded in two tranches, each supported by enormous financial, human and technical effort involving the participation of various administrative and policing bodies, as well as international cooperation by third countries, and by Interpol.

The IUU Fishing Blog offered a commentary on the nature, outcome, and implications of Operation Sparrow parts I and II in March 2016 [click here to see blog post]. In August of the same year, the Spanish Ministry published an official press release covering the progress made in the context of these operations [click here to see original post in Spanish].[1] For ease of reference, it is worth recalling that Sparrow I and II involved inspections and dawn raids on the premises of Spanish companies that operated several vessels suspected of IUU fishing activities, and culminated in the imposition of administrative sanctions of unprecedented severity. These events publicly marked a change of direction in policy by the Spanish government that the author, like many others in this community, welcomed. As is the case with any decision made by a public authority, the administrative decisions that brought Operation Sparrow to its final conclusion are susceptible to judicial review, and two appeals have been brought before the Spanish courts in this respect.

The appeals concerned sanctions imposed as part of ‘Operacion Banderas’, which was a discrete operation carried out in the framework of Sparrow II. According to the press releases made by the Ministry, Banderas involved the seizure in the port of Vigo of two vessels, Antony and Northern Warrior, and the imposition of a bond, as a result of suspected statelessness and fraud in the provision of information to gain access to the port.

The 2017 appeals 

Port of Vigo. Credit: Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries

Two appeals were lodged in 2017 before the section of the Spanish judiciary entrusted with overseeing decisions of the public administration, which forms part of a large composite court, the ‘Audiencia Nacional’.[2] The court recorded the lodged appeals with numbers 81/2017 and 82/2017 respectively.[3] Appeal 81/2017 concerns the operations of the Northern Warrior prior to its fateful arrival in Vigo in February 2016. Appeal 82/2017 concerns another vessel that, though unidentified in the judicial decision, may be reasonably assumed to be the Antony, given the vessel names released in the 2016 Ministry press release mentioned above.

The facts underpinning the Ministry’s November 2016 resolution and sanctions against the respective appellants, Capensis Trade SL, and World Oceans Fishing SL, are recalled in the text of the judicial decisions. From these, it may be inferred that the sanctions that had been appealed essentially refer to the following activities:

  1. At least some of the information given to the port authorities in Vigo to ensure that the vessels gained entry, and/or documentary information found on board at least one of the vessels, had been found to be false by the inspectors acting on behalf of the Secretariat. Each appellant was contesting fines of 200,000 Euros each in respect of these infractions.
  2. In the case of appeal 82/2017 brought by World Oceans Fishing SL, the challenge concerned a transhipment with a vessel that featured in a number of IUU lists. The appellant had been fined with 200,000 Euros by the Ministry in respect of this.
  3. The operation of the vessels after they lost the nationality links conferred by their respective flags. In the case of the Northern Warrior, it lost its link to its flag State, Curaçao, in March 2015, when the vessel’s operators requested its removal from the register due to cost considerations. From that moment on, the vessel had continued to be managed by the appellants, having engaged in at least one fishing venture in waters under the jurisdiction of a West African state, and apparently authorised by that state despite the lack of clarity as to the vessel’s nationality status. In the case of the other vessel, the decision indicates that its right to fly the Indonesian flag had been extinguished a few days before it requested entry to the port of Vigo. Each appellant was contesting fines of 450,000 Euros in respect of alleged IUU operations conducted whilst in a situation of statelessness.

The appeals for the events outlined in a) and b) above failed in both cases, with the Audiencia Nacional finding the fines had been appropriately imposed in accordance with applicable legislation concerning IUU fishing control. However, the appeals outlined in paragraph c) were successful. The reasons for the failure of the sanctions and their implications are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Fishing vessel in waters near Vigo. Credit: http://www.turismodevigo.org .

Rationale for the success of the appeals

The inspecting authorities had found the vessels, which were not flying any flag when they entered the port of Vigo, had infringed Article 3.1(l) of Council Regulation 1005/2008, whereby:

‘3.1- A fishing vessel shall be presumed to be engaged in IUU fishing if it is shown that, contrary to the conservation and management measures applicable in the fishing area concerned, it has: (…)

  1. l) no nationality and is therefore a stateless vessel, in accordance with international law.’

Subsequently, the Ministry had relied as a justification for the sanction on certain provisions found in Article 101 of Spanish Law 3/2001, setting out serious infractions in matters of IUU fishing. Subparagraph 1 of the article includes activities concerning the operation, management and ownership of vessels without nationality, or vessels flagged to third countries identified by RFMOs or other international organisations as having participated in IUU fishing operations.[4] There is some interpretive ambiguity in the text of this provision that, arguably, permits at least three interpretations.

Firstly, the broadest understanding of the provision suggests that the presumption extends to two distinct types of activity: on the one hand, vessels being operated, managed, and owned whilst not having any nationality and, on the other, vessels flagged to third countries identified by RFMOs or other similar organisations. This would imply that the operation, management or ownership of a fishing vessel without nationality is a serious infraction, irrespective of the existence of an identification made by an RFMO or similar organisation.

Secondly, it may be argued that the above is too broad to meet the requirements of Article 3.1 of the IUU Regulation establishing a presumption of IUU fishing: the Regulation requires that it be shown that the presence of the stateless vessel in the regulated area is contrary to a conservation and management measure of the RFMO, or international organisation in question. It should be pointed out that, as Article 101.1 is silent on this point, this interpretation requires recourse to the text of the EU IUU Regulation, which is of course of direct application to all member states of the EU. It cannot be inferred from the text of the decisions that a relevant RFMO conservation and management measure was identified as having been breached.

Thirdly, a narrower interpretation of Article 101 is also possible, and this was the one adopted by the court: both the operation, management, or ownership of a stateless vessel, and that of a third country vessel, must have been identified by the relevant RFMO or similar organisation as an IUU fishing event. This the legally safer option for a domestic authority, because it avoids the risk of jurisdictional overreach, and neutralises any possible conflict between a domestic decision that a breach occurred, and a subsequent decision by an RFMO. Only an objective RFMO rule that only admits a binary choice on the facts would be sufficiently safe to avoid this undesirable potential outcome. For example, a rule determining that the entry of a stateless fishing vessel in an RFMO regulated area will automatically result in listing would meet those characteristics, but one entailing further deliberation to decide whether listing should occur would not.

Map of RFMOs. Credit: Pew Environmental Trusts

It can be inferred from the text of the two appeal decisions that, as the investigations progressed, the Spanish authorities requested the inclusion of the two vessels in the IUU vessel lists of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Resources (CCAMLR), a fact that can be verified in the Report of the Commission published by CCAMLR in October 2016 [accessible here]. This confirms that, at the time of the seizure, neither of the vessels featured in the IUU fishing list of the organisation. This fact caused the court to invalidate the specific penalties imposed by the domestic authority mentioned in paragraph c) above.

 

Relevance of RFMO rules and processes

It has been mentioned that it cannot be inferred from the text of the decisions that an RFMO conservation and management measure had been identified as having been breached. It should be pointed out that, when Operation Banderas took place there appears to have been a lack of clarity as to whether the CCAMLR rules considered the presence of a stateless fishing vessel in the regulated area to be a breach of conservation and management rules, or be an action that merited listing. Practice in the organisation appears to have been erratic in this respect at the time.

Certain inferences can be made from existing rules, though these are far from the ideal level of objectivity that should exist in order to ensure safe domestic decision-making. For example, conservation measure 10-02 issued by CCAMLR in 2016 [accessible here] requires licensing of vessels by contracting parties in order to carry out operations in the regulated area. Clearly, this implies the automatic exclusion of stateless fishing vessels with regard to fishing operations in regulated high seas areas at least.[5] Yet, it is unclear whether ‘operations’ necessarily implies that evidence of fishing activities is required prior to listing. This uncertainty is exacerbated by the fact that there was a lack of agreement at CCAMLR on the procedures for inter-sessional inclusion of stateless fishing vessels in the IUU list of the organisation. The Commission has recently undertaken to address voids on the treatment of stateless vessels via the drafting of a new conservation and management measure at the request of the EU, although the last Commission report does not disclose the precise details.[6]

CCAMLR Regulated Area. Credit: COLTO

In the view of the author, a requirement to prove unauthorised fishing before inclusion in the list is effectively placing the stateless fishing vessel on the same footing as those flying a flag. Indeed, vessels flagged to RFMO members cannot fish in a regulated area unless authorised by their flag State, in accordance with the above-mentioned CCAMLR rule. Procedural parity between vessels flagged to a member and stateless vessels would be of questionably equity, conferring an advantage to a vessel with operators that have relinquished the financial and regulatory burdens observed by duly registered and flagged competitors. Additionally, those operating the stateless fishing vessel may be less likely to face disciplinary and/or enforcement action, due to the lack of connection with the legislation of a flag State.

No State conferring a hypothetical right to access fishing resources in the high seas via its domestic law to nationals operating an unregistered vessel could do so whilst being a party to the Law of the Sea Convention, and/or any of the global agreements relevant to the regulation of highly migratory species and compliance in the high seas, without questions of international responsibility being raised. Effected by a non-party, such conferral would undermine the objectives of such agreements, and granting procedural parity to such vessels by an RFMO would weaken incentives to participation. Arguably, questions of responsibility might also be raised in respect of non-parties, considering the general nature of conservation and cooperation duties. The right to fish on the high seas is, under Article 87 of the Law of the Sea Convention, to be conducted within the parameters of those duties, and has been defined as being conditional to those obligations being met.[7]

In view of these considerations, it might be advisable for automatic RFMO listing of stateless vessels present in the regulated area to be made pre-emptively, unless the persons responsible for the operation of the vessel can prove the absence of fishing, transhipment, or other fishery support activity via reliable vessel tracking data as a minimum, or if their presence in the regulated area responds to a situation of force majeure.

 

Implications

RFMO conservation and management rules are essential to define what is or isn’t considered an IUU fishing event in regulated areas of the high seas. The partial success of the appeals highlights the importance of ensuring clarity and objectivity in RFMO rules, and that risks are comprehensively covered. Similarly, the clarity and timeliness of listing processes is also critical for the effectiveness of domestic regulation. In the case of confirmed statelessness of a fishing vessel, its operation in the regulated area should be classified as an infraction, to be followed by inclusion in the IUU list of the organisation.

An RFMO listing can be a lengthy process, and this can impair domestic procedures by introducing undesirable delays or even rendering an enforcement action toothless. Hence, recognising the importance of inter-sessional listing is essential. Lapsing decisions to the time when annual meetings take place is also likely to delay and impair the effectiveness of cross-listing activity by other RFMOs or international organisations like the EU.

The case study analysed here shows how the effectiveness of a decision by a domestic authority may depend on safeguards related to legal certainty, which may be linked to the objectivity and clarity of RFMO rules and processes on which the domestic decision is based. This raises the stakes for RFMOs in their role as regulators.

Whilst the status of statelessness and corresponding listing action may now have been addressed by some commissions, including CCAMLR, the issue is of concern to all RFMOs. Given their increasingly prominent place as public regulators of fishing activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction, the credibility and effectiveness of RFMOs implies that their decision-making procedures and resulting regulatory output must be objective and fit for purpose. Decisions on vessel listing are important, as IUU lists have become an essential IUU fishing control tool, and it is critical that rules and processes that are appropriate for organisations performing a public administrative function are adopted and maintained.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Spanish court decisions upholding the administrative sanctions applied by the Ministry as a consequence of the fraudulent information presented to port authorities, highlight the vital role of ports in ensuring that vessels are operated in accordance with all applicable legal requirements. Despite the invalidation by the courts of the measures concerning statelessness, the surviving sanctions underscore the emergence of port authorities as significant actors in the fight to deter and address illegality in fisheries.

Mercedes Rosello, London, 2019.

[1] These proceedings are different in nature to a separate case involving allegations of criminal activities against a number of notorious Spanish individuals and their high seas fisheries operations [click here to see post and linked presentation paper].

[2] The Spanish press has recently reported on the conclusion of one of these appeals [click here to see press article].

[3] The two judicial decisions resolving these appeals are susceptible to further appeal, and it is unclear at the time of writing whether such action has been taken.

[4] Emphasis added.

[5] A coastal State may authorise fishing activities in waters under its jurisdiction, even for regulated species, as was alleged to have occurred in this case. Whilst this may in some cases compromise the international obligations of that State, it would in principle enable the vessel to operate legally, unless it had infringed the domestic laws of that State in obtaining its authorisation, or in other aspects of the conduct of operations.

[6] See CCAMLR, ‘Report of the Thirty-Seventh Meeting of the Commission’ (2018) paras 3.23, 3.24, 49, 50, and 51.

[7] See T Henriksen, ‘Revisiting the Freedom of Fishing and Legal Obligations on States Not Party to Regional Fisheries Management Organizations’ (2009) 40(1) Ocean Development & International Law 80-96, 85 and 86.

Satellite Technology and IUU Fishing

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

SATELLITE TECHNOLOGY to address IUU FISHING

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

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

How technology solves these surveillance difficulties 

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

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

Credit: European Commission DG Mare

Which systems are useful as a fishing control tool?

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

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

Why is this data useful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This system is still implemented experimentally in some RFMOs.

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

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

Author: Beatriz Ortega-Gallego

Sources:

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

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

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

 

 

Brexit and IUU Fishing

Introduction 

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

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

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

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

The IUU Regulation and the UK

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

UK Withdrawal from the EU and IUU Fishing Control

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

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

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

Responses to Confirmed IUU Fishing Activity 

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

The IUU Regulation and Shared Stock Management

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

Conclusion

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

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

Mercedes Rosello, February 2017.

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

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

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

[4] Article 31.3 of the IUU Regulation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illegal Fishing

Credit: European Commission.

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

p1010105-copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and amongst countries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercedes Rosello, October 2016.

References:

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

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

[3] UNGA Res 70/1, Preamble.

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

[5] FAO SOFIA 2016, pp. 81.

[6] Ibid.

[7] FAO SOFIA 2016, pp 82.

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

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

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

Lack of Transparency: the Achilles Heel in IUU Fishing Control

 

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

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

IUU fishing success depends upon opacity

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

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

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

Image Credit: Sea Shepherd Global

Image Credit: Sea Shepherd Global

Insufficient progress despite key importance of transparency

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illegal Fishing

Credit: European Commission.

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

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

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

redesybarcos1_tcm7-415210_noticia

Credit: MAGRAMA

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

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

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

igt01_tcm7-415248_noticia

Spanish Minister Isabel Garcia Tejerina. Credit: MAGRAMA

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

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

REFERENCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[10] Ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insurers can help combat the marine overfishing crisis – here is how.

Note: This blog post was first published on Swiss Re Open Minds.

Image Credit: Sea Shepherd Global

Image Credit: Sea Shepherd Global

As the World Bank points out, the oceans have a vast potential to unlock sustainable development, being also a key factor in the regulation of the Earth’s climate systems. The ocean feeds and provides work security for millions of people, including some of the world’s poorest.

Like other sectors, marine insurance providers and their reinsurers have a long-term interest in the preservation of healthy and productive oceans. Not only is the health of the oceans a fundamental factor for the wellbeing of human communities, but many industries depend on the ongoing availability of marine resources for their very survival. Amongst these, the fishing industry is one of the most vulnerable to marine mismanagement.

Unfortunately, such mismanagement is observable today in the form of inadequate fishery regulation, as well as malpractice and even crime associated to industrial and semi-industrial ventures. In 2012, 160 million tons of fish were produced, generating over US$ 129 billion exports. Yet, commercial fish stocks have been consistently overexploited in a manner that is detrimental to productivity and overall ocean health. The FAO estimates that around 57% of commercial fish stocks are exploited to full capacity, with most of the remaining stock being either overexploited, depleted or vulnerable to overexploitation.

Overfishing is a consequence of several factors: overcapacity, misunderstanding of stock, defective capture regulation, poor vessel management and insufficient enforcement – they all play a role. The impact that insurers can have on the regulation of fisheries may be limited, but there is one area where their contribution can have a significant positive effect: the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

It is thought that IUU fishing costs around 10 Bn Euros per year to the global economy, accounting for around 15% of global catch – a vast amount of non-compliant catch that directly prejudices any operators in the industry that systematically observe conservation rules.

One of the key factors in the eradication of IUU fishing is the control of fishing vessel operations through monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS). Whilst some fishing nations, coastal States and regional fishery management organisations have invested significantly in MCS measures, any gaps are routinely exploited by IUU fishing operators through the deployment of practices designed to circumvent controls.

Experience of IUU fishing modi operandi has been documented by Interpol by way of Purple Notices. Practices vary, including unauthorised transhipments of cargo with a view to blurring traceability, deploying destructive fishing arts or mis-declaring catch to the relevant authorities.[1] Some, such as obscuring a vessel’s identity and nationality, swapping names amongst fleet vessels in order to illicitly share licences, and performing unauthorised transhipments at sea should be of interest to insurers because they may carry a direct impact to the risks being insured, as well as an increased risk of fraud.

Earlier this year a Nigerian flagged industrial fishing vessel, Thunder, sunk despite being in good condition – scuttling being strongly suspected – off the coast of Sao Tome, where it caused damage to local ecosystems with ensuing pollution. Thunder had a long history of IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean, had been blacklisted by NGOs and regional fishery management organisations, and had an Interpol Purple Notice to its name. Yet, Thunder is not the only example of repeated malpractice in the fishing industry – other vessels continue to be in operation whose combined practices constitute a breach of all known conservation principles.

Insurers and their brokers should take care in their due diligence practices to identify vessels who repeatedly engage in IUU fishing. In order to acquaint themselves with the names of regular perpetrators, they should become familiar with the EU’s IUU Fishing List. Further, they should request that industrial and semi-industrial fishing vessels of 24 metres or over seeking P&I insurance obtain an IMO number, since this ensures more clarity in establishing a vessel’s identity in cases of doubt. In addition, improved MCS in the shape of operative VMS and AIS vessel tracking systems help improve vessel activity control.

In addition, it is also worth considering the content of Article 37 of EU Council Regulation 1005 / 2008, whereby community vessels involved in IUU fishing are only permitted entrance to home port, and third country vessels are not allowed entry to EU ports except in cases of force majeur or distress. Further, the provision of services, including chartering and the supply of provisions and fuel is prohibited in respect of third country vessels in the EU IUU vessel list Whilst insurance services are not specifically mentioned by Regulation 1005 / 2008, and whilst insurance services are not necessarily dependent on the vessel being in port for their provision, it seems somewhat incongruous to assume that the provision of insurance may be privileged to the detriment of other service providers.

To conclude – whilst most insurers have already adopted policies whereby claims related to IUu activity are not covered by any existing insurances, any company with ethical practices concerned with ocean protection, sustainability and blue development should consider adopting a policy whereby vessels in the EU IUU list are deemed uninsurable risks.

Mercedes Rosello

November, 2015

[1] See Article 3 of EU Council Regulation 1005 / 2008 for a non-exhaustive list of IUU fishing practices: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:02008R1005-20110309&from=EN

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