IUU fishing vessel Thunder has been spotted: what next?

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

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

The Sea Shepherd Vessel Bob Barker

The Sea Shepherd Vessel Bob Barker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor’s Note, 27 Dec 2014: 

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Illegal Fishing of Swordfish Highlights Weaknesses in IUU Control Mechanisms

Illegal Fishing of Swordfish Highlights Weaknesses in IUU Control Mechanisms

Swordfish has been in the limelight this year, not less because of the recent ban handed by the EU to Sri Lanka, a swordfish exporter to European markets. The ban is likely to be implemented in early 2015 and will close the Union’s doors to a substantial volume of seafood. According to the European Commission, Sri Lankan seafood imports into the Union border 7,400 tonnes, with an approximate value of €74 Million. A significant part of this volume is swordfish.

A swift review of recent months’ media reports suggests that this ban may not be enough to significantly curb overfishing of this iconic commercial species.

In June this year, Oceana Europe revealed evidence of extensive illegal swordfish driftnetting operations in Moroccan Waters. The fish was being introduced into Europe for final consumer sale in Italy, where it is a highly prized food. The unlawful use of driftnets in Italy has been regularly highlighted by European NGO Blackfish in recent years. Drifnets have been subjected to a United Nations moratorium and are banned in Mediterranean waters by the regional regulatory body, ICCAT due to their destructive and indiscriminate nature.

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

Photo Credit: Sue Flood

Eradicating the use of driftnets in the Mediterranean is proving to be a difficult task, no less because the deployment of this indiscriminate fishing art is as difficult to detect as is obtaining hard evidence of its systematic use.

Under the regime established by European Council Regulation 1005/2008 (the IUU Regulation) most seafood imports must be accompanied by a ‘catch’ certificate. This certificate has to be validated by the authorities in the country responsible for regulating the capture of the fish. However, the catch certificate does not include a declaration on the type of gear used during the fishing operations and consequently, it is not possible for European authorities to decline a landing simply on the basis of a fraudulent declaration on the certificate. A request to declare gear type on the certificate could raise the level of due diligence being exercised by fishing authorities such as Morocco, a long standing partner of the EU in the context of fisheries, and in whose waters Oceana discovered the driftnetting operation.

Also this year, the Spanish Directorate General for Fisheries raised a warning about unusually high volumes of swordfish being sold into Europe through Spanish borders, originating from Vietnamese and Indonesian fishing vessels. Having temporarily suspended Vietnamese imports, the Spanish authorities have requested the Commission’s intervention.

This event has highlighted another tear in the European illegal fishing control system, which appears to lack a mechanism to ensure collection and coordination of species-specific import data. This affects the EU’s ability to detect instances where particular species captured by third countries are imported into the EU in excess of regulatory quotas.

Countries who are members or who cooperate with Regional Fishery Management Organisations (RFMOs), the organisations who govern the fishing of swordfish and other commercial species in specific ocean regions, must declare the level of their captures. Failure to cooperate with RFMOs is classed as either “unregulated” or “unreported” fishing by the United Nation’s Fish Stocks Agreement and classed as IUU by the IUU Regulation.

Incidents like these suggest that systemic response mechanisms to under-declaration of quota to RFMOS are sluggish and patchy. Vietnam and Indonesia export substantial amounts of swordfish and other seafood products to international markets including the EU and the US. Whilst international cooperation is paramount in ensuring that minimum IUU control standards are implemented internationally, relatively straightforward improvements to our existing IUU control systems could also make a valuable contribution in increasing transparency and efficiency.

Sources:

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

Click to access Italian_Driftnets.pdf


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

Illegal Fishing Control: Why Europe Needs a Common Software Platform

Council Regulation 1005 / 2008 (the IUU Regulation) is a European Union (EU) legislative tool designed to reinforce and support pre-existing normative measures established by the international community to control illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

 

Transhipment, Central Pacific (Image Credit: underwatertimes.com)

The potential of the IUU regulation to disincentivise IUU fishing practices gravitates around

  • the indisputable power of the EU as port and market State, and
  • on the ability of the EU to implement the IUU regulation in an even and watertight manner.

These are in fact like two sides of the same coin, since loopholes in implementation leading to IUU importation windows can de facto give rise to different standards within the common trade boundary and make coordination impossible.

A recent report offers an insight into progress made in implementing the Regulation, which came into force on the 1st of January 2010.[1] The report offers a useful overview of the different degrees of investment, reorganisation and resource reallocation in each of the Member States pursuant to the requirements of the IUU Regulation.

According to the authors, the catch certification system imposed by the Regulation has placed a heavy administrative burden on Member States. Implementation has been uneven and differences in approach cannot always be attributed to differences in patterns such as seafood trade volume, financial resilience or pre-existing know-how: Whilst large importers such as Denmark and Spain have developed interactive IU tools, others (including some with considerable importation volumes) have not done so. The same is true of intelligence data gathering processes.

For example, highly sophisticated IUU tracking software and data capture systems in Spain have not been replicated (and are not supported) in other Member States. This unevenness in the implementation of the Regulation leads to inefficiencies, penalises better implementation and causes potential diversions of legitimate trade.

Increased data and know-how sharing can address other weaknesses of the IUU Regulation such as the inability of the imports system to deter the duplication of catch certificates during processing operations in 3rd countries.[2] Increased knowledge and sharing of processing methodologies and conversion data could help address this issue.

As no common IT platform exists with the capability to cross-check import volumes, sources, fishing arts, time of capture and composition, States are rendered powerless to flag suspected IUU imports in a timely fashion.

This problem became manifest earlier this year when the Spanish government decided to suspend the importation of Vietnamese swordfish over IUU concerns.[3] According to Madrid sources, an audit identified a volume of 502 metric tonnes (mt) of swordfish captured in 2012 by Vietnamese vessels (according to catch certificate data) being imported into Spain despite Vietnam having declared to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries total capture volumes of only 372 mt for that time period. Vietnam exports swordfish to other European countries, but the capture declaration shortfall had not been identified in any other Member States.

Swordfish (xiphias gladius). Image Credit: fisherynation.com

Swordfish (xiphias gladius). Image Credit: fisherynation.com

If this is alarming, the potential discrepancy between the volumes of West & Central Pacific swordfish declared for 2012 and those actually captured is even more so.

A common software audit platform would enable European Fisheries authorities to identify IUU fishing importation trends as well as to ascertain species under-declaration volumes – such IUU trade-flows could then be used as solid, objective data upon which the Commission could identify third countries for potential inclusion in the EU non-cooperating third country list.

Perhaps this could even be integrated with the public EU alert system once it is operational, so that awareness of IUU fishing trade flows and vessel data and activity could be integrated, shared and uniformly acted upon.

Footnotes:

[1] To access the full MRAG report, click here: http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/documentation/studies/iuu-regulation-application/doc/final-report_en.pdf

[2] This weakness was also highlighted in a 2013 report published in April by Sasama and FMP Consulting. To access, click here http://sasama.info/en/pdf/reports_17.pdf)

[3] http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2014/06/30/spain-seeks-eu-wide-suspension-of-vietnamese-swordfish-imports/

Europe and illegal fishing: Ghana responds to the threat of market closure

Ghana has been in the news following its designation by the European Union as a possible candidate for its “List of Non-Cooperating Third Countries” (the infamous list of countries who fail to tackle illegal fishing carried out by their fleets).

Along with South Korea and Curacao, Ghana was firmly shown a yellow card by the European Commission in November last year after it emerged that it had failed to identify and prevent infractions of ICCAT conservation and management measures established carried out by its tuna fleet. For the uninitiated, ICCAT is the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, and it governs the fishery of tuna and other highly migratory species in an important region of the Atlantic.

The European Commission has already cracked down on countries it believes to be lenient on illegal fishing (Belize, Cambodia and Guinea). The effect of this has been that the three countries, now classed as “Non-Cooperating”, have lost their ability to export their fish to the EU until they can demonstrate that they have cleaned up their act. Further, European fleets are no longer working in the three EEZs and the three countries have lost the corresponding licence revenues.

A red card from the European Commission could have dire consequences for Ghana. It relies heavily on European markets and European investment for the production and processing of fish and, in a country where 10% of the population relies on fisheries for work the damage could be profound.

But the West African country has reacted: it has produced a fisheries management plan and has just announced that it will be joining a 5 year programme, funded by GEF, to improve monitoring, control and compliance of its tuna fleets. The programme, endorsed by WWF, involves rolling out technology that will enable to better estimate tuna catches.

Meanwhile, in has also received public support from Japan. The Japanese government has made it clear that it will partner Ghana and will contribute towards its development, possibly hinting at the fact that, should the EU withdraw its commercial partnerships with Ghanaian fisheries, other powerful fishing nations will be prepared to fill the gap.

Original Articles:

http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/business/artikel.php?ID=309095

http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2014/05/13/ghana-teams-up-with-wwf-issf-fao-in-illegal-fishing-fight/

Maritime Insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea: Illegal Fishing Matters

Like piracy, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing tends to occur in areas marred by insecurity challenges, underdevelopment and poor governance. The European Commission has identified IUU fishing as a key risk for its strategy purposes in the Gulf of Guinea.

Fishing vessel at sunset

Despite ongoing overexploitation concerns, the Gulf of Guinea continues to be a strategically important fishing ground for European fleets. The existence of bilateral fisheries agreements between the EU and Cape Verde, Cote D’Ivoire, Gabon, Sao Tome & Principe and Mauritania speak for themselves. Further, private licence agreements also provide European vessels with access to the EEZs of other nations in the region.

A recent article by Ioannis Chapsos (see full text here), of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies, also highlights the importance of the Gulf of Guinea as a source of oil and gas for the EU, particularly in the light of recent tensions with the Russian Federation (currently Europe’s key energy supplier). 

It is therefore hardly surprising that the EU is seeking to understand and address insecurity issues in the Gulf. What is interesting is that IUU fishing is being given such relevance in the context of European objectives. Perhaps this is a sign of the EU’s recognition that illegal fishing has a powerful destabilising potential. It can derail fledgling coastal development and resilience initiatives as well as persistently undermine attempts at sustainability in the fishing industry itself. 

Implementation efforts by the Gulf of Guinea Commission, ECCAS and ECOWAS concerning their ‘Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships and Illicit Activity in West and Central Africa’ will no doubt be key to future EU strategy development and outcomes.

With the region’s economic outlook and value as emerging market raising expectations despite persistent risks, there is unprecedented interest in IUU fishing, its effects on West Africa and, more widely, on Europe’s long term interests.

 

EU Ban on IUU Products: Spain critical of the Commission, but backs trade measures despite cost

The Spanish Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Miguel Arias Cañete, has highlighted in a press note the leading role assumed by his government in the application of port and market measures designed to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The IUU Regulation, which came into force in 2010, has enabled the European Commission to identify a number of flag States as countries that are failing international commitments to combat IUU fishing. In November 2013 the Commission designated Belize, Cambodia and Guinea (Conakry) as ‘non-cooperating countries’, following earlier warnings. The move, ratified by the European Council and published today, has resulted in a ban on seafood exports from those three countries into the EU.

Sharks for sale in an EU port

Sharks for sale at an EU port

Spain closed its borders to imports from Belize (mostly tuna, mako, pelagics and swordfish) shortly after the announcement of the Commission’s decision. In 2013 Belize-flagged vessels were responsible for around 8% of the total number of unloading operations in Spanish ports such as Vigo and Marin, though their relative volume was closer to 0.5%. Vigo will be the port most affected by the resulting reduction in unloading activity.

Further, the withdrawal of the Spanish fleet from Guinea’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) following the country’s designation as a non-cooperating country will be costly for the Spanish sector: Over the past two years, 12 tuna purse seiners, 4 pole and line tuna vessels, 5 shrimping vessels and 4 cephalopod trawlers have operated in the Guinean EEZ, with combined annual captures of around 7,800 tonnes. The loss of the Guinean fishing grounds leaves the cephalopod fleet in particular with few available alternatives.

Despite these immediate losses, Minister Arias has stated his government’s support for catch certificate driven market measures and for the methodical assessment of flag State performance. He described these measures as necessary to ensure sustainability in fisheries and the long-term viability of the industry, with the caveat that flag State assessment must be carried out in a clear and transparent manner. The issue of flag State audit transparency has been the subject on ongoing tension with the Commission, with Spain openly and repeatedly requesting that the key criteria behind third country assessment and rationale for black-list inclusion be open to scrutiny.

The designation of Belize as a non-cooperating third country has been particularly controversial, as echoed in the recent publication of an article in National Geographic highlighting Belize’s conservation efforts in the face of the EU ban (http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/03/14/european-union-fisheries-ban-ignores-belize-conservation-success-story/ ).

Mr. Arias challenged the Commission to address States “universally recognised as non-compliant within Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, such as Ghana or Papua New Guinea”. He also expressed concern over third countries “whose compliance with conservation measures is questionable” and that can still export to the EU fish captured in the EEZs of Belize, Guinea and Cambodia.

The Minister also warned against a lack of uniform application of the Regulation leading to the creation of “ports of convenience” within the EU. Trade diversions through such ports could undermine the success of the Regulation and prevent it from achieving its stated objectives.

Buyer beware: EU bans fish imports over illegal fishing concerns

After months of warnings by the Commission, the European Council has finally banned seafood imports from Belize, Guinea and Cambodia over fears that the three countries have disregarded obligations to address illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. EU member States will now have to implement the ban and European fleets will not be able to operate in the EEZs of the three blacklisted countries.

Several tuna vessels owned by EU suppliers MW Brands (part of the Thai Union Group) and Pevasa are flagged to Belize and, unless they are de-registered and issued with a new flag by a country able to trade with the EU, they will not be able to supply tuna to the UK or any other Member State.

This could pose significant problems for importers as they will need to renegotiate and/or to find new suppliers in an effort to maintain a steady supply of sought after tuna products.

The EU’s ban has followed months of warnings not just to the three blacklisted countries, but also to Panama, Vanuatu, Fiji, Sri Lanka and Togo. Having been seen as keen to cooperate, they have been given additional time to enact and implement credible measures against illegal fishing.

Critically, the European Commission has also issued warnings to South Korea, Curacao and Ghana with regard to IUU fishing controls over distant water fishing fleets. EU interests have invested heavily in the Ghanaian tuna processing industry and a ban on imports from Ghana could be extremely difficult for the trade.

Fishing Vessels in Guinea

Fishing Vessels in Guinea

European Council Regulation 1005/2008, the legal tool that has brought about the ban, incorporates key aspects of the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing and the Port States Measures Agreement (PSMA), an international convention hailed by many as a leading legal tool with great potential to address IUU fishing. Questions are being asked as to whether the United States, whose Senate has recently given the green light for the ratification of the PSMA, will be the next global market State to develop a comprehensive system of port and market filters similar to that in place in the EU (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ia/iuu/portstate_factsheet.pdf)

For importers and their insurers this highlights the need to be vigilant: discernment on illegal fishing is now more important than ever, as is insisting on supply chain transparency. Choosing only fish suppliers that can demonstrate compliance with European and International laws will help deflect supply chain instability, contribute to the sector’s resilience and promote fair play.

Illegal fishing in the age of global GPS: governments talk whilst making little use of available technology

Conversations on the subject of illegal fishing tend to gravitate around regions of the world that are known poaching black spots (be it the historically fertile and vulnerable waters of West Africa, the tuna-rich waters of the Indian ocean or the South-Western Atlantic and its lucrative banks of tooth-fish).

Despite the deserved attention that those marine spaces are paid, it is worth remembering that the curse of illegal fishing also takes place much closer to home. Though European waters are (theoretically at least) amongst the better controlled marine regions in the world, it seems that a shocking amount of illegal activity takes place here too, right under our noses.

This week, a newspaper in Malta has highlighted that illegal fishing activity by large fishing trawlers has been more or less commonplace in the protected marine reserve that surrounds the island in recent years (see link below).

Apparently, Maltan authorities have been able to identify poaching activity by various means, but it looks like some key discoveries were down to the deployment of a simple and affordable surveillance tool: AIS. Whilst I am sure that they must have invested in other systems of detection, I can’t help wondering why they didn’t start using AIS before, since it is affordable and easy to use. Vessel crews can switch off their ship’s AIS, but it looks like they didn’t even bother doing this during their illegal incursions into the marine reserve.

Given that fisheries resources around the world are on their metaphorical knees, coastal nations should be watching their seas like hawks. And why are the flag States of the vessels doing the poaching not calling them to task as soon as they cross the line into a protected marine area or the border of an EEZ where they don’t have permission to fish? In the age of global GPS, satellite surveillance and smart-phones, it is increasingly difficult to believe that lack of technological resources is the real problem.

http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/en/newsdetails/news/national/New-control-centre-discovers-widespread-illegal-trawling-20140212