Ghana responds to new EU warning over illegal fishing

The European Commission has warned Ghana that a single additional case of illegal, unreported & unregulated (IUU) fishing could bring about the closure of the entire EU market to Ghanaian fish exports.

Mr Bayon Bilijo, Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister, has held a press conference to update stakeholders on his government’s developments to tackle IUU fishing in response to this warning, which was issued during EU-Ghana talks in May.

According to the Minister, Ghana has adopted a plan of action to control illegal fishing and to better manage its fisheries resources. The country’s legislative framework has been reinforced and new fisheries regulations will be promulgated later this year. Mr Bilijo has also reassured interested parties that all Ghanaian tuna vessel have now been fitted with tracking systems (VMS) as required of all EU trading partners.

However, despite the Commission’s warning Ghana’s trawlers have not yet been fitted with VMS, though the Minister indicated that this will be addressed over coming weeks.

Tuna imports from Ghana could be banned by the EU (photo credit: The Grocer)

Tuna imports from Ghana could be banned by the EU (photo credit: The Grocer)

The Ghanaian economy relies heavily on seafood processing and exportation to the EU and a ban could have deep repercussions in terms of revenue and employment losses. A local export firm, Myroc Food Processing (MFP), announced losses of $ 5 Million following the Commission’s formal warning (or ‘yellow card’) to Ghana in November 2013. MFP reportedly has had to reduce its workforce and export volumes substantially despite the fact that no ban is yet in place.

The European Commission’s decision to issue the yellow card was taken following significant IUU fishing concerns. These included notifications by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) regarding undisclosed cargo transfers (transhipments) between vessels flagged to Ghana in breach of ICCAT rules. To see the full text of the Commission’s decision, click here.

In April 2013, large amounts of processed tuna from Ghana were rejected upon arrival at port by Spain and other European countries. In the UK, the importation of numerous consignments of processed tuna from Ghana was suspended. Containers were kept in port incurring substantial quay rent whilst lengthy investigations into the IUU fishing allegations took place.

A ban on Ghanaian seafood could impact UK importers significantly, since the reported annual value of tuna imports from Ghana is in the region of £27 Million.

It is not yet known whether a possible ban would affect Ghanaian fisheries exports to other countries. It has been recently reported that Ghana and Seychelles have entered an agreement to bolster each other’s tuna exports to the EU, as both countries’ tuna seasons peak at different times of the year. An EU market ban may endanger commercial arrangements such as this one, given the strict origin and re-export rules adopted by the EU with the implementation of Regulation 1005/2008 (the IUU Regulation) in January 2010.

Sources:

http://www.seychellesnewsagency.com/articles/532/Ghana+and+Seychelles+to+top-up+each+others+tuna+exports

http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2013/09/10/ghanaian-tuna-exporter-loses-5m-due-to-eu-trade-snags/

http://allafrica.com/stories/201406050752.html

http://www.thegrocer.co.uk/fmcg/fresh/tuna-imports-held-following-warnings-of-illegal-fishing/238499.article

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/

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

Should States be internationally accountable for illegal and excessive fishing?

The global marine fisheries industry relies on harvesting limited living resource and requires careful regulation in order to prevent over-exploitation of fish stocks, but some characteristics of the sector make regulation extremely challenging. Factors such as the dual role of the State as ocean steward and economic actor and the policy of competitive open access to high seas resources adopted by the international community have resulted in important governance weaknesses.

One of the most pernicious consequences of inadequate governance is the pervasive presence of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing is a major contributor to overfishing and a significant obstacle to sustainability. Its effects extend beyond causing damage to fish stocks and the marine environment: IUU fishing has also been linked to organised crime and food insecurity. It has also been recognised as intrinsically damaging to the industry itself and to the global economy at large.

The international community, aware of the need for conservation and concerned that IUU fishing may have become a chronic industry malaise, has made a sustained legislative effort to clarify how shared marine resources should be managed and protected. As part of this trend, the conservation responsibilities of nations whose fishing vessels harvest the oceans beyond the boundaries of their Exclusive Economic Zones have been reinforced and clarified. But in spite of legislative developments IUU fishing and irresponsible overexploitation continue to be rampant.

It has been argued that the sustainable expansion of international law can only be supported by a corresponding development of structures and processes of legal accountability (Jutta Brunee, 2006). In light of this assertion, legislation to define the responsibilities of fishing nations should have been developed alongside associated accountability mechanisms. Has this been observed by international legislators in the context of global fisheries?

There is an emerging debate on the extent to which flag States should be held responsible for the IUU fishing activities of vessels flying their flags and the extent of their liability (Palma, Tsameny and Edeson, 2010). Despite the nebulous nature of State accountability in International Law, it is becoming increasingly important that debate on this subject gathers pace. 

Aggressive ocean grabs: the Sea is not the only loser

The outrage of land grabs pales by comparison to the exploitation of vulnerable and increasingly rare ocean resources by some fishing nations.

As China’s giant fishing fleets plough the ocean unabated, small fishing nations are suffering devastating losses in their own marine capture and processing sectors. Their fishing vessels, not being able to compete with constant and extensive exploitation by Chinese fleets in neighbouring waters, are coming back to their home ports empty-netted.

Fiji has recently reported the closure of important segments of its tuna industry, with expected job losses of about 8,000 and growing concerns over its food security.

Maritime nations, entrusted by international law to be the stewards of the ocean, are in fact the main contributors to its devastation, as they are subsidising their ludicrously oversized and no longer profitable fishing fleets to continue their plunder. The Japanese government spends USD 4.6 Billion in subsidies to unprofitable fishing fleets, whilst China follows closely with subsidies of USD 4.1 Billion. Other States that dangerously subsidise their industrial fishing fleets are the EU (USD 2.7 Billion), the US (USD 1.8 Billion) and the Russian Federation (USD 1.5 Billion).

The impact on the oceans of the relentless overexploitation by the biggest fishing nations is profound. In the Pacific Ocean, valuable commercial species such as Albacore and Bluefin tuna are shrinking at unprecedented rates.

Sources: Pew Environment Group; Undercurrent News.

Some tuna are shrinking rapidly in the Pacific Ocean

Some tuna populations are shrinking rapidly in the Pacific Ocean

Big Fishing Nations that won’t Stop Overfishing – Part II

Well, the writing was on the wall. Large fishing nations have long asserted their physical and financial superiority in our shared oceans.  Muscling their way into international negotiations, they have steadfastly refused to lower their quotas, kept their oversized fishing fleets artificially afloat with subsidies and refused to rein in furtive night time poaching by their trawlers, seiners and long liners into waters where they were not welcome.

Time after time we have seen the big bullies assert their dominance over the sea’s living creatures as if they had exclusive right to them.

And now, the consequences are beginning to emerge. There are reports today that the small island nation of Fiji, known for its marine beauty and abundance albacore, may have lost its tuna fishing industry at the hands, nets and hooks of the Chinese (http://fijilive.com/news/2014/01/tuna-fishing-industry-has-collapsed-southwick/56333.Fijilive)

As China keeps its growing fishing fleet awash with State sponsored subsidies, tax waivers and ship construction aid, Fiji’s fishing boats remain today tethered in their harbour, with nothing to catch. China’s predatory fleets are not only decimating a key ocean species, but they are also causing food insecurity in a small, vulnerable coastal nation ( http://www.atuna.com/index.php/2-uncategorised/485-albacore-crisis-can-cause-food-dilemma-in-fiji#.Ut5ZkJE4k18 ).

China is asserting its dominance in the Pacific, as Fiji shuts down one of its key economic sector and faces a dilemma that is likely to have deep repercussions for its economy and its people. Overfishing is the new disease of the small island nations and, as artificially large fleets supported by irresponsible nations continue to plunder the oceans, the cure may not be easy to find.

Unknown

Why the fate of small fishing nations is linked to sustainability in fisheries

Industrial fishing is mostly a global industry. Everyone knows that large fishing vessels can circumvent the Earth and harvest all its oceans. Even smaller semi-industrial vessels can reach international waters.

Whilst most commercial fish species live in the exclusive economic zones of coastal States, much of the fish we like to eat (tuna and tuna-like species, swordfish, herring, etc) like to migrate. This means that, inconveniently for regulators and policy-makers, fish can often weave in and out of national boundaries. Logically, the industrial activities of those pursuing these species cannot be regulated by one country alone.

Further, the way that fisheries regulation works means that, as soon as a fishing vessel leaves its country’s exclusive economic zone, it will be regulated not only by the laws of its own country (its ‘flag State’), but also by the laws of the coastal States where it may be aiming to fish and, depending on what species it targets or where in the ocean it operates, the conservation and management measures of RFMOs (regional fisheries management organisation).

This generally means that when an act of illegal fishing is carried out, the success of an investigation and any subsequent penalty or (where criminal laws have been breached) prosecution, will depend on the willing and active involvement of a number of countries and/or RFMOs. Though international law obligates countries to cooperate in these matters, the truth is that they frequently don’t (with some honourable exceptions).

Everyone involved with international environmental protection laws knows that things are far from simple. No overarching international fisheries body exists that can enforce compliance on fishing nations and so, international requirements tend to be obeyed only when they are beneficial for the fishing nations in question.

What this tends to mean is that big, powerful fishing nations tend to end up making executive decisions that benefit their fleets, whilst ignoring the requests of smaller fishing nations. The trouble with this is that the global fishing fleet is already too big, so if powerful States are getting most of the legal quota (and may I point out that legal does not necessarily equal sustainable), this can leave few agreeable options for small fishing nations.

This situation was exemplified at the meetings held over the past few weeks at the West and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (link: http://www.worldfishing.net/news101/industry-news/commission-disappointed-by-wcpfc-meeting ) where a new depth was reached in the lack of political commitment by some of the most powerful fishing nations to rein in overfishing of tuna.

And whilst legal overfishing carries on, the hidden tragedy of illegal fishing continues undeterred.

The good news is that some markets have begun to equip themselves with methodologies that have the potential to weed out illegal fishing products, and to identify fishing nations that foster or do not make an effort to curb illegal fishing practices.

The bad news is that in order to participate in those markets as ‘good guys’, States have to have certain fleet control tools and methods in place. Many small fishing nations do not have access to this. Some lack the support, whilst others are marred by fragile institutions that interfere with fisheries control processes, disengaging them from the rule of law.

Unfortunately this means that some small nations may not be able to demonstrate sufficient fisheries control to markets that require guarantees of legality, and may eventually get squeezed out. This, coupled with the irresponsible (though sadly legal) overfishing of some larger fishing nations can spell impending disaster for vulnerable States.

A new initiative, the Fair Fisheries And Markets Access (FFAMA) is developing to try to find a solution to this problem. You read it here first!

A perspective of the fishing vessel harbour in Freetown, Sierra Leone

A perspective of the fishing vessel harbour in Freetown, Sierra Leone