International and regional cooperation – the key factor to keep up the fight against IUU fishing

Date: February 24, 2016

Author: Kristin Von Kistowski, Senior Advisor, FISH-i Africa

9th Chatham House Forum on IUU Fishing discusses latest developments and solutions

Where do we stand in the fight against IUU fishing in 2016? Progress has been made over the last years but more advances are needed to solve the problem. International and regional cooperation are crucial to end IUU fishing, especially in developing countries hardest hit by the illegal practice. After a three-year break, more than 100 decision-makers, researchers, industry representatives, civil society groups and journalists came together at the Chatham House 9th Forum on IUU Fishing to discuss the latest developments and solutions in combatting IUU fishing, threatening sustainable fisheries, the marine environment and food security.

Since the early days of the Chatham House Forum on IUU Fishing, Africa and Europe have been focus regions of the Forum. This was also reflected in the opening speech of the Honourable Minister for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development of Ghana, Sherry Ayittey who gave an account of Ghana’s efforts. Like other West African countries, Ghana faces high levels of IUU fishing in its waters. In November 2013, Ghana was warned by the European Union with a so-called “yellow card” to meet its responsibilities in preventing and deterring IUU fishing. The carding process is an important element of the EU IUU Regulation that aims to keep IUU fishery products out of the EU market, the world’s largest market for fishery products. Ghana took the warning seriously. After cooperating with the EU and taking necessary actions such as strengthening its legal framework, adopting an ambitious fisheries management plan, setting up a fisheries enforcement unit and creating dissuasive sanctions Ghana was green-carded in October 2015 and no longer faces the threat of trade sanctions by the EU. This highlights how market measures can incentivize important steps that make a country act more effectively against IUU fishing in its waters, on the vessels flying its flag, in its ports and as an exporting country.

The Forum allowed participants to get a big picture of the current situation. Since the last meeting a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal on Oceans has come into force, recognizing the significance of healthy, resilient and productive oceans for poverty eradication and sustainable development. One of the specific targets tied to the goal is to end illegal fishing within five years. Per Erik Bergh (Stop Illegal Fishing) and Jessica Battle (WWF) considered this as unlikely to be achieved by 2020 and difficult to measure. However, the goal on oceans and its targets provide an important push and support for the fight against IUU fishing. Simon Reddy (Global Ocean Commission) referred to the high-level UN Conference on Oceans and Seas, to be held in Fiji in 2017 as a part of the efforts to monitor progress.

Nevertheless, the fight against IUU fishing has come a long way. There are significant achievements and developments to be mentioned. Among these is the growing number of Parties to the FAO Port State Measures Agreement. Árni Mathiesen (FAO) explained the Agreement needs 25 Parties to enter into force, this is expected to happen in the course of 2016 – not many would have believed this a year ago. Important developments have also happened on the regional level: networks such as FISH-i Africa have demonstrated successful actions against illegal fishing operators – despite vast ocean areas to monitor and control and limited resources and capacity. Sandy Davies (Stop Illegal Fishing) presented on the FISH-i group of eight East African countries who are effectively sharing information and cooperating and on the cases against operators that have been generated. Improvements have also been made on the national level. Hector Villa González presented an important example from Spain, a country that has introduced legislation to prosecute nationals involved in IUU fishing.

But experiences and insights, especially from the countries hardest hit by IUU fishing, made clear what is still needed to put an end to IUU fishing: it is central to make the practice riskier and less profitable for IUU operators:

Information-sharing and cooperation is key, especially for countries where capacity is low: Benedikt Kiilu, Principle Fisheries Officer in Mombasa, Kenya, emphasized the value of regional cooperation through FISH-i Africa, providing Kenya with access to timely and relevant information. This, he explained, has led to significant changes in the way Kenya has been able to assess risks and to take action against IUU fishing operators. He also explained the challenges a country like Kenya faces to achieve interagency cooperation, a prerequisite for the effective implementation of the FAO PSMA. He told the audience: “What may seem easy in your countries to push through is not a given in African countries. We need support to get authorities to work together effectively.”

Technology can be useful but only to the extent that it can produce relevant and timely information for MCS and enforcement officers on the ground: Bradley Soule (Satellite Applications Catapult), Alberto Martín (EJF West Africa) and Duncan Copeland (Trygg Mat Tracking) demonstrated how technology, including advanced satellite technology, can support and speed up the identification of suspect IUU fishing vessels and illegal transhipments that play a role in laundering IUU caught fish. However, without anybody connecting the dots, interpreting the data, directing action to where the highest risk is expected and to eventually make a decision, nothing will happen to identify and stop an IUU fishing operator.

The EU IUU Regulation has proven a powerful tool to combat IUU fishing and can incentivize positive change around the world – and again, cooperation on all parts is key: This was shown clearly by Belize’s Ambassador to the EU, Dylan Vernon. Belize had been red-carded for failure to fulfil its obligations as a flag state in early 2014, and was thus banned from trading fishery products with the EU for nearly a year. In late 2014, after the government had re-nationalized the register and taken important steps to sanction illegal fishing operators, Belize was delisted again. The Ambassador was open about the challenges and reputational damage as part of the process and didn’t forget to mention how the EU could have improved the cooperation from its side. The EU IUU Regulation has certainly “improved the sustainable management of fisheries important to the EU and created a level playing field for legitimate fishermen”, said Joao Machado from DG MARE (European Commission). However, an assessment of four NGOs on the implementation of the Regulation, presented by Maria Jose Cornax (Oceana), made clear that it is also top importing EU countries who need to step up to control imports effectively and make the EU IUU Regulation work to it’s highest standard.

Piercing the corporate veil to get to the core of IUU fishing, is how Gail Lugten (University of Tasmania) described the need to follow the money rather than the fish to find the real organizers and networks of IUU fishing and associated crime. This view was supported by presentations on the INTERPOL project Scale (Alistair McDonnel), FISH-i Africa (Sandy Davies) and the OECD (Antonia Leroy). Large-scale IUU fishing is by no means an occasional breaking of some rules. It is a systematic breaking of all rules to maximize profits and involves highly organized and well-financed networks.

The key message of this year’s Chatham House Forum, the first one after a break of three years may be best summarized with a quote of Kofi Annan, Chair of the African progress Panel and former UN Secretary General, at the launch of the Fisheries Transparency Initiative: “This challenge is far greater than any single country can effectively handle on its own. It is also much more than just a problem for Africa. Global collective action is needed to nurture transparency and accountability.” Only with international and regional cooperation will we get closer to the target of putting an end to IUU fishing.


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