Speaking at the SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Malta, the heads of Europeche and Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) had suggestions for the EU on how it needs to up its anti-IUU [illegal, unregulated and unreported] game.
Straight off the bat, though, EJF chief executive Steve Trent noted that the EU was a world leader in combatting IUU with its regulation.
“I think the IUU regulation is the EU at its best. It’s shown real leadership, and it’s been a driving force in combatting IUU,” he said, representing the NGO coalition which has united to try and fight illegal fishing.
However, he pointed to a number of improvements that were needed, starting with a digital catch certificate system. “The paper system currently in place is, simply, not fit for purpose,” he said.
“The opportunities for fraud under the current system are huge. An inclusive database, and standardized rules for every member state, would change the landscape.”
He also pointed out that the EU needs to show leadership when it comes to its own distant water fleet.
The online database whofishesfar.org currently has 16,336 vessels which fish far and wide under an EU member state flag.
The data was obtained after an access of information request to the European Commission. It includes all official agreements, but not private agreements, as the commission itself admits that the EU has no data on these agreements.
This website aims to demonstrate the need for institutional transparency and accountability of the activities of the EU fleet activities in waters outside EU, it says. “Transparent, accountable and sustainable activities of the EU fleet should be guaranteed no matter where they operate.”
“The EU must ensure its distant water fishing is transparent, and management is robust,” said Trent, speaking alongside EU fisheries commissioner Karmenu Vella on stage. “The private agreements between companies and third countries need to be scrutinized and open.”
Thirdly, Trent called for the standardization of how the IUU regulations are implemented across member states. “The EU is big and complicated, and different states have different approaches, with varying levels of rigor.”
He also noted that in the long term, cooperation with Japan and the US — the other two giant seafood markets in the world — was needed to ensure IUU fishing could not find a place to sell its wares.
Vella agreed that harmonization was needed: “I’m not saying we have 28 states pulling in 28 different directions; but I would say they are moving at 28 different speeds,” he said.
He also put forward his views for an international body to govern those waters which are not under the control of any countries, saying governance of these areas need to be better “if we really mean business. In some areas it’s already a little too late, for instance the amount of litter in the oceans has been allowed to get out of control.”
NGOs and the UK have shown interest in the concept, he said, but rather than be pro-active, there has been a wait to see who will take the lead.
Industry’s stance largely in agreement
The head of industry body Europeche, Javier Garat, spoke of the need for a balance between fighting IUU fishing and not damaging the profitability of entirely legal operations.
Like Trent, he too backed the need for an electronic catch certificate scheme.
He also noted the industry’s skepticism over the chances of the EU ever issuing a ‘red card’ against a ‘big’ third country.
“Small countries have been red carded, but the big ones — Korea, Thailand, China, Taiwan — is there still dialogue there? We don’t think a red card would ever be issued against them.”
“There are too many political reasons, trade reasons, to prevent it. It could be too complicated for our commissioner to issue,” he said.
Garat also called for the whole carding process to be made more transparent, with industry better informed and consulted.
Vella agreed that, to a point, industry could be involved — the length of time the EU engages in dialogue with nations it may then yellow or even red card is such that it would have time to consult, he said. However, he added that confidentiality was an important part of the process for countries in dialogue.
“The process, of dialogue, then yellow carding, then red — that is the same no matter which country we are dealing with,” he added. “It may take more time with larger nations, but the process is the same.”
The initial deadline for assessing whether Thailand has made sufficient progress in the fight against IUU fishing came and went; most recently, the country’s Department of Fisheries said it did not expect to be hit with a red card.He went on to add that the yellow card does not impact upon trade; only if or when the red card is brought out, is trade affected, he stated.
Meesak Pakdeekong, the department’s deputy chief, said the team of EU investigators currently in Thailand had expressed initial satisfaction in a number of areas.
However, his optimism isn’t shared by everyone in the Thai seafood sector. One source, speaking to Undercurrent News, said “seafood will be banned for sure”, while another said “we are running out of time”.
It should be remembered that the EU’s decision is being made on the country’s efforts to combat illegal fishing, and is separate from the labor issues it has.