The EU and FAO closing the door to illegal fish

Date: June 1, 2016

Source & Author: EU Commission

A lot has changed since the EU declared “zero tolerance” on illegal fishing in January 2010. The world has become more aware of the importance of responsible fishing, and many countries have improved their fisheries management systems. Big market powers like the US, Japan and Canada have joined forces with the EU’s trailblazing anti-IUU legislation.

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a serious issue whose impacts cause increasing concern all over the globe. IUU fishing undermines efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks. It prevents affected countries from achieving the goals of long-term sustainability. It sabotages the competitiveness and viability of honest fishermen who act responsibly and within the law. Developing countries, which don’t usually have the means to control their own waters and stop unlawful operators, are hit particularly hard. Many of their coastal communities depend heavily on fisheries, and illegal fishing depletes their very source of livelihood.

To fight IUU fishing activities, international organisations have developed a set of powerful tools based on the responsibility of each country both for the vessels flying its flag (flag State responsibility) and for the foreign vessels using its ports (port State responsibility). Clear obligations also exist for the coastal States on whose waters the fishing occurs. However, the role of the country where the fish ends up (market State responsibility) still needs strengthening. Closing markets to illegal products is indeed an essential step in the fight against IUU fishing: if illegal operators find no market to place their products, the incentive to fish illegally automatically disappears. To that aim, the whole supply chain, from fishermen to retailers, needs to be involved and act according to responsible corporate codes.

Being the biggest importer of seafood in the world, the EU has considerable market weight. For over six years now it has been using that weight to promote responsible fishing activities and improve ocean governance with its partners worldwide. There are three main elements that make up the EU’s legal framework to fight IUU fishing. First, the EU only allows access into its market of seafood products that have been certified as legal: to enter, the fish must come from an authorised country, have the proper catch and health certificates and pass the EU’s border inspection. Second, an intelligence network enables the Commission and EU Member States to exchange real-time information on illegal fishing activities and tackle them jointly. Third: extensive cooperation with non-EU countries all over the world.

Our goal is to make sure that international standards are respected equally by all, and we hope to achieve this through dialogue and cooperation. If dialogue fails, the Commission issues a warning (the so-called ‘yellow card’) and starts a more structured procedure of dialogue and cooperation with the country’s authorities. If problems aren’t solved within a reasonable amount of time, the European Commission may then decide to issue a ‘red card’, with the ensuing trade ban being the very last resort.

This scheme has advantages. Within the EU, consumers are confident that the marine fishery products on the market were caught legally and can be traced back to the fishery. Internationally, it helps third countries comply with international conservation obligations and creates a level playing field for all operators. To date, more than 50 countries have put in place structural reforms in their fisheries sectors with the support of the European Commission. This is a significant step in the fight against illegal fishing.

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