Many fish products sold on the EU market originate from fish caught under poor conditions, from a sustainability, hygiene, safety or labour perspective. Some products can be traced directly to fishing activities that are damaging to the environment or do not respect international social and labour rights; rules that are mandatory for the EU fishing industry. This is problematic on many levels: it creates unfair competition for EU operators; it opens the EU market to supply chains with unsustainable environmental or poor labour practices; and it is runs contrary to the EU’s commitment to improve international fisheries governance and to pursue a responsible trade policy as an instrument for the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. But things can be changed: on 30 May 2018, the European Parliament will vote on a motion for a resolution initiated by the Member of European Parliament (MEP) Linnéa Engström, concerning the implementation of control measures for establishing the conformity of fisheries products with access criteria to the EU market.
As the largest market for seafood products in the world, the EU has a responsibility to ensure that imports from third countries meet EU sustainability and labour standards. Therefore, we greatly welcome this initiative from MEP Engström and have encouraged all MEPs to support this motion.
The support of MEPs on 30 May would send a strong message to the European Commission and Member States on the need to create a level-playing field between imported fisheries products and products caught by EU vessels. To achieve this, EU market access rules should be better implemented and imports should meet the standards adopted for fisheries products caught by EU fleets. The Resolution calls for the creation of a more coherent and consistent EU trade policy, including under free trade agreements or GSP+ arrangements. In the past, the EU has engaged in trade agreements or has allowed countries to have preferential tariffs without making these agreements conditional on improvements in their fisheries governance and management. The EU should instead use its power as the largest market for seafood to incentivise positive change.
The Resolution also calls for the EU’s fisheries control regime to be greatly improved in order to effectively stop fisheries products from illegal or unsustainable sources entering the EU market. It advocates for improved implementation of two key instruments related to fisheries control: the Fisheries Control Regulation and the EU IUU Regulation. In order for the IUU Regulation to fulfil its potential, the Resolution calls on Member States to step up their coordination in order to ensure that catch certificates issued for fish imports are examined more thoroughly, notably through the desperately needed adoption of a digital system that can facilitate fish import controls in the Member States. The urgent need to address this is demonstrated by a recent EU IUU Coalition analysis of EU seafood trade flows referenced in the Resolution.
The Resolution further suggests that much more needs to be done to encourage full implementation of the control regime and proposes a number of recommendations to address present inconsistencies and inefficiencies in the EU’s control systems, as set up by the Control Regulation, particularly in relation to reporting, actions taken and information exchange on serious infringements and sanctions.
Although the upcoming revision of the Control Regulation presents itself as an opportunity to improve the EU’s control regime, the Resolution warns that it must not lead to a weakening of the current measures, but rather should improve and strengthen the level playing field in fisheries controls and that any revision must be targeted and focused to dealing only with aspects that inhibit effective and even controls in every EU member State.
Given the importance of the issues addressed in this motion for resolution, we are calling on all MEPs to fully support it on 30 May. The Resolution, including the full list of recommendations, is available here.
*The Environmental Justice Foundation and Oceana have, alongside Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF, formed a coalition of non-governmental organisations working to secure the harmonised and effective implementation of the European Union’s Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.