GFCM and ICCAT urged to step up efforts to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

Date: November 4, 2019

In November 2019, two Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) – the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), will host Commission meetings in which they will reflect upon and refine existing conservation and management measures, as well as potentially adopting new measures. The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and WWF are working together in a coalition of non-governmental organisations to ensure that the EU’s engagement with RFMOs and key partners leads to greater transparency and stronger measures to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing worldwide. Ahead of these meetings, these NGOs have released a set of recommendations focused on tackling IUU fishing, and urge both RFMOs to follow these recommendations in order to bolster efforts against IUU fishing.

IUU fishing is one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems and ocean health today. It accounts for up to 26 million metric tonnes of catch annually, tens of billions in lost revenue and damages the livelihoods of legal fishers, including by robbing subsistence fishers and their communities of the fish they need to survive. This illicit activity also threatens maritime security by serving as a pathway for other serious transnational crimes, such as human trafficking and drug and weapons smuggling. RFMOs are one of the most important actors in preventing IUU fishing at regional level.

Whilst much progress has been achieved by RFMOs worldwide, overfishing and issues such as physical abuse and forced labour are still commonplace on-board many of the fishing vessels operating in their jurisdiction. Increasing transparency throughout the fisheries supply chain is one of the most effective means to eradicate such behaviours, and RFMOs are uniquely placed to do so. A recent report released by the EU IUU Coalition identifies a series of measures that States, including those active in RFMOs, can implement in order to improve transparency and the fight against IUU fishing from point of harvest to consumption.

In anticipation of the two Commission meetings, the previously mentioned NGOs have issued policy briefings aimed at both the GFCM and ICCAT with a series of suggested actions to improve the transparency of fishing operations undertaken by their contracting parties and cooperating non-contracting parties (known collectively as CPCs) within the respective convention areas. An abbreviated summary of these suggestions follows.

Ahead of the 43rd session of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) in Athens, Greece, 4-8 November 2019, the Coalition urges the GFCM to:

  • Adopt a recommendation to publicly disclose information on public and private fishing access agreements undertaken on an annual basis by both flag and coastal States;
  • Amend recommendation GFCM/30/2009/8 to encourage CPCs to take appropriate action on not only vessels flagged to their state for IUU fishing activities, but also nationals under their jurisdiction, which may be operating under another flag. Those who are responsible for, benefiting from or supporting IUU fishing activities (e.g. as operators, effective beneficiaries or service providers) should also be sanctioned;
  • Adopt measures to increase transparency around beneficial ownership;
  • Provide transparent follow-up reporting on sanctions imposed by flag States concerning vessels included in the GFCM IUU list;
  • Amend Resolution GFCM/41/2017/6 to include mandatory IMOs for all vessels 12 metres in length and above (as opposed to the current 24 metres), in line with new IMO eligibility criteria;
  • Adopt a new recommendation to improve traceability through a Catch Documentation Scheme;
  • Expand current international joint inspection and surveillance schemes at sea;
  • Take action against repeated cases of non-compliance with GFCM recommendations, applying straightforward sanctions to States in cases of repeated and significant instances of non-compliance.

Ahead of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas’ (ICCAT) 26th Regular Meeting in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, 18-25 November 2019, the Coalition urges ICCAT to:

  • Amend recommendation 06-14 to sanction not only those natural or legal persons engaging in IUU fishing, but those who are responsible for, benefiting from or supporting IUU fishing;
  • Strengthen the implementation of recommendation 18-08 by increasing the accuracy, completeness and transparency, wherever possible, of information relating to vessels on ICCAT’s IUU vessel list;
  • Amend recommendation 13-13 to include mandatory IMOs for all vessels 12 metres in length and above (as opposed to 20m as it is currently), in line with new IMO eligibility criteria;
  • Adopt, without delay, the final recommended ‘Convention Amendment’, designed to improve the Convention text in key areas such as decision-making processes, objection procedures and dispute resolution mechanisms;
  • Adopt a new recommendation to report on operational incidents at sea, and encourage members to implement measures consistent with international standards such as the ILO Work in Fishing Convention and IMO Cape Town Agreement, to ensure safe and decent working and living conditions on board for all fishers and observers operating within the ICCAT Convention Area.

We believe that the above suggestions are realistic and feasible, which is supported by the fact that many of them have already been implemented by other RFMOs. As such, we sincerely hope that the GFCM and ICCAT CPCs will both consider their adoption and utilise the upcoming meetings to increase transparency in their respective convention areas, thereby progressing the global fight against IUU fishing.


Read the GFCM policy briefing

Read the ICCAT statement


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