EVENT SUMMARY: Fighting IUU fishing — the EU’s vision for healthy oceans

Date: January 8, 2021

On 11 December 2020, the EU IUU Coalition (The Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana, The Nature Conservancy, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF) co-hosted a webinar alongside the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the European Union’s (EU’s) pioneering EU IUU Regulation coming into force. Titled The EU’s vision for healthy oceans: fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and chaired by Dr Antonia Leroy on behalf of the Coalition, the event provided an excellent opportunity for participants to reflect on the successes and challenges of the Regulation over the past decade, as well as to collectively envision the future of the fight against IUU fishing and the role the EU must play in it.

In his keynote speech, Commissioner Sinkevičius lauded the various successes of the Regulation and the significance of its global impacts in the last decade. The carding scheme, for example, has enabled the European Commission (EC) to engage in constructive dialogues on IUU fishing with over 60 countries, with the carding system itself being used 27 times. In many cases, this has driven tangible, structural reforms in national fisheries regulations, and monitoring, control and surveillance systems. This was further acknowledged by the latest Commission report on the application of the IUU Regulation, which was also officially introduced during the event. The report especially states that “the IUU Regulation has continued to provide a comprehensive and effective framework for combating IUU fishing”. The Commissioner highlighted the recent removal of Kiribati’s ‘yellow card’ after four years of intense dialogue as proof that genuine political will and collaboration can successfully lead nations to align fisheries governance with recognised international standards. Likewise, the EU’s catch documentation scheme has seen an annual average of 200,000 certificates submitted to Member States’ competent authorities to verify the legality of seafood entering the EU. As rightly pointed out by the Commissioner, however, “it’s too early for champagne” – and this anniversary should be “above all, an encouragement to keep on fighting, and to fight even harder”. The global failure to meet the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 14.4 to end IUU fishing and overfishing by 2020 is a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done. At the centre of the continued fight, the Commissioner argued, there must be a “zero tolerance approach to IUU fishing”. This was recently demonstrated through the re-carding of Panama following its continued failure to appropriately exercise its duties as a flag State. 


European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius

Following a video message by actor and ocean activist Ted Danson on the vital services provided by the ocean and the perilous impacts of IUU fishing upon this precious resource, a panel discussion ensued. This consisted of Javier Garat, President of Europêche, the representative body for fishers in the European Union; Ignacio Gandarias, the Director General of Fisheries Management and Aquaculture of Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; and Dr Vicharn Ingsrisawang, Deputy Director General of Thailand’s Department of Fisheries, all of whom contributed to a lively discussion that provided a cross-sectoral and international perspective on the EU IUU Regulation.  

Mr Garat provided insights from industry about the impacts and benefits of the EU IUU Regulation. He stated that while new legislations usually mean increased bureaucracy and costs of adherence for the industry, in the instance of the EU IUU Regulation, these have been costs worth bearing for the sector. He believes that, amongst other things, these legislations have kept out unfair competition, improved global ocean governance through dialogue and contributed to safeguarding ocean resources, generated business trust along the supply chain, all while contributing to a beneficial image of the fishing industry. While acknowledging that the Regulation is not perfect, Mr Garat stressed that it is a powerful tool for raising global standards: “We are looking for a level playing field all over the world, and this is probably the best way to try and get it”.

Mr Gandarias argued that a central benefit of the Regulation is that it focuses both on the European and non-European flag, coastal, and port States, making it a core legal instrument in tackling IUU fishing on a global scale. Looking forward, he made clear that information sharing and synergy amongst fisheries actors is key in addressing IUU fishing, alongside making use of and further developing existing tools such as the Port State Measures Agreement, The FAO Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels, and the EU CATCH database.  

As a representative of the Thai Government, a country that has been engaged in bilateral dialogues with the EU through the Regulation’s carding system, Dr Vicharn Ingsrisawang provided invaluable insights into the benefits that can arise from such international collaboration. Following the receipt of a ‘yellow card’ in April 2015, Dr Ingsrisawang described how Thailand had to revise a dated fisheries regulation to better acknowledge and reflect the challenges of IUU fishing. He stated that these changes, amongst other structural reforms that have taken place, have led to increased production and to an improvement in Thailand’s international reputation, and have built confidence with global trading partners, allowing them to see that the country strives for sustainable fisheries and for the eradication of IUU fishing. 

To close the panel discussion, we heard from the Chair of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee Pierre Karleskind. In his statement, Mr. Karleskind highlighted the importance of collaborative efforts to end IUU fishing, with cooperation needed from fishers, NGOs, governments and scientists. He also reiterated the need for zero tolerance to IUU fishing, and applauded efforts to integrate this into the EU’s Biodiversity and Farm to Fork Strategies as part of the European Green Deal – stressing that the European Parliament will ensure this objective is not undermined. In addition, he noted that more could be done by the EU as a market power, especially improving the consistency between IUU fishing and external trade policies. 

The event was drawn to a close by the Director General of DG MARE, Ms Charlina Vitcheva. She echoed many of the key messages that emerged throughout the event, including zero tolerance to IUU fishing, the need for cooperation and full traceability throughout the supply chains, and had strong words about the fight going forward: “No country can rest on past laurels. The measures against IUU fishing have to be permanent, the engagement must be continuous, and the implementation must be real. In fact, fighting against IUU fishing is never business as usual, and rests and is based on very strong political commitments”. The ingredients to this success, claims Director General Vitcheva succinctly, are: transparency, sound rules, and cooperation.


Watch the event recording here


Watch film: 10 years of the EU IUU Regulation


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