Banish the paper mountain, properly assess risk

Date: July 25, 2016

Source & Author: WWF

NGOs urge significant improvements to EU system to prevent illegal fish imports from entering the market

Detailed recommendations for how the European Union (EU) can eliminate existing weaknesses in its system to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing were published today by WWF and partner NGOs*.

The EU’s 2010 Regulation aimed at curbing IUU fishing requires that all imported seafood is accompanied by a catch certificate (CC). This detailed importation document must be validated by the flag State (i.e. the country that caught the fish), certifying that the products were caught in compliance with fishing regulations. EU member state authorities must carry out robust checks to ensure that these documents are authentic and valid, and that the products were indeed caught through legal practices, before allowing importation.

While the IUU Regulation has delivered very positive results to date, and remains the most progressive anti-IUU trade legislation of its kind in the world, WWF and its partners conclude that significant improvements are needed to make the CC scheme fully effective.

In the Executive Summary of two papers due to be sent to the European Commission this month, the NGOs propose that the EU must urgently deliver on the promised transition towards a centralised, EU-wide digital system for the control of seafood imports, and that EU countries should use a standardised, risk-based approach in assessing which consignments need more detailed verifications.

The NGO papers identify two core weaknesses with the current system.

Firstly, the current CC scheme is still paper-based, which allows opportunity for fraud through the easy photocopying of CCs. The ability to detect fraud is in turn compromised by the fact that there is currently no shared digitised version of the CC information across the EU, which prevents member states from cross-checking documents used in other ports/countries. An unscrupulous operator could effectively use one CC multiple times to import IUU products into different member states, with low risk of detection and high rewards.

Secondly, member states are not applying a standardised approach to the verification of CCs. The IUU Regulation calls for a risk-based approach to the verification of CCs, meaning that efforts should be focused on verifying details where consignments have a high risk of being linked to IUU activities (e.g. vessels or countries with a past history of IUU fishing, high value species, etc.). At this point, many member states are still not applying risk-based methods, while the level of rigour of the resulting verifications (e.g. requests for proof of compliance from flag States, inspections of seafood products) is often insufficient to identify products originating from IUU fishing. This unbalanced approach at EU level means that IUU products can still slip through controls and end up on the dinner plates of EU consumers.

WWF and its partners urge the European Commission to establish a pilot-scheme for the electronic CC database by the end of this year (as per the Commission’s own target date), with a full system in place no later than mid-2017; and call on EU member states to proactively work with the European Commission to deliver the system and put it to use. As a main component, the system should feature robust functions to assist member states in the checking and verification of CCs based on risk which member states should apply also by mid-2017.

IUU fishing seriously threatens the health of marine habitats and fish stocks, and the livelihoods of coastal communities. As the largest seafood market in the world, importing more than 60% of its seafood, the EU has a great responsibility to contribute to the elimination of such harmful activities, and make sure its robust legislation is matched by equally robust tools to enforce it.

*WWF is working in a coalition of non-governmental organisations to secure the harmonised and effective implementation of the European Union’s Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The Executive Summary, summarising key conclusions from the position papers to be published later this month, can be downloaded here.


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