EU must step up efforts to stop stolen fish reaching European plates

Date: December 19, 2016

Source & Author: Mireille Thom


The European Union’s most recent public expression of its commitment to shaping the future of international ocean and fisheries governance came last month in the form of a communication that sets out “an agenda for the future of our oceans[1]”. This renewed statement of intent for the EU to take the lead “to create a stronger system of ocean governance around the globe[2]”is, of course, welcome. However, to deliver meaningful change and meet expectations, European Member States and institutions will have to show political will and determination to ensure that words are matched by action on flagship policies.

Take, for example, the fight against illegal fishing. WWF and partner NGOs* believe that substantial steps have been taken since the adoption of the 2008 IUU Regulation[3] which has established the EU as the world leader in combating illegal and destructive fishing practices. While identifying the progress achieved internationally, the Commission acknowledged last year that there were weaknesses in the EU internal “systems in place” and spoke of the need “to simplify and modernise the implementation of the IUU Regulation”[4]. The Commission pledged to make the necessary improvements by the end of 2016. But, now, it looks like much more time may be needed to deliver the necessary improvements. This delay should be of concern to us all as the EU is the biggest seafood market in the world, importing around a quarter of world seafood products in terms of value[5]. Imports account for two-thirds of EU demand[6]. Europe thus has a tremendous international responsibility in environmental, economic and sustainable development terms in the governance of world fisheries.

The weaknesses in the implementation of the EU IUU regulation that must be tackled as a matter of urgency include, first, the paper-based nature of the catch certificates that must accompany seafood consignments to be imported into the EU. The vulnerability of these certificates to fraud is well documented[7]. It had been expected that the current system would be upgraded through the introduction of an EU-wide digital register of catch certificate information by the end of 2016, as pledged by the Commission[8], given that such a switch can be achieved under the current legislation.

The second weakness is the lack of a standardised approach across member states to the checking and risk-based verification of catch certificates despite this being a requirement under the IUU Regulation.

The EU’s recent reassurance that “the fight against IUU fishing worldwide remains a priority” and its commitment that the Commission “will strengthen action on IUU fishing by improving current systems and supporting Member States in ensuring efficient controls through the development of electronic tools”[9] are welcome. However, the time has come to translate these commitments into reality. WWF and its partners call on both Commission and Member States to take decisive and urgent action to ensure entry controls are rational and effective on the basis of a harmonised risk-based analysis and supported by an EU-wide IT system to exchange and cross-check information on catch certificates by the end of 2017.

To achieve this, both Commission and Member States will have to demonstrate political will to make the IUU Regulation as effective inside the EU as it is internationally.


*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.

[1] Joint communication by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European Commission on International Ocean Governance: an agenda for the future of our oceans JOIN(2016)49 final p.

[2] K. Vella, 10 November 2016 in EC press release “International ocean governance: EU’s contribution to safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed oceans”

[3] Council Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008 establishing a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (OJ L 286, 29. 10. 2008

[4] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the application of Council Regulation (EC) (EC) No 1005/2008 establishing a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (COM(2015) 480 final: p.10

[5] The EU fish market (2014) European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products:p.1

[6] Ibid


[8] Cf. footnote 4: p.10

[9] See footnote 1:p. 11

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