Reflecting upon the GFCM and ICCAT annual Commission meetings

Date: December 23, 2019

The EU IUU Coalition (The Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana, The Nature Conservancy, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF) is actively working to increase transparency and improve fisheries governance through the framework of regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). On 5 June 2019 for the International Day for the Fight Against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the coalition released a report outlining essential measures and best practices for RFMOs to adopt in order to increase transparency and reduce instances of IUU fishing. The report also includes an analysis based on a series of transparency and governance indicators of the performance of four RFMOs – the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA). 

In November of this year, representatives from the coalition attended the annual Commission meetings of two of the above RFMOs – the 43rd session of the GFCM in Athens, Greece (4-8 November) and the 26th Regular Meeting of ICCAT in Palma de Mallorca, Spain (18-25 November). Prior to these meetings, the coalition had urged members of both RFMOs to step up actions against IUU fishing within the RFMO jurisdictions through adopting a series of new or amended measures—these recommendations have been outlined in a blog posted on the IUU Watch website. 

In GFCM, the coalition was pleased to see the adoption of a transparency mechanism that requires countries to report annually all fishing agreements in force between their fleet and third countries. Before the adoption of this measure there was no information available to verify if a foreign flagged vessel was legally fishing in a country’s waters or not. In addition, the GFCM IUU vessel list has now been strengthened by the addition of a requirement for contracting parties to ensure that their nationals do not benefit from, support or engage in IUU fishing activities (e.g. as operators, effective beneficiaries, owners, logistics and service providers, including insurance providers and other financial service providers). Also worth noting was the expansion of joint inspection schemes in some parts of the GFCM Convention area, the adoption of a better categorisation of cases of non-compliance, the launching of pilot projects on the use of electronic logbooks, the implementation of a centralised vessel monitoring system (VMS) for all GFCM areas of competence and the introduction of catch documentation schemes for both red coral and turbot.

In ICCAT, the coalition applauds the decision by contracting parties to adopt its revised Convention text—the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, which promises to reform and modernise key objection and dispute mechanisms, increasing transparency in decision making processes. In addition, ICCAT adopted a package of two observer and fisher safety measures. The first introduces 10% observer coverage for tropical tuna-catching vessels, a first for a tuna RFMO. The second commits CPCs to strengthening the dialogue with their fishing vessel owners, crew and operators with a view of raising awareness. It also includes a direct reference to the IMO 2012 Cape Town Agreement on fishing vessel safety, which outlines fishing vessel standards and includes other regulations designed to protect the safety of crews and observers and to provide a level playing field for the industry. Furthermore, a measure was adopted for the better implementation of the FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), by tasking the Secretariat to draft a detailed report on its implementation, including any challenges, by the end of January 2020 and ahead of the first international meeting. We do feel however that insufficient attention was paid to IUU fishing at the Commission meeting. Opportunities were missed for simple amendments that would bring ICCAT in line with international best practices, for example through improving regulations on transshipment monitoring. In the future, we hope that ICCAT contracting parties, and in particular the EU, illustrate their determination to end IUU fishing by putting forward measures to tackle this important issue. 

Looking ahead, in 2020 the coalition will continue to advocate for measures to be adopted by the GFCM and ICCAT that would increase transparency and improve governance, thereby contributing to the abolition of IUU fishing. Firstly, we urge both RFMOs to expand IMO numbering requirements for all eligible vessels (those greater than 12m in length), in line with the latest IMO eligibility criteria. Secondly, and specific to the GFCM, we ask for a further expansion of geographical scope of the international joint inspection and surveillance schemes at sea, and to improve the GFCM Authorised Vessel List and Fleet register in order to make them complete, accurate, transparent and functional. Finally, with reference to ICCAT, we would like to see a new recommendation be adopted for reporting on operational incidents at sea, and for an updated measure that would mandate the sanctioning of not only those engaging in IUU fishing but also those who are responsible for, benefiting from or supporting IUU fishing – a move we feel would strike at the economic heart of the IUU problem. 

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