Widespread and better-aligned RFMO catch documentation schemes urgently needed to combat IUU fishing

Date: December 9, 2021

On 9 December 2021, the EU IUU Fishing Coalition held an online event, with over 120 participants, to launch its new study on aligning Catch Documentation Schemes in RFMOs to combat IUU fishing. The report documents the current lack of harmonisation between CDS regimes across RFMOs, as well as their lack of compatibility with two major import regimes (the U.S. system, SIMP, and the EU catch certificate). It also highlights limitations in the voluntary UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) guidelines for CDS.

Accurately tracing fisheries products is essential for ensuring their legality through all stages of the value chain — from capture, landing, first sale and through trade among various professional intermediaries. Seafood traceability not only ensures compliance with legal obligations, it is a prerequisite for greater transparency in fisheries. Importantly, it helps combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, one of the largest and most prolific threats to the sustainable management of fish populations across the globe, and an activity that deprives billions in lost revenue, often from developing countries and vulnerable communities. 

Some Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) have responded to this threat by developing multilateral catch documentation schemes (CDS) which deny market access to any illegally-sourced products. CDS are an effective means of ensuring that seafood products linked to IUU fishing do not enter market States through their ports. However, the current array of different schemes and lack of interoperability jeopardise their effectiveness (i.e. a product denied entry in one market could still make it through another one) and complicates compliance in global supply chains.

Speakers at this event included Luis Molledo (European Commission’s Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Deputy Head of Unit, Regional Fisheries Management Organisations), Adam Ziyad (Government of Maldives, Director General of the Fisheries Department, Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture, first Vice-Chairperson of the IOTC), Shingo Ota (Special advisor to the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries at Government of Japan, Japan’s commissioner to ICCAT, Chair of the FAO Committee on Fisheries) and representatives of the EU IUU Fishing Coalition: Dr Antonia Leroy (Head of Ocean Policy at WWF European Policy Office), Peter Horn (Project Director, International Fisheries, End Illegal Fishing at The Pew Charitable Trusts) and Vera Coelho (Senior Director, Advocacy in Europe at Oceana). This event was chaired by Marta Marrero Martin (Ocean Governance Director, The Nature Conservancy). During the panel discussion, the strengths and weaknesses of existing RFMO CDS and the role of market pressure were considered, and next steps on how best to improve alignment of existing schemes were explored.

EU IUU Fishing Coalition 9 December 2021 panel discussion

Key messages from the speakers include: 

  • Adam Ziyad (Top left): Digitalisation is the way forward. Building capacity for artisanal and small scale fisheries to improve reporting and traceability through digital means is crucial for effective management.
  • Dr Antonia Leroy (Top right): CDS are crucial tools for securing truly traceable seafood because they apply to the full product supply chain and to all stakeholders involved. Today, we see a proliferation of CDS without any alignment, creating a burden on authorities in both importing and exporting countries. Aligning the various CDS and, ultimately, harmonising them is urgently needed.
  • Luis Molledo (Bottom left): Full traceability is essential to ensure the sustainability of the stocks. Traditionally, DG MARE supports any initiative that can secure improved traceability from the net to the plate (including CDS in RFMOs).
  • Shingo Ota (Bottom left): EU buyers have a key role to play in pushing RFMOs to work harder to implement more effective and more stringent CDS.
  • Peter Horn (not pictured): CDS are a very important tool in the fight against IUU fishing – as are the RFMOs responsible for fisheries oversight. The CDS tools needed to tighten the net against perpetrators of IUU are already available, decision makers should collaborate and agree standardisation in key data elements to enable them to have effect.
  • Vera Coelho (not pictured): To be effective, CDS alignment must request similar key data, such as the vessel flag and catching area, and import controls should cover all fish species. 

As more and more RFMOs consider their interest in CDS, further schemes are likely to develop over the coming years. This multitude of separate regimes, established without coordination or harmonisation, will likely lead to counter-productive outcomes that further jeopardise our ability to sustainably manage fish stocks and meet our climate, biodiversity and sustainable food goals. The EU IUU Fishing Coalition contends that a minimum baseline of CDS alignment is necessary, and that CDS would be much more effective if they covered a wider range of species.

Read the full report (in English)


Dr Antonia Leroy (WWF), on behalf of the EU IUU Fishing Coalition

Shingo Ota, (MAFF, ICCAT)

Video recording of the webinar on 9 December 2021:

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