The EU Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has established a Catch Certificate Scheme, which aims to ensure that products originating from IUU fishing activities are prevented from entering the EU market.
Under the Scheme, all fisheries imports entering the EU must be accompanied by import documents known as catch certificates. These import documents must be validated by the flag State (i.e. the country which authorises the vessel that caught the fish) to certify that the products were caught in compliance with national and international fishing laws, as well as conservation and management measures.
Over 90 countries outside of the EU have notified the European Commission that they have the necessary legal instruments, dedicated procedures and appropriate administrative structures in place for the certification of catches by vessels flying their flag.
The need for an electronic catch certificate database
More than 250,000 catch certificates are received annually across the EU. Some of the largest importing EU Member States – such as Germany, Spain and France – receive 20,000 to 60,000 catch certificates per year from non-EU countries (i.e. 50 to 165 per day). Many of these certificates are paper-based or scanned copies of paper certificates. There is currently no facility for sharing or cross-checking certificates between Member States, which prevents coordinated EU-level action and facilitates the importation of illegally caught fish.
To close this loophole, the European Commission committed to modernising the paper-based system and establishing an EU-wide digital database of catch certificates (CATCH). Version 1.0 of the system was launched on 7 May 2019 it is now fully operational. The system allows for the sharing and cross-checking of information on certificates among Member States, provides a standardised risk analysis tool for countries to better identify potential fraud, and enables authorities to prioritise verifications for higher-risk consignments (e.g. from countries or companies with a track-record of poor oversight). The CATCH system is currently used on a voluntary basis by EU Member States and their national operators; as a result uptake has, unfortunately, been slow.
Further guidance from the European Commission is required to ensure uniform interpretation of key obligations under the IUU Regulation as there is a need for improved and harmonised implementation of import controls by EU Member States. It is urgent that procedures for the risk-based verification of catch certificates across Member States be achieved in line with the establishment of the electronic catch certificate database. In order to accomplish this objective, EU Member States must commit to the full and systematic use of CATCH now that it is available.
The need for mandatory IMO numbers for vessels catching seafood for the EU market, May 2017
Case studies highlighting the need for improved implementation of the EU IUU Regulation Catch Certificate Scheme, January 2017
Modernisation of the EU IUU Regulation Catch Certificate System, July 2016
Risk Assessment and Verification of Catch Certificates under the EU IUU Regulation, November 2016
Conversion factors – the seemingly small numbers behind big data, March 2021