The Spanish government and the Spanish Fisheries Confederation (CEPESCA) on behalf of Spanish tuna fishing associations (ANABAC and OPAGAC) have signed an agreement “to provide greater transparency, improve monitoring and establish greater control over the third-country flagged fishing fleet activities.”
Signatories highlighted that the EU tuna industry “directly or indirectly, employs more than 43,000 people in Spain and is the main survival means for 200,000 people in Latin America and over 300,000 in Africa.” The Spanish tuna fleet catches 450,000 tonnes of tropical tuna per year (10% of the world catch), counting on 33 vessels flagged in Spain, as well as 22 vessels flagged in third countries by joint ventures.
Through this agreement, ANABAC and OPAGAC vessels flagged in third countries will voluntarily commit to facilitate satellite monitoring of their activities and submit their positions in real time by using tracking systems. In addition, ship owners will provide a copy of the available fishing licences in, for example, third countries’ waters, logbooks, landing or transhipment declarations.
For its part, the Spanish Fisheries Administration has committed to analyse the information received from the boat owners and use it to make a risk analysis of the operation. CEPESCA stated that “this protocol will make it easier for products to be landed at national ports with the same level of control and quality required from vessels from Spain.”
The Fisheries General Secretary described the agreement as “a great innovation”, as such control will be performed a priori – once controls have been performed, the Spanish ship owners will be able to conduct their business smoothly. According to data provided, Spain already maintains an exchange of satellite fishing data with 20 international destinations. However, the General Secretary also recalled the importance of the control a posteriori of all fish imports, which is a rampart against the entry of illegal products.
Furthermore, the Spanish Secretary for State hoped that this agreement, which provides for a similar level of control between EU flagged vessels and vessels with EU capital but flagged in third countries, would eventually translate into future EU legislation. He also underlined that Spain would continue its efforts to promote this approach at an international level, to ensure that the conditions of control accepted by Spanish purse seiners would eventually apply to the other 550 tuna purse seiners active in the world.
Many vessels with foreign capital, including coastal trawlers, are active in ACP countries under joint ventures. In several cases, such as in West Africa, questions have been raised about the motivations behind forming these joint ventures, as often – even where the ACP partner has a nominal capital majority in the joint venture – the vessel operation is totally under the control of the foreign partner. In some cases, questions have also been raised about the behaviour of vessels that, in the case of EU originating vessels, do not abide by the same level of requirements as those flagged in the EU; some are even involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing operations. The reformed CFP contains commitments to fight against such “abusive reflagging”, and the agreement signed by the Spanish administration and the tuna sector indicates that member states, such as Spain, and the private sector are taking measures to ensure that all vessels of EU origin are subject to the same level of control and requirements. In the long term, it is also a good sign for reinvigorating, at the EU and international levels, the debate on how the “State of beneficial ownership” should take its responsibility when its nationals are involved in fishing operations with vessels flagged in another country. Such a move should also benefit ACP countries and help ensure that foreign companies’ fishing vessels operate according to sustainable fisheries principles.