At its latest meeting, the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries (PECH) supported ‘imposing trade and non-trade-related sanctions on third countries that do not abide by international rules on sustainable fishing methods’.
The EP PECHE Committee report explains that, as the EU is a lucrative market for fisheries products, ‘it has a particular responsibility in ensuring sustainable fishing and the respect of obligations deriving from the common management of straddling and migratory stocks; it is therefore necessary to provide the EU with effective means to take action against any state unwilling to assume such a responsibility or not cooperating in the adoption and implementation of agreed management measures in order to disincentivise unsustainable fishing.’
The EC-proposed regulation concerns any fish stock whose geographical distribution makes it available to the fleets of both EU member states and non-EU states. But the European Parliament Fisheries Committee has insisted that the measures should be extended so that they also apply to fish stocks managed by regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) to which the EU is a contracting party, wherever they are.
The draft regulation also defines the steps to be taken prior to the adoption of measures against those countries that allow unsustainable fishing, such as giving them time to correct their actions. However the EP Fisheries Committee would like to reduce this period to one month from the four months as currently proposed.
The measures proposed are wide ranging and include, inter alia:
- quantitative restrictions on imports;
- ‘restrictions on the use of Union ports by vessels flying the flag of the country allowing non-sustainable fishing’;
- prohibition of ‘the purchase by Union economic operators of a fishing vessel flying the flag of countries allowing non-sustainable fishing’;
- prohibition of ‘the reflagging of fishing vessels flying the flag of a member state to countries allowing non-sustainable fishing’;
- prohibiting member states from authorising ‘the conclusion of chartering agreements with economic operators from countries allowing non-sustainable fishing’;
- prohibition of the ‘exportation to countries allowing non-sustainable fishing of fishing vessels flying the flag of a member state’;
- prohibition of ‘the conclusion of private trade arrangements between nationals of a member state and those of countries allowing non-sustainable fishing in order for a fishing vessel flying the flag of that member state’ from using ‘the fishing possibilities of such countries’;
- prohibition of ‘joint fishing operations involving fishing vessels flying the flag of a member state and fishing vessels flying the flag of a country allowing non-sustainable fishing’.
This legislation is potentially hard-hitting, and as such may have important consequences on the capacity of ACP coastal countries not only to export fish to the EU market, but also to conclude chartering arrangements, joint ventures, etc with EU operators. This development calls for increased vigilance on the part of ACP countries to ensure that their potential lack of capacity to implement sustainable fisheries management does not become an obstacle to exporting fish onto EU markets. This is also an opportunity for ACP countries to demonstrate strong political commitment to sustainable fisheries management, which is sometimes paid merely lip-service in arrangements for vessel chartering, reflagging or joint ventures.