The EU – the world's biggest fish importer – has warned eight countries, including four ACP countries (Belize, Fiji, Guinea and Togo) that they risk being identified as non-cooperating states in the fight against IUU fishing.
The EC considers that these countries do not fulfil their duties as flag, coastal, port or market states in line with international law. Issues to be addressed in the Commission’s decision document, which provides country-by-country details as to why these countries have been notified include:
- recurrence of IUU vessels registered in these countries, and of IUU trade flows;
- the lack of effective enforcement measures and sufficiently dissuasive sanctions.
The Commission also suggests corrective actions to address these issues. A formal procedure of dialogue and cooperation with these countries to solve the identified shortcomings is about to begin. Should this fail, the EU could take further steps, including trade bans on fisheries products, and prevention from engaging in joint fishing operations or chartering agreements with EU vessels.
The Norwegian Foundation, Trygg Mat, has conducted a brief analysis of the fishing vessels flagged to the countries identified by the EC, and what companies are involved as owners or operators of them. It found that:
- 27% of the vessels are owned by EU-based companies;
- there is involvement by a total of 50 companies from 14 different EU member states in these countries;
- there are more vessels controlled by EU-based companies than by any other single state.
The EC decision was generally welcomed by environmental groups, such as the Pew Environment Group, which stated that ‘The European Commission, by publishing this list, is making it clear that it is serious about confronting countries that do not stop illegal fishing or continue to trade in illegally caught fish.’
However, some of the stakeholders from the countries notified disagree with the decision. In particular, the Fiji industry highlighted that Fiji has a very strict compliance system in place, and is in the process of strengthening their monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) measures to control activities of flag state vessels on the high seas; all vessels landing in Fiji are inspected, a vessel monitoring system (VMS) is used by all its tuna vessels and an observer scheme is in place. They concluded that it is ‘strange that other countries that demonstrate higher levels of risk have not been singled out for attention’.
The information provided in the Commission decision in fact tends to show that this decision came after a long process of exchange between the EC and the third countries notified, including the ACP countries. This dialogue should continue, and the remaining issues need to be addressed, in order to avoid any disruption of the legal fish trade between these countries and the EU. The fact that many vessels flagged in these countries are EU-owned shows that the EU is trying to find a way to target its own IUU operators who often reflag to third countries. The first to be negatively impacted by IUU operations are the coastal states and their coastal communities. In the case of West Africa, many IUU cases identified involve foreign vessels flagged in Asian countries, like Korea or China, both important EU trading partners.