A study entitled ‘Traceability, Legal Provenance & the EU IUU Regulation’, supported by the Stop Illegal Fishing Program and recently made public, notes that to date no data has been made available to suggest any decrease in the volumes of illegal fish entering the EU market as a consequence of the implementation of the EU IUU Regulation. The study also highlights shortcomings in the Regulation; for example, the Regulation relies on paper-based copies of documents, which may severely compromise document security and traceability. Although control capacities have been improved, in many cases, third countries’ authorities do not have all the elements to check, particularly at sea, that the fishing products covered by a catch certificate are not from IUU sources; and the EU does not currently have the capacity to cross-check the authenticity of the certificates. At this stage, the study highlights that these are merely export certificates, not legal catch certificates.
The authors suggest that until such critical gaps in the catch certification scheme are effectively addressed, proposals that other countries should replicate the EU IUU Regulation are premature. They note that if the EU determines the Regulation and can demonstrate its effectiveness, it has the potential to become a very valuable model and tool for a global legal provenance traceability scheme.
In recommending a way forward, two strategies are considered in the study. The first presumes that the EU IUU Regulation will continue to be the main instrument for showing the legal provenance of a fish product. Therefore, addressing key weaknesses (e.g. managing catch certificates through an electronic system) would be the best immediate step towards reducing IUU fishing. The second strategy proposes the benchmarking of the various existing schemes against five functional criteria as a means of identifying where improvements are most needed. The five criteria are:
- effective fishery management control;
- issuance of certificates for legal fish;
- maintaining the integrity of the certified quantity of fish;
- maintaining the integrity of the certified fish through processing; and
- transparency of performance.
The ability to start controlling the legality of the catch at sea is one of the main challenges for ACP countries in order to ensure that the implementation of the EU IUU Regulation leads to a reduction of IUU fishing (thus safeguarding that investments made to comply with the Regulation will benefit their fisheries). Considerable efforts have already been made by ACP countries to reinforce their monitoring, control and surveillance means and to update their legislations, including through dialogue and support with the EU. However, in many cases, certificates are still – as demonstrated in the study – “merely export certificates” and no guarantee of the legal provenance of the fish. Further means need to be mobilised (e.g. through regional projects) and political will strengthened for the situation to improve. The other big challenge is to ensure that the information about the legality of the fish is transmitted, unaltered, all along the value chain. Managing catch certificates via an electronic system will indeed be a key step for addressing the challenges faced.