The EC has published an ex ante evaluation of a possible EU–Liberia FPA and protocol to focus on tuna. Currently, there are no vessels authorised to catch tuna within Liberia’s EEZ, whether under bilateral agreements, private licences or chartering.
Because Liberia’s EEZ has been an important fishing zone for tuna vessels for decades, foreign tuna purse seine fleets – including Orthongel, representing French purse seiners, and ANABAC and OPAGAC representing Spanish interests – sought to negotiate an agreement with the Liberian authorities, in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which has been made public by Liberian authorities. Approximately 40 EU vessels (i.e. those flagged within the EU as well as outside) are covered by the MoU.
The evaluation particularly discusses the pros and cons of having a tuna SFPA, or leaving it to the vessel owners to negotiate and finalise their MoU with Liberia.
The evaluators highlight that the existence of a tuna FPA framework may improve the general governance of EU fishing activities. “In the longer-term, the benefits of improved fishery governance may offer improved catches and thus increased benefits related to value added and employment.”
In the case of a private agreement, financial contributions would be made only by EU vessel owners, which “would clearly mean a reduced requirement to use EU funds, and increased costs for EU vessel owners”. Payments would be for access, not for fisheries sector policy support, “implying that potential and needed support for improved governance of the Liberia fisheries, including strengthened MCS, would not be put in place and this would increase the risk of poor management of the fishery resources”, stressed the evaluation.
In a working document assessing the evaluation, the EC highlight that the findings, conclusions and recommendations formulated in the report need to be considered in light of various constraints and limitations, including the fact that “the authorities of Liberia were not consulted for the purpose of the evaluation... As a result, the chapter detailing Liberia’s needs to be met – in particular in relation to sectoral support – is largely based on assumptions which will need to be confirmed by the Liberian authorities in the context of possible future negotiations.”
The comparison between the signing of a bilateral FPA between Liberia and the EU, or the signing of a private MoU between Liberia and EU (and other) tuna purse seine companies, suggests that the “added value” of EU agreements (compared to private agreements) is that SFPA sectoral support provides an enabling environment for sustainable fishing operations in third countries. Transparency is one aspect that is also currently more efficiently dealt with under EU public bilateral agreements, although there is still room for improvement, both regarding access conditions provided for EU fleets, and for provision of better information about the state of the resources, through possible support to research. In the long term, EU tuna sector-led initiatives such as the Tuna Transparency Initiative should ensure that the same level of transparency applies to private agreements.