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EP votes for trade measures against countries allowing non-sustainable fishing

08 October 2012

At its last plenary session, the European Parliament voted in favour of an EC proposal for a new regulation on ‘Measures in relation to countries allowing non-sustainable fishing for the purpose of the conservation of fish stocks’. The text will now go to the Council of Ministers for adoption.

The rationale of the proposal is the UN Agreement for the implementation of the UNCLOS provisions relating to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks (UNFSA), which states that the management of shared, straddling and highly migratory fish stocks – such as tuna, and some small pelagics – requires the cooperation of coastal states and fishing states, mainly through regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) .

In that context, the EC proposed that, for such resources, where a third country allows fishing activities that affect the sustainability of these resources, specific measures – particularly import restrictions and import bans – should be adopted to encourage it to contribute to the conservation of that stock.

This was supported by the Parliament which, in its legislative resolution, defines what ‘a country allowing unsustainable fishing is: it is a country which fails to cooperate for the management of resources covered by the UNFSA, and either fails to adopt the management measures needed, or adopts management measures ‘without due regard to the rights, interests and duties of other countries and the Union, where measures, when considered in conjunction with measures taken by other countries and the Union, lead to fishing activities which could result in the stock being in an unsustainable state’.

The Parliament also requested that, before the adoption of the planned measures, ‘an evaluation of their expected environmental, trade, economic and social effects’ should be undertaken.

Addressing the Parliament before the vote, Commissioner Damanaki stated that this piece of legislation will become a key tool of the common fisheries policy: ‘We simply cannot afford to let a few irresponsible people nullify our industry's efforts and our conservation work’. In her view, this new legislation can help create a level playing field between the EU and third countries’ fishermen. She concluded: ‘I know the devotion of this House for the creation of this level playing field referring to trade issues ... The Commission is of course preparing for the use of the trade instrument but a lot of legal work still has to be done’.

Editorial comment

This new legislation – including, but not restricted to, trade sanctions – will apply to stocks managed under RFMOs, such as tuna, which is a key product in ACP fish trade with the EU. Legal instruments to apply it still need to be developed, and it is therefore as yet unclear how this legislation will be applied in practice. However, it is important for ACP tuna-producing countries to open dialogue with the EU, including through current EPA negotiations, in order to seek clarification as to how this new legislation may affect their fish trade relations with the EU.  They also need to raise awareness of the particular difficulties and challenges encountered by ACP tuna-producing countries, in particular small island states, in monitoring fishing activities in their EEZs. 


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