The European Commission (EC) has issued a warning to the Philippines and Papua New Guinea (PNG) that they risk being identified as non-cooperating countries in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Commissioner Maria Damanaki emphasised that “Half of the Western Pacific’s tuna is exported to the EU; we cannot ignore illegal fishing activities in this region. I urge the Philippines and Papua New Guinea to fight this practice which puts the livelihoods of fishermen at risk. In the end, sustainability of fisheries in the Pacific Ocean means sustainability here in Europe, on our plates.”
The EC identified concrete shortcomings: for example, both countries need to amend their legal framework to combat IUU fishing, to improve control and monitoring actions and take a proactive role in complying with international law rules, such as agreed by regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs).
At present, this “yellow card” does not entail any measures affecting fish trade between the EU and these two countries. But “should the situation not improve within six months, the EU could take further steps, which could entail trade sanctions on fisheries imports, as was done recently with Guinea, Belize and Cambodia,” stated the Commissioner.
The action against PNG and the Philippines was praised by environmental groups. Eszter Hidas, EU policy lead for World Wide Fund for Nature’s Transparent Seas Project emphasised that “This is not an exercise in singling out nations but rather, an exercise in enforcing effective implementation of international fishing laws and regulations,” and added that “There must be consequences for those who continually avoid playing by the rules.”
An expert highlighted in his blog that DevFish 2, an EU-funded project hosted by the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), included a component for building robust and cost-effective regional capabilities to combat IUU fishing. Although this project can facilitate action by the Pacific countries “nothing we can do replaces the country’s own responsibility in regards the implementation of the requirements”, the blog concluded.
Since the EU IUU regulation was first implemented in 2010, several ACP countries have been given a “yellow card”, which led to trade sanctions in the Guinea and Belize cases. Other ACP countries that were issued with a warning – Fiji, Panama, Togo and Ghana – developed new legislation, improved their Marine Stewardship Council systems and, as a consequence, no trade sanctions have been taken against them to date. This tends to show that one objective of the implementation of the EU IUU regulation is to improve the legal framework and capacities in the third countries concerned, rather than just stop trade flows of IUU products. Indeed, until a globally efficient system is in place to fight IUU, fish from illegal sources will always find a way to reach some less stringent markets. In the case of PNG, questions arise about how this action will influence the overall fish trade with the EU. PNG currently benefits from the “global sourcing derogation”, which allows the country to use non-originating fish for its duty-free exports to the EU. Should the current yellow card lead to a fish trade ban, it would render the global derogation negotiated useless.