Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
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Illegal fish? No, thanks. Four years on, the new control system is yielding tangible results

Illegal fish? No, thanks. Four years on, the new control system is yielding tangible results

Four years ago the EU resolved to wage war on illegal fishing both at home and abroad. At home, it harmonised rules, inspections and sanctions – and with a fairer system comes better compliance. For the rest of the world, it shut its own market to fish of dubious origin and warns of possible economic retaliation those nations who turn a blind eye to unlawful practices at sea.

“Illegal fishing harms us on many levels. It puts additional, unchecked, pressure on fish stocks; it undermines our conservation efforts; it disrupts markets with unfair competition; it works against law-abiding fishermen; and it harms all coastal communities, especially those in developing countries. It is a crime against the environment and a crime against us all.” Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

EU rules help control one of the most important common resources Europe has, its fisheries stock. As fish do not swim within national borders or Exclusive Economic Zones, regulation needs to be enforced by all Member States equally. Nor can we disregard what happens in the rest of the world. The fish we import (about 65% of total consumption) must have been caught in accordance to the modern principles of conservation.

 

“If we can’t enforce our own rules, this undermines the credibility of the whole policy, no matter how sound it may be.”

 

The fight against overfishing: an exhaustive and integrated approach across Europe

“If we can’t enforce our own rules, this undermines the credibility of the whole policy, no matter how sound it may be”, Commissioner Damanaki said in 2010. “We now have a comprehensive system of control and enforcement; we have ‘new teeth´, as it were, and this will make the rules of the upcoming reform of the Common Fisheries Policy all the more effective.”

The Commission’s reform of the control system (1) came a few years before the wider reform of European fisheries, but is based on the same principle: the well-being of fish stocks equals the welfare of coastal communities. For that principle to apply, it was imperative to turn a fractured system into a level playing field governed by a sound and workable set of rules.

Today, the methodology for inspections, both in port and at sea, is clearly and uniformly defined. Modern data collection technologies like electronic logbooks, sales notes, or satellite-based monitoring systems have largely done away with possible errors or disparities in judging the amounts of fish caught.

If there is overfishing, corrective measures apply to all. For operators, a deterring point system can, not unlike the one for car drivers, lead to temporary or even permanent revocation of the fishing licence. For countries, an extensive arsenal enables the Commission to react to overfishing. It can carry out audits and enquiries in the country in question. It can demand an action plan to rectify the situation, as occurred for Malta in 2011, Spain in 2012 and Latvia in 2013. In extreme cases of repeat offending, the Commission can even suspend financial aid. Before coming to that, it can deduct from the fishing quotas for the following years, as was the case when the Spanish fishing quota for mackerel was downsized by 65 000 tonnes in March 2013 due to overfishing – one of almost 300 instances since the rules came into force.

 

A comprehensive system of catch certification ensures that fish can be tracked from ´net to plate´.

 

Illegal fish? No thanks. Four years on, the new control system is yielding tangible results - © European Union
Illegal fish? No thanks. Four years on, the new control system is yielding tangible results - © European Union

Control Technology Costs

EU investments dedicated to regulatory control in EU Member States

  • Developing Electronic Recording and Reporting Systems (ERS): EUR 21.3 million
  • Equipping vessels with ERS: EUR 33 million
  • Equipping vessels with Vessel Monitoring Systems: EUR 16 million
  • New technology and IT networks (databases, validation of data, traceability, vessel research): EUR 108 million
  • Pilot projects: EUR 1.5 million
  • Training and initiatives to raise awareness of CFP rules: EUR 1.7 million
  • Patrol vessels and aircraft: EUR 3.7 million
  • Total investment in control technologies: EUR 185.2 million
  • 12 000 fishing vessels equipped with VMS and/or ERS, with one third already reimbursed.

 

These irregularities were detected in the course of over 230 control missions conducted by the EU. Missions are costly and complex and national resources are limited. A specialised Agency (2) pools the national means and coordinates their deployment, maximising their effect and considerably reducing costs through commonly agreed control and inspection programmes (3). This not only facilitates better risk assessment and management but also increases trust among authorities and operators, creating a truly European approach to control.

In any case, as from next year, around EUR 150 million will be available for Member States to purchase new patrol vessels or aircraft and to train more personnel. With another EUR 480 million, the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will continue to support current operations and also start funding innovative techniques such as DNA analysis to pinpoint a batch’s exact strand and point of origin. In parallel to all this, new rules against waste and overfishing will come into force on January 1st 2014 with the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. And thus the process guaranteeing a rational, responsible use of fish resources by all will be complete.

The fight against Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing: Projecting Conservation Principles Worldwide

As with many other products today, people are interested in the quality and reliability of the food chain. To help both consumers trust the fish they buy and fishermen stay in business, a comprehensive system of catch certification ensures that the fish can be tracked from ´net to plate´. This comes from the massive investments made in modern technology such as Vessel Monitoring Systems, Electronic Recording and Reporting Systems, and the databases and IT networks that come with them.

 

A battle won in Sierra Leone

In a campaign against illegal and pirate fishing off the West African coast, one of the most affected areas in the world in terms of IUU, the UK-based Environmental Justice Foundation equipped a community in the Sherbro River area with a small surveillance boat. Local fishermen were able to film and identify international trawlers working illegally in their protected waters. The information was then passed to the Commission and to African governments. The Commission launched investigations on those vessels and pressed for adequate sanctioning. This resulted in hefty fines, seized hauls, and the demise of vessels operating in the country’s coastal inclusion zone.

 

Certification and modern technologies become particularly handy when the fish has been caught in distant waters, well outside the EU’s jurisdiction. Wrongdoings can be detected at any point of the supply chain and if a batch’s ‘marine passport’ is dubious in any way, it can be stopped before entering our market.

This is one of the many ground-breaking novelties of the 2010 Regulation on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (4), and Member States have immediately seized the possibility by refusing to import into the EU at least 100 dubious consignments of fish so far.

 

Both EU and third countries have promptly responded to Commission requests to investigate and penalise suspect ships.

 

In parallel, both EU and third countries have promptly responded to Commission requests to investigate and penalise suspect ships. In less than four years, over 200 cases of presumed illegal fishing by vessels from 27 countries have been investigated, and some 50 of those ships ended up with fines totalling over EUR 7 million.

Another positive return of the new regime is that EU countries apply risk-based approaches and combine these with more efficient controls at ports. In the Canary Islands, Spain, close cooperation between the EU and local authorities has bolstered control procedures on all landings by third-country vessels at the port of Las Palmas. As a result, certain Asian vessels (already suspected of carrying out illegal activities) stopped landing their fish in Las Palmas or exporting their products to the EU.

But the IUU Regulation goes well beyond stricter controls at home, and seeks to ensure that other world nations comply with the obligations arising from international law (5), and join the offensive against IUU fishing.

 

The EU has drawn up a blacklist of vessels that cannot land or sell their products on the single market because of proven misconduct.

 

To encourage Flag States to take action against unscrupulous fleets, the EU has drawn up a blacklist of vessels that cannot land or sell their products on the single market because of proven misconduct (6).

The EU also works closely with third countries, and conducts audits on the means and commitment they devote to stopping IUU. More than 30 of these missions have been carried out so far, and assistance has been given for many countries to adjust their legal structure and administrative capacity. With the backing of our know-how and expertise, Indonesia is currently overhauling its own fisheries management system. Other success stories include Fiji, Togo, Sri Lanka, Vanuatu and Panama, who have made laudable progress after being formally warned that they may end up blacklisted unless they take immediate action against IUU (7). Other countries, like Belize, Cambodia, and Guinea, still appear unresponsive and will therefore move a step closer to economic retaliation from the EU.

It is worth noting that whenever overfishing is perpetrated by a third country on stocks that are nonetheless shared with the EU, the Commission does not shy away from stopping all fish imports from that State too, as shown by the recent controversy with the Faroe Islands.

Meanwhile, many third countries, inspired by the EU’s regime, are making changes in their systems. Ukraine, Morocco and Chile have each introduced certification schemes for fishing catches. And over the past three years more than 55 developing countries have received technical assistance from the EU for a total of EUR 32 million.

 

An important part of the EU’s war is fought on the political front.

 

An important part of the EU’s war is fought on the political front, to win over the other major fishing players as necessary allies, as with joint statements against IUU now signed with the USA and Japan. To ensure transparency wherever the fish is caught, the EU is actively promoting the introduction of a ‘global catch certificate’. The EU continues to work in all regional management organisations to eradicate illegal fishing and destructive practices — and with international organisations such as the FAO, the UN and Interpol — whilst supporting all actions aimed at the criminalisation of IUU activities at international level.

In the EU, we import 65% of the fish we eat. It is only natural that the strict rules we apply at home should also be upheld in all those areas that we fish in or import from. This applies to decent living and working conditions too: the crews employed by pirate outfits are often subject to abuse and human rights violations.

 

Zero tolerance towards overfishing or destructive and illegal practices remains more pivotal than ever.

 

If the reformed Common Fisheries Policy heralds a new era of good maritime governance by phasing out discards, by bringing fishing down to sustainable levels and by decentralising management, zero tolerance towards overfishing or destructive and illegal practices remains more pivotal than ever, as any alternative would impair progress in each of those areas.

“Now that the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is on track”, said Commissioner Damanaki, “my priority goes back to fisheries control and enforcement.” 

 

 

(1) Council Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009 of 20 November 2009 establishing a Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy, amending Regulations (EC) No 847/96, (EC) No 2371/2002, (EC) No 811/2004, (EC) No 768/2005, (EC) No 2115/2005, (EC) No 2166/2005, (EC) No 388/2006, (EC) No 509/2007, (EC) No 676/2007, (EC) No 1098/2007, (EC) No 1300/2008, (EC) No 1342/2008 and repealing Regulations (EEC) No 2847/93, (EC) No 1627/94 and (EC) No 1966/2006

 (2) The European Fisheries Control Agency, based in Vigo, Spain

(3) Also known as SCIPs (Special Control and Inspection Programmes) and JDPs (Joint Deployment Plans)

(4) Council Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008 of 29 September 2008 establishing a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, amending Regulations (EEC) No 2847/93, (EC) No 1936/2001 and (EC) No 601/2004 and repealing Regulations (EC) No 1093/94 and (EC) No 1447/1999

(5) Such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or the United Nations Fish Stock Agreement

(6) Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 672/2013 of 15 July 2013

(7) Commission Decision of 15 November 2012

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