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End IUU: Remove the weak links

07 Feb 2011
Prior to the implementation of the EU’s IUU regulation in January 2010, member states annually imported €1.1 billion-worth of illegal fish

Prior to the implementation of the EU’s IUU regulation in January 2010, member states annually imported €1.1 billion-worth of illegal fish

The general feeling in political circles is that the first year of the European Union’s illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing regulation (No 1005/1008) was a success. However, many of these same rule-makers and stakeholders feel 2011 will be even more pivotal in the fight against the illegal fishing trade and that measures introduced over coming months will determine whether or not the war on IUU can be won on a global scale.

Speaking at the 6th International Forum on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, held recently in London, Maria Damanaki, EU commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, highlighted that prior to the IUU regulation, launched in January 2010, IUU fishing was the world’s second largest producer of fishery products, worth approximately *€10 billion ($13.7 billion) or 19% of the annual worldwide catch.

It’s also estimated the EU imported €1.1 billion ($1.5 billion) of illegal fish each year, or 16% of its total imports.

“The EU, as a key player in fisheries, could no longer sit back and watch this development continue,” said Damanaki. “This regulation is the blueprint for our zero tolerance policy against illegal fishing. I dare say that we have curbed this trend in 2010 and the results will improve in 2011 and so on.”

While fairly longwinded, the regulation follows a simple principle whereby illegal fishing is undermined by removing the opportunity to sell those catches in EU markets. This is done by demanding that every fishery product entering member states must be accompanied by a catch certificate given by the flag state of the fishing vessel.

But while Damanaki believes the regulation has brought a “quantum leap” in the fight against IUU fishing, she’s adamant a worldwide certification system is needed to foster an international commitment to combat IUU fishing and to bring about fair trade in fisheries products. This would ultimately deliver sustainable world fisheries, she said.

“No matter how much progress we make domestically, if our neighbour keeps plundering the seas, then all our legal and moral obligations and our conservation efforts will be for nothing.”

Refocusing efforts

While EU member states have considerable distance to go before they can all claim to be IUU-free, industry stakeholders believe the fight against illegal fishing should now be taken directly to the fisheries of developing countries, which are regarded as hotbeds of corruption.

John Pearce, UK-based marine resources and fisheries consultants Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG), confirmed there’s a huge difference between the levels of illegal fishing depending on the area.

Some areas are very heavily hit – the eastern central Atlantic (FAO Area 34) is the highest with 30-40% of the total catch. It’s lowest in the southwest Pacific, where fisheries are well governed by Australia and New Zealand, he said.

“It’s the developing countries that are at the most risk because they don’t have the capacity to police their own fisheries as effectively.”

Pearce added: “Fishermen fish illegally because of economics – the benefits outweigh the costs.

“We don’t want weak links in the chain – if a certain port is only conducting inspections once a week then illegal fishermen will go there. Illegal fishermen are very good at finding weak links and they know how to hide themselves. It’s also very difficult to find out exactly who they are, making it difficult to punish them.”

Population pressures

UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon has warned the population boom – from about six billion people today to around nine or 10 billion by 2050 – will provide even more incentive for IUU fishing.

“There’s no doubt there’ll be major pressures on food production in years to come and fisheries won’t be immune to this,” said Benyon. “If left unchecked, IUU will undermine efforts to provide sustainable solutions to food supply and to the people and communities that depend on the oceans for their livelihoods.

“It’s clear to me we cannot continue as we are. The current status quo is not an option; it would lead to more illegal fishing and perhaps the collapse of certain stocks.”

According to the documentary ‘Pirate Fishing in African Waters’, shown to delegates attending the IUU forum, Africa has one of the highest rates of illegal fishing in the world, with an estimated annual value of $1 billion (€731 million).

The film claims the thousands of pirate fishing boats currently operating in African waters are indiscriminate in what they catch – as much as 90% is dumped back into the sea as fishermen only source the most valuable species.

The illegal catches – the origins of which are virtually untraceable – are then laundered into world markets where the parent fishing companies will make a fortune. The overriding problem, the film claims, is that African fisheries are given too little care and attention.

Closing loopholes

The European Commission (EC) has now promised greater help to developing nations overwhelmed by illegal fishing operations and Sophie Bodin from the EC’s Directorate General for Maritime Affairs & Fisheries, explained the IUU regulation will be reviewed this year to try and improve it and close any loopholes used by IUU operators.

The EC has also started investigating suspected IUU activities carried out by EU nationals and EU vessels.

“This is a focus for 2011 and will be rolled out to third-countries this year,” said Bodin, who also revealed the Commission has allocated funds totalling €36 million ($49.2 million) to support the implementation of IUU regulations in 45 developing countries through two new development programmes.

“These programmes will really take off in 2011 and we are hoping that developing countries will find them a great help,” she said.

In the meantime, it’s the law-abiding fishermen who are doing things responsibly who will remain at a disadvantage: Illegal operators will continue to put seafood products into the marketplace at a low price; they’ll catch with no regard; they’ll use gear that always maximises catches; and they’ll fish in closed seasons and pursue threatened but ultimately valuable species. 

[*WF readers should note there are no official figures on the value of IUU fishing and that published estimates range from €7 billion ($9.6 billion) to €20 billion (€27.4 billion) annually, which represents between 11 million and 26 million tonnes of wild-caught seafood.]

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Prior to the implementation of the EU’s IUU regulation in January 2010, member states annually imported €1.1 billion-worth of illegal fish

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