EU puts first-ever seafood trade ban on illegal fishing nations

The EU Fisheries Council has announced that it is placing trade restrictions on Belize, Cambodia, and Guinea for failing to cooperate in fighting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

It means EU member states are now required to ban the import of fish from Belize, Cambodia, and Guinea and ensure that EU fishing vessels do not operate in the waters of these nations.

The three countries were initially amongst eight countries identified by the European Commission in November 2012 for inadequate monitoring of their fishing fleets, neglecting to impose sanctions on illegal fishing operators, and failing to develop robust fisheries laws.

According to NGOs the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF, who welcomed the decision, IUU fishing depletes fish stocks, damages marine ecosystems, puts legitimate fishers at an unfair disadvantage and jeopardises the livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

In a statement, the NGOs said that IUU fishing is estimated to cost between €7-17bn annually, representing 11 to 26 million tonnes of catch.

The four environmental groups are calling on the European Commission to close a loophole that allows non-EU vessels fishing in the banned countries’ waters to continue exporting their catches to the EU.

They are also calling for the Commission to work with EU member states to strengthen efforts that keep illegally-caught fish off the dinner plates of European consumers.

The EU IUU Regulation aims to deprive market access for illegal fish, by requiring “catch certificates” for imports into the EU, as well as banning the entry of fish from countries and vessels involved in illegal fishing.

EJF executive director Steve Trent said: “Closing the world’s most valuable seafood market to countries that do not cooperate in fighting illegal fishing is a crucial step, and we applaud the EU for taking this decision.

“Whilst it is not perfect, the EU IUU Regulation is clearly the world’s leading piece of legislation in this field – there are already signs that coastal communities in West Africa are seeing the benefits of the EU’s action towards offending vessels and flag States,” added Trent.

Oceana fisheries campaign manager Maria José Cornax said: “The EU’s efforts to tackle IUU fishing worldwide have truly materialised today with this unprecedented step.

“We hope that fishing nations around the world are looking today at the EU’s leadership, and are ready to follow this newly opened path towards the definitive elimination of IUU fishing,” added Cornax.

Leigh Stringer

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