It has been estimated that global losses due to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing could amount to US$10-23 billion annually, with almost US$1 billion for sub-Saharan Africa - about 19 percent of the current landed value, with valuable high seas species being targeted in particular. The high seas are difficult and expensive to patrol, so land-based measures have a huge role to play in the battle against IUU fishing. The Port State Measures Agreement is one of the options in the toolbox - trade-based measures, in the form of restrictions placed on access to markets of IUU fish is another.
Two approaches can be taken:
- Ban the import of all fish and fish products from states that have a poor record of compliance to fishery regulations.
- Ban individual shipments that lack documentation to prove their legal provenance.
Catch documentation schemes (CDS) which enable fish to be traced back to the vessel that caught it are enforced by some regional fisheries management organisations (RMFOs), but not enough; of the approximately 17 RFMOs in place around the world, less than a third have a CDS in place. Schemes vary, but in general documents are required to accompany fish from the point of first capture through to its final destination. Such traceability — tracking seafood from boat to plate, makes it much more difficult to market illegal fish as there are many opportunities to detect it, when it is offloaded, imported, traded and/or re-exported through international trade routes.
In addition to RFMOs, the EU, Chile and the USA operate trade measures at the national level. The EU measures go one step further than those of RFMOs in that they apply to all wild-caught fish, whereas those of RFMOs apply just to their species of interest, for example tunas in the case of ICCAT and the IOTC. The EU measures also apply to fish originating from within exclusive economic zones as well as from the high seas. As the EU is the world’s largest importer of fish this could make a real impact, but there are several concerns:
- Developing countries may lack the resources and infrastructure needed to meet the EU requirements, although the EU may assist with capacity building;
- The cost of compliance for small-scale fisheries, in which each vessel may catch only a small amount of fish, is high as a catch certificate is required for each vessel;
- There is a risk of regulations being discriminatory, against World Trade Organisation rules;
- Delays caused by reporting requirements may be problematic for shipments of fresh fish;
- Instead of reducing IUU fishing it may simply shift IUU fish to non-EU markets.
However, trade measures have been successful in changing the behaviour of some countries; for example Ghana implemented many changes including the strengthening of its legal framework and adoption of a National Plan of Action to Combat IUU fishing in order to avoid being ‘red-carded’ by the EU for failing to discharge its duties as a flag, port, coastal and market state.
Effectiveness of trade measures could be further increased by more regional cooperation between neighbouring states and RFMOs; sharing ‘black-lists’ of IUU vessels, harmonisation of catch documentation schemes and traceability requirements (the FAO has developed guidelines for this), and by placing embargos on states who have failed to take appropriate measures to ensure compliance by their vessels.
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