EU Takes Further Steps in Fight Against Illegal Fishing

 In a sign that the European Union is serious about combatting illegal fishing, the European Commission on Nov. 26 formally proposed imposing trade sanctions and other penalties on three countries that have failed to take sufficient measures to fight illegal, unreported, and unregulated, or IUU, fishing activities.

The move against Belize, Cambodia, and Guinea comes one year after the EU warned them to tighten controls on IUU fishing. Five other nations fell from last year's provisional list: Fiji, Panama, Sri Lanka, Togo, and Vanuatu. All eight were warned last November that they would face sanctions if they failed to greatly improve their approaches to fighting illegal fishing.

All were given time to address the problems and adopt effective fisheries control measures. Some did so successfully by passing legislation to crack down on illegal fishing. Still, EU leaders say they intend to closely follow implementation of the new laws in those countries and that the states could be put on the list again if they do not show a sustained commitment to fighting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

The European Council must ratify European Commission proposals for sanctions aimed against non-EU countries. If the council agrees, Belize, Cambodia, and Guinea would eventually be barred from trading fisheries products with the EU, from engaging in joint fishing operations or chartering agreements with EU vessels, and from other trade-related activities. The EU is among the world's top seafood-consuming markets, along with China, the United States, and Japan.

“The EU is a huge market for seafood, thus it is critical that the council act to ensure that only legally caught fish are reaching consumers,” said Tony Long, who leads The Pew Charitable Trusts' global project to end illegal fishing. “While the three countries cited do not represent the whole picture, we are pleased that the European Commission is continuing to investigate other countries known for lax enforcement of illegal fishing.”

Long said EU Member States now must take final action against the named countries and that the European Commission should continue implementing its IUU regulations by publishing the names of vessels known to be engaging in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the EU and around the world.

The European Commission also handed out formal warnings to Curaçao, Ghana and South Korea, saying they have failed to keep up with international obligations to fight illegal fishing. The Commission identified problems with each, such as a lack of actions to address deficiencies in monitoring, controlling and surveillance of fisheries, and suggests measures to address them.

These warnings do not, at this stage, entail any measures affecting trade.

But the EU will, as it did with the previously listed countries, work closely with these nations to resolve identified issues and could pursue sanctions in coming years if those problems are not resolved.