The Pew Environment Group's Position on the Proposed EU Regulation on IUU Fishing

Stepping up the fight against pirate fishing

The Pew Environment Group supports the European Commission's proposal for a new Council Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, which significantly undermine the integrity of sustainable fisheries management programmes throughout the world. In particular, the Pew Environment Group supports proposals that would

  • deny access of IUU fisheries' products to the European Union (EU) market
  • establish a European list of suspected IUU vessels and of nations that do not control IUU activities, and
  • establish deterrent sanctions against EU operators engaged in IUU activities anywhere in the world.

While ministers are said to be determined to stamp out IUU fishing in the EU, the following issues are still under discussion:

  • The validity of the proposed rules on Community vessels and waters
  • The system for the certification of fisheries products, and
  • The harmonisation of sanctions.

The Pew Environment Group calls upon decision makers to resolve these issues urgently and in a manner that is consistent with the Commission's proposal.

Pirate, or illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU), fishing:

  • contributes to the depletion of fish stocks worldwide,
  • jeopardizes the viability of resources,
  • destroys marine habitats,
  • distorts competition for legal fishermen, and
  • threatens the survival of coastal communities in developing countries

1. Scope
The regulation must apply to both EU and non-EU fleets operating throughout the world's oceans.

A highly critical report from the Court of Auditors in December 2007 documented widespread and fundamental shortcomings of many Member States in managing their fishing fleets within EU waters and throughout the world. For instance, stocks of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and cod in the Baltic Sea are on the brink of collapse; this is due in part to IUU activities by a significant number of EU vessels. By applying the IUU regulation to only third country vessels and/or non-EU waters, the EU would create an unfair double standard that would likely render the regulation ineffective in achieving its fundamental goals. In addition, such discriminatory action may be inconsistent with numerous trade agreements supported by the EU and the World Trade Organization.

2. Sanctions
Harmonisation of sanctions for serious infringements is essential for non-discriminatory and effective application of the regulation.

There are a number of mechanisms available to achieve this goal, such as minimum financial sanctions, loss of fishing permits or compulsory confiscation of vessels.

History suggests that without strong deterrent mechanisms the proposed regulation will likely prove ineffective in constraining IUU activities. Fisheries managers must aggressively respond to the EU's perceived culture of noncompliance. Without dissuasive penalties and a level playing field for fishermen throughout the EU, this will simply not occur.

3. Certification
A robust new system is essential if the traceability of fish products for consumers, retailers and fisheries managers is to improve.

The Commission's proposal correctly acknowledged the need for prior certification of all fisheries products (fresh, frozen and processed) that are imported into the EU, with this certification coming from the country responsible for discerning whether the products are IUU or not. Unfortunately, some Member States have raised concerns that the Commission's proposal is too complex and expensive. Such concerns, however, must be accompanied by a commitment to find alternative mechanisms that achieve nearly identical objectives. It is an unfortunate reality that processors, retailers, consumers and Member States cannot answer fundamental questions about what types of fish are caught, where and by whom. Without a transparent system of accountability, the IUU regulation simply will not achieve its objectives.

Media Contact

Mike Walker

Manager, Communications