EU’s Global Action Drives Countries to Fight Illegal Fishing

Five countries are rewarded, and one is reprimanded, for their responses to European Commission warnings

EU’s Global Action Drives Countries to Fight Illegal Fishing

As one of the world’s top seafood-consuming markets, the European Union wields significant leverage over countries that export fish to it. For example, the EU can take action to help ensure that fish imported into it is from legal sources.1 European fisheries officials are increasingly pushing importing countries to better police illegal fishing, both in those nations’ waters and by their vessels, to boost compliance with EU and international policies for flag, port, market, and coastal states.

On Oct. 14, 2014, the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, announced that it was lifting sanctions, including a seafood import ban, imposed on Belize seven months ago. The EU had hit the country with a “red card,” banning the export of fish products to the EU, ostensibly because it made no progress in the months after the 2012 warning.

At the same time, the commission removed the threat of sanctions for Fiji, Panama, Togo, and Vanuatu. These five nations were among eight that had been warned, or “yellow carded,” in November 2012 for failing to sufficiently police illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Commission officials said they targeted the countries for inadequate monitoring of their fishing fleets or waters, neglecting to impose sanctions on illegal fishing operators, and failing to develop robust fisheries laws.2

The commission also announced that it moved Sri Lanka to the red card list; the country was among the eight warned in November 2012. A statement on the commission’s Web site said, “The move comes after four years of intense dialogue with the country after which it could not demonstrate that it sufficiently addressed … IUU fishing.” This implies that the EU discussed deficiencies in Sri Lanka’s system two years before issuing the yellow card in 2012, and it shows the EU’s commitment to engage with noncompliant countries well in advance of taking punitive action.

Illegal and unreported fishing accounts for $10 billion to $23.5 billion worth of wild-caught marine seafood annually, according to a study published in 2009 in the journal PLoS One. By volume, illegal and unreported fishing accounts for 11 million to 26 million tons of fish every year; that means up to 1,800 pounds of seafood are stolen from the seas every second.

The Pew Charitable Trust’s ending illegal fishing project is working around the world to develop and establish an international fisheries enforcement regime that will significantly reduce IUU fishing. That strategy focuses on gaps throughout the seafood supply chain, from vessel identification and fishing activity to the movement of fish to market through ports. Encouraging large seafood-consuming markets, including the EU, to lead in the fight against IUU fishing is part of Pew’s efforts.

This month’s announcements mark the first time the EU has removed sanctions, or the threat of them, from nations that export fish to it, under a 2010 law that aims to restrict access to the EU market to only fisheries products that are certified as legal by the flag state or exporting state.

Cambodia and Guinea remain banned from exporting fish products to the EU. The commission also issued a second round of yellow cards in November 2013, warning Curaçao, Ghana, and South Korea that they could face sanctions if they do not improve their performance in fighting IUU fishing.

Pew is part of a coalition that also includes the Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana, and the World Wildlife Fund that is working to ensure effective implementation of EU IUU laws.


  1. For more information about the EU IUU regulation, see
  2.; see also