Catch documentation schemes helping the fight against IUU

A technical paper just released by FAO explores ways in which countries involved in seafood supply chains can contribute to maximizing the effectiveness of catch documentation schemes (CDS).

The report details how countries can use their status as coastal, flag, port, processing, or end-market states to promote and support sustainable fisheries management.

Written by Gilles Hosch and Francisco Blaha, “Seafood traceability for fisheries compliance - Country-level support for catch documentation schemes” expands on an earlier publication about the importance of trade measures in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which negatively impacts fisheries worldwide.

The study finds that traditional fisheries monitoring, inspection, and sanctioning mechanisms are of primary importance for flag, coastal, and end-market states, whereas effective country-level traceability mechanisms are more important for port and processing states. 

“Our focus is on the traceability of seafood consignments and the mechanisms built into catch documentation schemes, but we also explore other important compliance mechanisms that support effective implementation of these schemes at country level,” Hosch said. “It is important to understand that traceability systems supporting the prevention of IUU fishing are markedly different from those supporting food safety and quality assurance.” 

Hosch and Blaha outline that IUU fishing is perpetrated by operators seeking financial gain by disregarding the rules of the fishery they exploit, but it is also facilitated by a lack of regulatory oversight and enforcement at all levels. For example, flag states may be lenient with fishing vessels flying their flags, and some port states allow or ignore the landing of illegal catches, which means that products derived from IUU fishing continue to reach lucrative seafood markets.

IUU fishing is addressed through a variety of monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) arrangements, whose tools include licensing systems, vessel monitoring systems, logbook regimes, observer programs, sea and air patrols, landing reports, dockside inspections, intelligence gathering, data acquisition and exchange, forensic analysis, and genetic analysis of samples. 

“Fish do not become ‘IUU’ in the can or the shop and it is critical to establish the legality of an operation and the legal status of fishery products at the earliest point in the supply chain in order to detect IUU fishing and apply sanctions,” Blaha said.

As global trade in seafood increases to meet rising demand, traceability becomes ever more important. According to the FAO, 61 percent by volume of fishery product exports now originate from developing countries, and a CDS enables responsible market states to deny access to products derived from IUU fishing. 

For a CDS to be effective, legally certified fish must be identified and quantified at the beginning of the supply chain, and the laundering of illegally caught fish into any stage of legal supply chains prevented. The process can involve thousands of individual catch certificates, which must be traced step-by-step throughout the supply chain through export and re-export certificates linking traded products to their previous certificate.

A well-designed and correctly implemented CDS will detect all laundering attempts. However, the mechanisms that need to be in place in the different state types along the supply chain are complex, and success relies on national authorities being competent. For example, if all IUU catches were prevented from being landed by port states and hence refused entry into land-based supply chains, the practice of IUU fishing would end immediately.

Currently, there are just a handful of multilateral CDS in operation, covering specific tuna stocks and Patagonian toothfish harvests, and the paper suggests that there is considerable room for expansion. At present, they cover a mere 0.1 percent of the global marine fisheries catch.

A unilateral CDS put in place by the European Union in 2010 covers most wild-caught marine finfish traded into the E.U. market, and requires products to be covered by catch certificates validated under the scheme by flag-state authorities. This scheme, while similar to multilateral schemes, lacks a central registry to issue and record certificates and the lack of an effective traceability system makes it vulnerable to fraud. Such weakness is recognized by the EU Commission, which has pledged to address it. 

The paper also acknowledges that blockchain technology is set to revolutionize the way in which data is recorded and managed in the future.

A series of 26 recommendations suggest ways in which individual countries in their different capacities, can contribute to the effective implementation of CDS at a national level. 

They range from the need to clearly define objectives when designing a CDS at the RFMO level, through the need to cover all fishery harvests in an area, to recommending that end-market states establish units tasked with the investigation of food fraud in their markets.

“Of great importance is the need to ensure there are no exemptions from CDS coverage, as there is in at least one current scheme, because exemptions create markets and supply chain segments in which products can circulate without certificates,” Hosch said. “This means that oversight is weakened and opportunities for fraud persist.”

Hosch said the technology and systems are already available to successfully implement CDS in a more widespread and effective way, but other factors may be inhibiting its widespread adoption.

“With CDS, we have the means to effectively tackle IUU,” Hosch said. “But whether the collective will to do so exists is a different matter.” 


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