ClientEarth: EU must go digital to crack down on illegal fishing

New research published by environmental law charity ClientEarth calls on European Union countries to urgently implement an online, union-wide system to track and prevent billions of dollars of illegally-caught fish from entering the market every year.

The study, “The Spanish system for digitalization of fish imports: SIGCPI,” looks at a decade of Spain’s fight against illegal fishing and suggests that all E.U. member states get on board with the use of recent technology.

While the online Spanish Integrated System for the Management and Control of Illegal Fishing (SIGCPI) – implemented 10 years ago – enabled the digitalization and control of 100 percent of catch certificates imported by Spain, ClientEarth has identified that the system is limited by a lack of coordination with other countries’ systems, which prevents authorities from sharing and cross-referencing the catch certificates of all fish products entering the E.U.

ClientEarth’s appeal follows the recent permission given by the European Parliament PECH Committee to the mandatory use of the CATCH online system for imported fish catch certificates – a move that it called “the first positive step” before the final vote in the European Parliament for the revision of the E.U. fisheries control system.

While this vote is due to be made in the coming months, ClientEarth has urged member states to “seize the moment” right away. Its lawyers are calling on all E.U. countries to quickly step up the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by implementing CATCH on a voluntary basis now, instead of waiting for it to become mandatory after the implementation period – which, they say, could take years.

“Illegal fishing is a major threat to fishing jobs, to fish stocks, and to our fragile ocean. In 2021, it is hard to imagine that countries across the bloc are still relying on pen and paper to keep track of a huge cross-border industry and try to weed out illegal activity,” ClientEarth Sustainable Seafood Lawyer Nieves Noval said. “To comply with the IUU Regulation, successful tracking of where fish are really from is essential. Spain’s system has different tools to verify that fish entering the Spanish market comply with E.U. rules. This helps protect the jobs of Spanish and European fishers who do follow those rules.”

While E.U. rules stipulate that only fish imports with the necessary catch certificates can enter the market, ClientEarth said the way things are currently done in-country with diverse systems – some paper, some digital – makes it extremely hard to identify compliance, thereby “letting fraudulent fishing operators ‘slip through the net’ and participate in the single market.”

“The obvious move now is for countries to get on the same page and start using CATCH as soon as possible,” Noval said. “We urge all E.U. countries, including Spain, to embrace the CATCH system without delay. This is a major step in the fight to end overfishing, and the threats it poses, all over the world.”

Photo courtesy of Stanislava Karagyozova/Shutterstock


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