NGOs: Inadequate border controls leaving EU doors wide open for illegal seafood

Published on
March 17, 2017

Inconsistent import controls in key EU member states are allowing illegally caught fish enter the bloc’s supply chains, according to a new report produced by the Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF.

The NGOs’ report, “The EU IUU Regulation, Analysis: Implementation of EU seafood import controls,” evaluates countries' progress in implementing import controls under the EU Regulation to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which came into force in 2010, for the most recent two-year reporting period – 2014 to 2015.

Its analysis is based on information contained in biennial reports submitted by the 28 EU member states on implementation of key obligations under the EU IUU Regulation for the period 2010-2015.

Key findings include significant differences in the frequency and rigor of checks and verifications of catch certificates, and in the quality of risk assessment procedures for identifying high-risk consignments. The study also found evidence that inconsistent import controls could be resulting in the diversion of high-risk trade flows to member states applying less stringent procedures.

There were also wide variations in procedures for checking containerized seafood consignments, which make up approximately 90 percent of all EU fisheries imports by volume.

The report suggests there are significant problems with the way a number of EU member states are executing controls of fish consignments. It also claims that authorities in some importing countries still fail to apply robust checks even where consignments come from countries that have been warned by the EU for having inadequate measures in place to prevent and deter illegal fishing.

The study calls for more harmonized and rigorous procedures, as well as the digitization of catch certificate information within the EU by the end of 2017 to ensure unscrupulous operators do not attempt to move their catch through ports where weaker controls are in place.

“The EU IUU Regulation is a powerful tool in the global fight against illegal fishing. But the paper-based catch certificates, and inconsistency in implementing the required import controls is leaving the system open to abuse. We call on the European Commission, and the active support of member states, to urgently deliver the EU-wide database of catch certificates that should have already been in place by end 2016. The database must incorporate a robust risk analysis tool,” said Dr. Samantha Burgess, head of marine policy at the WWF European Policy Office.

Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, added, “This study is a wake up call to member states to step up efforts to implement the IUU Regulation to its full extent, and to the Commission to ensure they do so. In particular, we urge member states to increase capacity, and apply standardized, thorough procedures to make sure illegal consignments are refused entry to the EU market.”

The EU is the world’s largest importer of seafood products, buying in 60 percent of the fish it consumes. Overall, it imported more than 3.5 million metric tons (MT) of seafood from around the world in 2015.

More than 250,000 catch certificates are received annually across the EU, mostly in paper format.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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