Is Brussels’ new IUU law working?

Published on
February 2, 2010

The European Commission’s illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing regulations, which went into effect on Jan. 1, are under attack for failing to tackle the crucial subject of traceability.

Speaking at this week’s Seafood Choices Alliance Seafood Summit in Paris, Melania Borit, senior executive officer for the Norwegian College of Fishery Science in Tromso, bemoaned that the laws “do not impose either a functional or a comprehensive traceability system.”

The IUU fishing regulations are a good starting point, Borit said, because they introduce the traceability concept to some simple seafood supply chains, which may help deter IUU fishing. But she added that the regulations must be improved to include a comprehensive traceability system that can support the most complicated operations.

“Traceability is a powerful tool to deter IUU fishing if it’s properly implemented and supported by strong policies on fisheries,” she said. “The system that has been introduced is not a traceability system, and cannot be one without unique identification numbers.”

Her argument that traceability is a key combatant to IUU fishing is supported by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. The FAO believes implementing a system that tracks fish from the point of harvest to consumption allows businesses to demonstrate product source and allays sustainability concerns.

Defending the IUU fishing regulations, Jean-Pierre Vergine of the EC’s DG Mare (Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) said the regulations are only designed to combat IUU.

“I agree that at a first glance a lot of things are missing,” said Vergine. “They are not a tool for traceability, but there are a lot of provisions in these regulations to support controls.”

However, when the regulations were finalized in December they introduced a catch-certification scheme that the EC said would improve the traceability of seafood imports; all seafood imports must carry a catch certificate throughout the supply chain.

Importers receive a certificate from the exporter, and they are required to submit it to their respective countries’ authorities at least three days before the shipments’ arrival. Certificates for airfreighted seafood are required at least four hours before arrival.

Borit argued that unique identification numbers could be implemented cheaply and quickly to the new system.

It is estimated that the EU — as the largest market for, and importer of, seafood — brings in EUR 1.1 billion (USD 1.7 billion) of illegally harvested fish annually.

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Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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