U.S. ready to meet catch-certificate law


Steven Hedlund

Published on
December 6, 2009

 Timothy Hansen, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Seafood Inspection Program, said on Friday he's "confident" that the European Union's new catch-certificate requirement will not curb the flow of U.S. seafood exports to the 27-nation bloc.

U.S. seafood exports to the EU are valued at about USD 1 billion (EUR 671.3 million) annually and represent just over one-quarter of total U.S. seafood exports.

Beginning 1 January, seafood exports to the EU must be accompanied by catch certificates verifying the product was legally harvested. Adopted by the European Commission last year, the new requirement is aimed at combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

NOAA has set up an online application system allowing exporters to fill out and submit catch certificates electronically in a quick and efficient manner, said Hansen.

Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans has established a similar online application system.

Health certificates, which are already required to accompany all seafood exports, can also be filled out and submitted simultaneously using the online application system.

The system should be up and running next week, said Hansen. The new requirement applies only to product caught after 1 January. But exporters are welcomed to sign up for an account on the system.

However, there is concern among exporters about some of information required on the catch certificate. Last month, NOAA conducted outreach in New England, meeting with exporters in Fairhaven and Gloucester, Mass., and Portland, Maine. Exporters' No. 1 concern was filling out the "catch date" or "catch date range" field, because product can be commingled. For example, live lobster is often bought from numerous boats and then commingled in a pound.

Over the past year-and-a-half NOAA has been working its EU counterpart, DG MARE (the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries), to make the new requirement as seamless as possible, said Hansen. Because the United States has a strong fisheries management system and little IUU fishing occurs in U.S. waters, DG MARE will require less information in the catch certificate than it will for a country prone to IUU fishing, he explained.

In return, NOAA agreed to establish an auditing system to randomly trace product back to the source, said Hansen. The catch certificates will cost USD 20 (EUR 13.43) each, which will pay for the system.

Catch certificates will also be required for product exported to another country, such as China, for secondary processing and re-export to the EU.

Hansen encouraged exporters to visit the Seafood Inspection Program's Web site for additional information.

The call to fight IUU fishing has grown louder over the past year. Late last month, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization approved a treaty aiming to close fishing ports to vessels involved in IUU fishing. It's the first-ever legally binding international treaty focused specifically on IUU fishing.

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