Raül Romeva i Rueda


EU Fish Imports Compliance Study (#IUU, #Control, #Compliance)

Some days ago, it was presented in the EP the study: Compliance of imports of fishery and aquaculture products with EU legislation.

The study estimates the level of compliance of fisheries and aquaculture products imported into the EU with the current safety and quality EU legislation, as well as with the regulation on IUU fishing. It analyses the process of monitoring and control of FAP imports in relation to this requirements and it investigates to what extent the FAP reaching the EU market comply with the sanitary and IUU Regulation. The study identifies critical issues and proposes recommendations for political actions

We, Greens, have made an assessment of the study and have concluded the following:

The study is unbalanced in two senses. First, …

… it reviews the DG Sanco system simply as a system for transferring and transmitting information up and down the administrative chain, paying no attention whatsoever to the credibility of the information. The flaw in the system exists at the very beginning and is perpetuated throughout.

Second, the study focusses primarily on a critique of the catch certificate system provided for in the IUU regulation, thus weakening its credibility, and mostly ignored the scope, objectives and tools provided by the Regulation. While the information transferral system doubtless has flaws that must be corrected, the system does a far better job than the Sanco one of/in? verifying the credibility of the input information.

Combined, these two flaws seriously discredit the entire study.

The study also ignores the complementarity of the three pillars of the EU Control system of which the IUU Regulation is an integral part, along with the Control regulation and the Fishing authorisation Regulation. 

 On DG Sanco

The analysis concentrates on the methods used for transfer of information about the fish being imported, whether it comes from certified sources etc. However, the analysis either chooses to ignore, or else failed to notice, that the COM relies entirely on third countries to list the establishments that are accredited to export to the EU – both processing plants and fishing vessels. While that may be acceptable for processing plants, which do not move and can be (and sometimes are) visited by EU officials, the same is not true for vessels. The third country provides the names of vessels (fishing vessels, processing vessels) that the COM is obliged to add to the Sanco list, meaning that the vessel is duly authorised to export to the EU. But many of these vessels rarely, if ever, return to their home State where they can be inspected, so Sanco has no means of verifying whether the fish being exported meet the hygiene standards. 

We have a note from DG Sanco dated 2006 in which they admit that they do not have the authority to remove a vessel they suspect of non-compliance with sanitary norms or of conducting IUU fishing from the list; all they can do is request the third country to de-list the vessel. Once a vessel of a given name has a Sanco number, exports to the EU are authorised, with no capacity to verify if a) the vessel actually fulfils the sanitary requirements: b), if the fish is even coming from the vessel in question. And DG Sanco does not even seek to verify that the vessel is not involved in IUU fishing considering that vessels involved in IUU fishing are generally also in breach of other requirements regarding hygiene, safety, etc. Transshipments at sea further complicate verification.

As a case study, consider the following real case:

Chinese vessel Lian Run 14 was intercepted in 2006 fishing in Guinean waters without a licence. The most recent licence on board was from 2003. On board were cardboard boxes for frozen fish bearing the names of: Lian Run 2, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20 as well as EEC SANCO numbers relating to sanitary standards for export to the EU.

Lian Run 2, 13, 14, 15, 16 were not on the Guinean list of licensed fishing vessels but Lian Run 13, 14, 15, 16 were on the SANCO list for China and still are. Additionally, the handling of catches and state of freezing installation on board Lian Run 14 and similar vessels in the area were appalling from a sanitary point of view. We have evidence that boxes of frozen fish from all the vessels mentioned above enter the EU.

There is evidence of fishing vessels carrying empty cardboard boxes with the names of various fishing vessels and of crew on board these fishing vessels printing the names of vessels, area month/year of catch and DG Sanco number on the boxes as may be needed to be sent to the EU. If the fish is mislabelled, for instance labelled as being caught by vessel A when it was actually caught by vessel B, then it is impossible to verify the true origin of the fish later on, or whether the vessel catching the fish was operating legally or in compliance with sanitary rules. Correct labelling of boxes of frozen fish, which is indispensable for proper control upon arrival in port, is simply not verifiable. But there are 206 vessels on SANCO’s China list (including the infamous Lian Run 14 referred to above as well as Lian Run nr 13 to 30 and 33 to 38. The SANCO number gives them an aura of legitimacy, but we do not know how many have been inspected by their flag State, China, and if they comply with sanitary rules. And we have no idea of whether they are licensed to operate by the coastal State in whose waters they operate. There are also the 289 Korean vessels on the SANCO list including a vessel recently involved in an extremely serious case of IUU fishing and forgery – the FV Premier!

So a good electronic system of follow-up is no good if there is no way to verify the information provided and eliminate non-compliant vessels.
On IUU Regulation

Here, the problems with the report are too numerous to mention. To give an idea, the introduction is a superficial overview of the problem, relying on recent well-known sources but ignoring the history of the literature and the extent of the fight against IUU fishing. For instance, it references the Lovin report but ignores the McKenna report on flags of convenience and the two Aubert reports a few years ago, the first of which stimulated the EU move to adopt an IUU regulation in the first place. Details, possibly, but it shows the poor level of research and patchy understanding of the EU involvement.
It cites MRAG to say that IUU fishing has declined from 21% in 1980-84 to 18% in 2000-2003, whereas the first thing any serious study states is that, by its very nature, IUU fishing is to a large extent unquantifiable – certainly with such a precision, whereas we probably cannot even be certain of the direction of any possible trend.

As an aside, we were surprised to see, on page 90, the phrase “60% of global fish stocks were underperforming economically” without reference. I imagine this comes from the SOFIA, but the SOFIA does not use the term “underperforming” with respect to stocks. What does that mean?

There are statements and assertions on virtually every page that we find either erroneous, irrelevant or misleading, but I shall leave the above examples to illustrate their range.

The discussion of competent authorities merits some reflection, as this constitutes one of the substantive preoccupations of the study. First, with respect to the MS, we doubt that the COM has the legal authority to interfere in the designation of a CA. This has long been a problem under at least the control regulation and probably other legislation as well. With respect to third countries, the study recommendation implies that the COM should be able to dictate which 3rd countries administrations would be an acceptable CA according to its own criteria – while ignoring the same problem concerning DG Sanco. Some coherence here would be appreciated. It should be noted that the COM does however conduct evaluation missions in 3rd countries, including the performance of the CAs.

The study also takes issue with the poor reliance of the regulation on electronic traceability. This is disingenuous. Electronic transmission of logbook data it is obligatory for vessels of 12m LOA and above flying the flag of the EU MS and in several articles it is optional for third countries. The EU cannot oblige third countries with less developed infrastructure to use e-systems, but the current regulation allows it to be done.

Art 8.1 on reporting of landing by third country vessels in EU ports

Art 12.4 on catch certificate (optional use)

Art 14.3 on imports (optional use)

Art 20.4 on flag State notifications (optional use)

plus numerous other places for intra-EU communication


In our view, however, the most serious flaw of the study is its failure to place the IUU regulation into the current global political and legal context.

The entry into force of IUU regulation is still relatively recent and such a complex instrument takes time to set in motion. Similar legislation still needs to be implemented in other major market States in order to avoid simply redirecting trade to other markets (a point made only in passing in the study). There is an unfortunate tendency from various stakeholders to criticise its weak points rather than support its effective implementation. Also, most of the focus is on the import/catch certificate which is a tool, not an end. The main objective of the IUU regulation is to contribute to improve fisheries management and that is beginning to happen.

The IUU regulation is unique (no other country has adopted such a system) and only affects products destined for the EU market. Alternative markets are available or developing fast.

Member States tend to pick and choose to implement and enforce the IUU regulation to protect their own interests e.g. those that favour the catching sector use the regulation to eliminate competition whereas those that favour the import/processing sector may seek to protect their domestic industry which may be involved in importing or processing IUU fishing products.

The impact of the implementation of the IUU regulation on certain 3rd countries control systems is beginning to appear, which is leading to changes in enforcement and therefore deterring IUU fishing activities. Third countries are increasingly aware of the potential consequences of not conforming to the requirements of the IUU regulation following the pre-identification of certain countries as non-cooperating.

In some cases, sanctions will have to be applied resulting in trade and other measures to really achieve the main objective of the IUU regulation, which is to improve fisheries management systems in/by the EU and 3rd countries. It is important to keep in mind that closing the EU market to IUU fish products is a tool to that end, not the end itself.

Korea provides an interesting case. A recent mission to Korea by the Commission revealed that national legislation was totally inadequate to prevent IUU fishing by Korea’s fleets. However, the mission also provided a mechanism to take corrective action. Korea’s recent legislative amendments are insufficient but the dynamic has been created to further improve fisheries management and offers a platform for civil society to influence the process.

Michael Earle & Raül Romeva i Rueda


27 September 2013



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