EU warns Thailand on illegal fishing

8 May 2015

The EU is using its market weight to tackle illegal fishing activity. 

The European Commission in April put Thailand on formal notice for not taking sufficient measures to tackle illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The move comes as part of the EU’s effort to wipe out illicitly caught fish from its fish imports. The EU is the world's largest fish importer. 

Brussels said last month that it had engaged in a series of discussions with Thai authorities but that the Asian country continued to fall short on fisheries monitoring, control, and sanctioning systems. A “yellow card” handed out by the Commission represents a first step in a process that could eventually result in a fisheries import ban if Thailand fails to clean up its act. The move kicks off a formal process where Brussels will enter into dialogue with Bangkok on steps needed to address its IUU challenge. Thailand will be given six months to implement a tailor-made action plan.

Fish and fish products from Thailand added up to about three percent of the 28-nation’s bloc overall fish imports in 2013. Thailand’s global fish exports weighed in at around US$6.2 billion in 2009, the world’s third largest exporter by value, equal to seven percent of the global total exported value. 

The April announcement also saw the Commission grant a reprieve to Korea and the Philippines, which the EU executive deemed to have implemented appropriate reforms to their legal systems, equipping them to tackle illegal marine activity.

“By using our market weight the EU is getting important players on board. Both Korea and the Philippines have taken responsible action, amended their legal systems, and switched to a proactive approach against illegal fishing,” said Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs, and Fisheries. 

The EU has in the past banned fish imports from Belize, Guinea, and Cambodia, and Sri Lanka for failing to take action on IUU. Imports from Belize are, however, now allowed again after reform efforts.

Trade tools to tackle illegal fishing

The EU’s IUU regulation entered into force in 2010, putting in place a system to identify countries where illegal marine activity is rife, with the ability to resort to trade bans to prevent illegally caught products from entering its market. The regulation also put in place a system of catch certification whereby fish imports are accompanied by a document indicating that it was caught in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and international measures.

While estimates vary, black market fishing activity is valued at between US$9-21 billion per year, according to EU data. This adds up to between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish or at least 15 percent of the global catch. IUU fishing is broadly recognised by experts as a key driver of global overfishing, a threat to marine ecosystems, and food security. Illegal fishing activity involves boats operating in violation of the laws of the fishery and international obligations.

The US in March released an action plan to tackle IUU fishing. Steps identified for the coming two years include addressing the challenge at landing point in ports, including relevant provisions in international trade agreements, and improving traceability across the supply chain. (See BioRes, 18 March 2014)

ICTSD reporting, EURACTIV.

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