How does Catch Certification works now? And how should it be? / by Francisco Blaha

The EU introduced the Concept of a Catch Certification Scheme (CCS) as key part of the regulation 1005/2008 aimed to deter IUU Fishing with the objective of guaranteeing the legal origin of fisheries products entering the EU market.

How well does the flag state know how much Tuna was transhipped?

How well does the flag state know how much Tuna was transhipped?

They were some other Catch Documentation Schemes around but under the “control” of RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organizations), but they didn’t apply to all trade of marine fishery products, processed or not, originating from non EU fishing vessels and exported to the EU by any means of transport as the EU, hence they are much more limited in scope.

The EU had the concept of certification for imports for a while, as they have been using it on the Health side for a long time. Basically the Health certificate is an official document where the government of the exporting country, provide “official assurances to the EU” in regards the regulatory compliance against the EU legislations of a consignment of fishery products. And this certification is under the responsibility of a Competent Authority (CA) in the exporting country.

With its IUU CCS they had to make some radical changes to the model they knew, (since they could not “impose” their standards as in the Health case) so the CA and the validation of the CC are under the responsibility of the catching vessel’s flag state, independently of where the vessel is operating.

Furthermore, the complexities of the international value chain of many species was not adequately considered, the design of the forms left critical issues out (like details of the date and port of unloading!), the fact that not all fish from one landing is exported to the EU (and even less at once or in one consignment!), just to name a few.

The responsibility of the captain to state that the vessel operated legally was passed to the processing factories, as the catch certificate is actually initiated processors and not by the vessel’s masters, it may be useful to remember that fish does not “turn IUU” inside a processing plant, fish is caught and landed illegally!

On top of all these, the whole system becomes based on photocopies of photocopies after 1st sale and many other elements that debilitated the system to the point of uselessness, and in some cases much worst, as gave some IUU fishing operators a base to legitimise “fish laundering” in way not possible before.

Even the concept of a Catch certificate was lost when  the EU's DG MARE issued the Weight in the Catch Certificate (WICC) note in mid-2010 stating that the “weight in the catch certificate" should only cover the volume in consignment to be exported to the EU and not the volume of the catch landed, hence it just became another export certificate.

Reality is that the “Catch Certificate”, was never conceptualised and agreed prior its implementation by the EU, and now this noble, but not really useful, model has become the standard… and that may not be the best legacy of the Catch Certification Scheme.

How should it work then?

Well, it has never been decided, but in my opinion any CC requires 3 consecutive components:

1) Legality of the catch (Flag - Coastal - Port State Responsibility), it involves having answers to questions like:

  •  Was the vessels fishing legally during the time of the harvest and landing? (i.e. does it has a valid license)
  • Does the MCS system provides security that the vessel was complying with the conditions in the license during the time of the harvest and landing? for example: the VMS track of the vessel show compliance, the logsheet were provided/loaded, observer report verified / legal gear, where there pending fines, non compliances, etc...

2) Traceability and Fish Accountancy (Port - Processing State – Industry responsibility), it involves having answers to questions like:

  • Can we follow the trail that links the volumes in the catch certificate to the total landed? (It requires to walk back the path from the volume in the container to the landing of that particular vessel and account for the volumes landed, locally sold, exported and any remnants)
  • Does the "Fish Accountancy" system include all “conversion ratios” associated to the processing of fish and waste, renderings, fish meal, etc.?  

This 'accountancy" system is industry responsibility, and the regular examination of the system and the regular verification of the landed volumes is the Competent Authority responsibility

Welcome to Fish Accountancy

Welcome to Fish Accountancy

3) The “certificate” itself 

Not a small matter… The EU uses a VERY user-unfriendly model that is complex to fill and then needs to be physically transported to a validation officer. Many of the issues arising with the EU CC at stage are product of mistakes during the completion of the cert, and not from the legality of the catch. And, as said before is, completely “fraud-able” after the first photocopy. 

While it could be logic to develop a better model, a newer one would have to go back to the around 100 countries or so using the present CC and it would be a even bigger mess that already is.

In my view, we have already enough experience on E-certification to make it plausible to have it completely digitalized.

The EU itself has come with a very good platform for handling health certification under the TRACES platform. (In fact DG MARE promised in the legislation they’ll adopt a electronic system… four years later we all still waiting). Something similar to the TRACES system could be applicable, including filters and security steps.

The primary advantages of a E-cert system, are that it can track the legality, market eligibility and status of fish and fisheries products from the time they are harvested/landed until they are exported, and if needed you still can print a certificates. 

E-certs have also quite a few practical advantages, they increase the robustness of the verification checks, by keeping verification information in one place, improve the efficiency of the certification process, significantly reduce the risk of errors, provide a means to improve the quality and range of data from which government and industry can make strategic decisions, and fundamentally reduce the likelihood of fraud providing border authorities with access to E-cert means they can validate the certificates online, which significantly improves the detection of fraudulent certificates.

Easier said than done… 

Is a Global Catch Certificate possible?

Norway has championed trough FAO to have a Technical Guidelines on Catch Certification, and to explore the possibility of a global system, and these are very welcomed developments. 

I believe it is possible, as long as there are some basic fundamental stones in place, among them:

A Global Mandate

To come up with a new global system, then the ones like the EU and some of the ones being prepared would have to retreat… and that is a hard call. Hence, without the support and experience of the present ones, a new one would not be possible. 

While organizations like FAO are the natural recipient of such mandates, they respond the member countries… and some of them may see political issues when other are more guided by sustainability, technicalities and the rule of law

Besides, whoever takes the lead, needs to have enough impartiality and economic “weight” to propose the alternative system. That role so far has been taken by Norway… but I believe it needs more support beyond them.

Technical and practical issues

There are some MASSIVE issues that need to be dealt with, beside the logistic challenges, just to name a few: having a global register of FVs, adherence to Port State Measures (PSM) Agreement (so far only 24 countries), a “Landing Authorization Code” structure, a integrated landings and MCS database, access to the companies traceability systems, and so on. 

Personally I think that nothing is impossible with today’s banking and logistics technology available… a long as there is political will and funds

Political will and Funds

Reality is, that a lot of governments would be quite uncomfortable having the complete fisheries data in a potentially transparent and “out there” system, and surely the “sovereignty” and “big countries are bullies” cards will be bestowed into the table, furthermore the big seafood buying countries would also may have issues in terms of the maintaining of the high volumes of data.

Furthermore, any system, even the smallest one with has set up and running costs, which will have to be proportionate, distributed among the users.


Nothing is impossible if all the conditions are meet and the decision makers agree it should be done, on the other side no system will ever be perfect, hence magic bullets do not exist.

On top of that, never before; fisheries, sustainability and the IUU words has been so ingrained on the public opinion as in the present. That should not be wasted.

Surely difficult… but a better system than the present is needed and deserved.

The "Landing Authorisation Code" (LAC) trip along the system... (if it only was so simple)

The "Landing Authorisation Code" (LAC) trip along the system... (if it only was so simple)