Is the EU IUU Regulation working? / by Francisco Blaha

The EU’s Regulation to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing is the most far-reaching and influential system of its kind in operation today and re-defined the traceability landscape of trade flows of fish when it entered the world stage in January 2010. At its heart lies a catch certification scheme that aims to guarantee legal origin of fisheries products entering the EU market.

 Taiwanese longliners in the Pacific

Taiwanese longliners in the Pacific

However, my friends Gilles Hosch and Shelley Clarke  published in 2013 a study “Traceability, legal provenance & the EU IUU Regulation” providing a detailed analysis of the regulation and how its certification scheme is applied on the ground for whitefish and salmon imported into the EU from Russia via China.  They report critical flaws in the scheme’s architecture, as well as much potential for ineffective implementation, including widespread and often undetectable document fraud. 

They note that to date no data have been made available to suggest that the IUU Regulation is actually deterring IUU fishing, or that volumes of illegal fish entering the EU market are in fact diminishing. They also state that there is no evidence to substantiate the concern that the EU’s certification scheme is now deflecting illegal fish to other, supposedly less tightly regulated markets.

They suggest that until critical gaps in the catch certification scheme are effectively addressed, proposals that other countries should replicate the EU IUU Regulation are premature and that the EU should focus its efforts on improving, completing and strengthening the Regulation and the catch certification scheme which lies at its core.

They note that if the EU fixes the Regulation and can demonstrate its effectiveness, it has the potential to become a very valuable model and tool for a global legal provenance traceability scheme that could then start to effectively deny market access to fish derived from illegal sources – and hence combat IUU fishing in a serious and meaningful manner. Original source here

 Controlling volumes landed at the place that holds the truth... were the figures decide what people gets paid!

Controlling volumes landed at the place that holds the truth... were the figures decide what people gets paid!

I completely agree with their views, based on my experience working on the issue since 2009, mostly from an evaluation and implementation perspective with the Pacific Islands and Latin American countries, and after realising quite early that the complexity of the trade flows in the industry represents a massive challenge for the effective implementation of the EU IUU Regulation. (I was one of the experts of the 50 country wide programme Europaid/129606/D/SER/Multi - Assist Third Countries in the Implementation of the EU-IUU Fishing Regulation)

Furthermore, during 2013-14 I was involved as a contributor and reviewer in a European Parliament study, evaluating the effectiveness of the legislation, that provided very similar conclusions. 

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!

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.

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, and in some cases gave some IUU fishing operators a base to legitimise “fish laundering” in way not possible before.

 Lots of explaining to be done in regards the regulation, what it intended to do, and what i really does

Lots of explaining to be done in regards the regulation, what it intended to do, and what i really does

Although many third countries have reinforced their Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) systems in an effort to guarantee true validation of the CC, in many cases the validating authority does not have all the elements, regulatory understanding or resources to fully ensure that the fishing products covered by a Catch Certificate are IUU free, and particularly when their fleets operate outside their waters. Nor the EU has the capacity to crosscheck the authenticity of the certificates, which at this stage are mere export certificates, and not catch certificates.

While the EU broke ground with this legal instrument, its applicability and efficiency does not lives up to their original goals, hence an updated and better model is needed.

 Disclaimer 

The EU made a game changer with IUU Catch Certificate and the IUU regulation, with all it intrinsic failures it requires countries to upgrade their fisheries control systems and that is a good thing! We just need to make the system better and more fair.

Furthermore, while the EU put the rules (beyond how good they are) they also put the assistance to the countries. A lot of my work in this area has been under EU funded programmes.

 Paper adapted to reality... surely this was not the original plan.

Paper adapted to reality... surely this was not the original plan.