A new NGOs study on the impact of the EU IUU Regulation / by Francisco Blaha

Last week a group of NGOs (Oceana, Pew, EJF and WWF) published a analysis on the EU IUU Regulation. And while it raises some good (but already known) issues, in my opinion, it does not totally reflect the reality of its implementation at a operational level in many exporting countries.

I been working on the implementation of this regulation for the last 7 years in almost 20 countries, and as I said many times it was game changer, no doubt… it put IUU at the front of fish trade and public opinion, a very smart and courageous move, and the EU deserves full recognition for that.

But its key tool, the “Catch Certification Scheme” was poorly planned and the corrections that were imposed along the way, were not thought as to made the system more effective and less complex for the countries that have to implement it. (I wrote about this before here, here, and explained it in detail in this EU Market Access publication)

In any case, if you work in this area, is hard not to agree with the main recommendation:

Modernising the catch certificate system in 2016 by establishing a centralised, digital, EU-wide database, with a standard risk analysis tool, for processing, crosschecking and storing information.

Said so, the opportunity was there right at the 2010 implementation, as the EU's DG SANTE (in charge of Sanitary Certification) had a web based system already, the TRACES Portal.

Interestingly all recommendation pretty much mirror a the results of a much wider and deeper study that was commissioned by the EU Parliament in 2012 (published 2013) and that I was asked to peer review: "Compliance of imports of fishery and aquaculture products with EU legislation" No. IP/B/PECH/IC/2013-112

In regards the study itself, I just going to mention two issues that “pops up” nastily to me:

The description of the EU catch certification process

This nice illustration and its description in the text, just continue to portray the idea that it is really a “catch certificate” provided at the moment of the catch being landed. Its not the case at all.

While initially it was a “Catch Certificate” (hence certified the fish caught, at the time of landing), after the implementation “Weight In the CC ” notes (part I and II) (aka WICC notes), it became a “Export Certificate” for fish being processed in the country of the Flag State (WICC: Weight in the Catch Certificate should only cover the consignment to be exported to the EU and not the total catch landed).

As these are based on the volumes in the consignment exported, the consignment could consist of various landings of various vessels, hence there could be 20+ vessels in one consignment. Furthermore, is always certified retroactively, in cases some months after the event, hence the authorities in the flag state need to go backwards to find the information of the landing and its volumes, which in many cases could have happened in another country. 

The illustration portrays the CCS as a "forward" looking process, when in reality is a "backward" looking one, from export consignment back to landing. And here is where the system is both open to abuse and very resource consuming for the smaller countries.

It is only is a “Catch Certificate” (in the sense that certifies catches at the moment of landing) when the whole load of fish is unloaded in country that is not the Flag State. Then, it is “one vessel - one volume”, but this type of even is quite rare.

So really I don't know how deep the authors of the report really understand the application of the regulation in third countries. A read on the above mentioned EU parliament report would have cleared these (and many other) issues up.

The other issue that I think, could have been explored is the impact that the legislation has in the exporting countries as the present system is very resource consuming and impacts disproportionately countries with small fleets but big fishing grounds, as they are not only evaluated in terms of the management of their own fleet, but on the control they have on their waters and ports, which are fished mostly by DWFN that do not take good controls of their fleet.

If one of these small countries was to get red carded, the loosers are their own domestic fleet that cannot export any more, and not the DWN that would keep fishing their waters. In my experience less developed countries spend more of the very limited resources per capita in compliance towards the regulations that the bigger fishing nations.

But anyway... back to the recommendation, I think there is another that i found positive:

Maintain the regular, transparent assessment of third countries in the fight against IUU fishing by: Continuing to provide public information on the criteria used to assess third countries.

So far, there has been not much of that… Reasons for election of a country for "dialogue" and subsequent visit reports are kept confidential. DG SANTE's for example is completely transparent on its evaluations (this also was also highlighted in the EU parliamentary report), so it should be no reason for the same policy.

In fact, only recently the EU started tackling (yellow carding) the “big guys” (Taiwan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand) and some of then (i.e. Korea and Philippines) seems to have gone away with very little effort (i.e. Korea by imposing its Distant Water Fleet of over 300 vessels to have VMS!… one of the technologically most advanced nations did not had a technology that has been a standard for the last 20 years? or the Philippines, whose MCS system - from my experience- is crude at best! even so they got the green card very soon).

Furthermore, a potential red card on Thailand (a processing state that is the main exporter of tuna and shrimp to the EU) would only affect the exports of the vessels flagged there... which is minimal as they don't have any tuna vessels and shrimp, that comes mostly from aquaculture is exempt from the regulations. Hence the economical impact to the country would be almost negligible.

In the meantime, small island countries which much smaller fleets (1 to 7 vessels) and much more limited human and economic resources drag yellow cards for years, and a red card would collapse their industry - normally a huge employer.

In any case, I do understand that geopolitics do play a role here… nevertheless more transparency is always welcome.

On the positive side, the report presents some good information to non initiated and portrays the magnitude of the issues at hand, and I applaud that.

Finally, I do recognise that the EU keeps providing capacity-building and technical support to carded countries and ensuring cohesion with development programmes, and that is to be always commended.

In any case, I understand that these four NGOs that authored the report don't want to rock the boat too much, so the recommendations needed to be a bit sugarcoated with some good intro…

Nevertheless a bit more of technical accuracy and a deeper understanding of how the system work for many of those 90 countries that export to the EU would have made the report much more solid. Something that the caliber of the NGOs commissioning the report deserved in my opinion.