On the EU yellow cards / by Francisco Blaha

I wrote many times before about the EU IUU Regulation (EC No 1005/2008), the Catch Certification Scheme (CCS) and yellow and red cards the EU has been delivering around. My 1st contact with this regulation was when 2008, 2 years before its entry into force, and since then I been working with it at various levels.

It is important to understand that the EU IUU Reg has as its implementation tool, the Catch Certification Scheme, while the “yellow and red card” is a football analogy to the process that the EU DG MARE enters when it invokes Chapter IV of the regulation with “non-cooperating third countries”.

Sri Lanka went to Red

Sri Lanka went to Red

While being a unilateral measure (meaning that it just intends to close only its market to IUU fish), the legislation brought the IUU issue to the public forefront and always recognised that is a very good thing. Its implementation tool never lived to its full potential due to profound flaws in its design and implementation. A group of us have been very vocal about this for years, and I was happy to see that that message has finally been taken by EU based NGOs. My criticism was always constructive and not against the legislation or the CCS, but aimed at maximising its benefits... yet 7 years after its implementation, the key flaws still have not been fixed.

The “cards” analogy is perhaps the most visible element of the regulation application. The effectiveness of the strategy has worked in some of the countries that have been “given a card”, the “shaming” and the possibility of having the products caught by its vessels barred from the EU market is an effective way to get them into action, no doubts there.

Furthermore, over the last 7 years, at least a big chunk of my work has been helping countries to deal with the legislation and the cards, and most of that works has been paid with EU funds. And in that aspect the EU is unique as it consistently supports developing countries with strengthening programmes, this is to be recognised (and I’m grateful for that).

Criticism is valid tho, on the way and reasons those cards have been handled. My good friend and colleague Gilles Hosch has  encapsulated that criticism in a direct way (as usual), during his response to an article (actually more like a copy of the EU press release), in a leading fisheries news website announcing the lifting of the yellow card to the Solomons (a place very close to my soul and were I spend over 2 years working on this process), criticizing the lack of journalistic depth around this issue. I quote him textually: 

"What I find striking in news items relating to EU yellow, red and green cards – such as this one above – is the complete lack of journalistic curiosity and scrutiny regarding the seemingly random selection by the EU of so-called “third” countries, threatening them with trade sanctions for their perceived lack of commitment to combat IUU fishing. Does it ever occur to anybody that 38% of all south-west Pacific island nations have been yellow-carded under the EU IUU regulation – when only 24% of countries in Asia, and 0% in South America, the near east and in Europe have been objects of such cards? Yes, of course it is nice for the Solomons to have that threat lifted – as it would be for any ACP country totally dependent on the EU seafood market for the continued survival of its export sector – but would it not be equally important to question how it is possible that small countries like the Solomon’s are serially pre-identified by the EU commission, and threatened with the extinction of their seafood trade sectors, while other major fishing nations – in their role as recognised state-sponsors of international IUU fishing ventures – are never even making it onto the EU radar!? I am missing the elements of critical and vital news reporting here"

And yes, it is hard to disagree. The initial targets have been very soft, the yellow card to Tuvalu (10000 inhabitants and 2 vessels) is quite puzzling. 

I did got hopes with Philippines and Korea, yet they got off very easily, and I have not noticed any changes regarding behavior or compliance history for their vessels operating in the Pacific.

The hopes rekindled when Taiwan and Thailand got cards (even if in the case of Thailand would not mean anything unless they are in connection with the sanitary side, as Thailand has no tuna boats). Yet not news are heard for a while out of them.

And as Gilles mention what happens with the other ones? 

Vietnam has abysmal flag state performance record with dozens of their boats been arrested in other jurisdictions… surely they would benefit of being pushed to act.

I work substantially in Latin America (as recent as last week), they as a whole must be the main exporter of fisheries products to the EU by volume and value. The evaluations we did in 2011 showed all sorts of issues, and there are no objective reasons to assume that they fisheries administrations and enforcement bodies are insulated of the otherwise well-known corruption culture that permeates their governments... but not even one yellow card. 

And then is China, by far the nation that has been involved in more IUU fishing events worldwide, had vessels sunk, arrested, detained, notorious flag hoppers and the lot... yet not one visit has been raised.

I know Brussels takes their time and if you gonna go in the fight, is better to do sparring first, the problem is that if they don’t go with the good fight to an equal size opponent, they are going to be seen as a bully and not the good guys they want to be.