The modus operandi and data requirements of EU CCS vs the US SIMP / by Francisco Blaha

This one has been cooking for a while, and comes out of some work I did for FFA and from a document of my friend Gilles I blogged before, and my own work triying to help countries to comply with what the big brothers want…

We work like one, why can’t you?

We work like one, why can’t you?

Presently there are two unilateral schemes  (Unilateral as other nations have no choice in the matter) that apply to international trade in the FFA membership: the European Union Catch Certification Scheme (EU CCS) and the United States Seafood Import Monitoring Programme (US SIMP).

The fact that two of the world’s largest seafood markets have moved towards substantially different designs for unilateral trade measures to address the same problem indicates that there is a real risk of a proliferation of non-harmonised unilateral trade instruments to combat IUU fishing. 

For fishers and supply chain actors that currently, or may seek to in the future, sell to or process catch for both the EU and the US, the costs of complying with two different systems are likely to be considerable. In addition to the immediate costs of developing and operating different systems, the lack of coherence between them could lead to fisheries trade being diverted between the two, or to less demanding third markets.

An explanation of the requirements and characteristics of these two unilateral schemes is included in the following sections.

Modus operandi of the EU CCS

The EU IUU Regulation consists of a law (EC 1005/2008) passed in 2008, and an implementing regulation (EC 1010/2009) adopted in 2009. Both texts define a new legal EU regime to bar products derived from IUU fishing from entering the EU market. In its preamble, EC 1005/2008 states that this initiative is meant to respond to the tenets of the IPOA-IUU. The regulation consists of a Catch Documentation Scheme (CDS) requirement for all imports of marine fish into the EU and a separate, but related, rule involving the possible restriction of fisheries imports from countries identified as having unsatisfactory control of IUU fishing by their flag vessels, the so called “yellow and red cards”. 

The EU IUU Regulation’s CCS covers wild caught marine harvests—with some exceptions, such as molluscs—which are landed or imported into the EU, and which have originated from non-EU flag vessels. All products must be certified to be of legal origin, regardless of whether they are sourced from fisheries known to be affected by major IUU problems or not. 

The regulation requires flag states to issue catch certificates (CCs) for catch harvested by their vessels that is to be exported to the EU. Flag states must notify a competent authority (CA) validating catch certificates to the EC, which is formally approved or rejected. Only countries with a formally approved competent authority may export to the EU. 

When foreign catch is imported by a processing state for re-export to the EU, a processing statement must be issued at the time of exportation, linking the source products and foreign catch certificate(s) with the end products in the consignment. Since 1 January 2010, either a catch certificate (the direct importation scenario) or a processing statement, with attached catch certificates (the indirect importation scenario) must accompany each consignment of wild captured marine fish to be imported into the EU. 

Vessels flying an EU flag are also covered by the scheme if they land catch outside the EU and the products, processed or un-processed, later enter the EU market. EU vessels landing product directly into EU ports are not normally required to produce a catch certificate, unless the product is to be exported to a third country outside the EU, for example for processing, and re-importation into the EU. The processing statement is not required when catch from EU-flagged vessels is landed and processed in EU countries. 

The EU CCS is a paper-based system and operates in the absence of a central certificate registry. This means that EU authorities, whether central or national, or any other competent authorities worldwide complying with the system, do not know how many certificates are in circulation and what products they cover—nor do private sector supply-chain actors acquiring and dispatching products under given certificates. 

The authenticity of any certificate can only be ascertained through a lengthy process involving direct communication and feedback requests from the authorities that issued the original—a process, which falls under what the EU IUU Regulation refers to as “mutual assistance.”

Any such action by EU border authorities implies delays and demurrage costs to operators, regardless of the legal or illegal nature of consignments. It is not known how many consignments covered by how many certificates have entered the EU since the scheme came into force, or how many times any specific certificate has been used to import fisheries products into the EU market.

Role of Fisheries Administrations
The EU CCS relies on the cardinal principle of flag state validation, placing no formal emphasis on the role of coastal states, and a minimal role to be played by port, processing, and trading states. For example, the date and place of landing are not indicated on the catch certificate and port state authorities are not required to check, validate, or counter-validate catch certificates attached to catch that moves through their ports.  This partly weakens the potential strength of it, since these systems were conceived as a means to overcome the ineffectiveness of control regimes limited to flag state enforcement, and to tap the potential of port and market state jurisdictions and controls within a single, largely self-regulating and self-enforcing system. 

To date, the EC has not provided effective guidance on how catch certificates ought to be completed when consignments are derived from more than one domestic landing or mixed domestic and foreign landings, hinting at important regulatory voids in the regulation. 

Article 51.2 of the regulation on mutual assistance refers to the establishment of an automated information system, called the “IUU fishing information system,” designed “to assist competent authorities in preventing, investigating and prosecuting IUU fishing.” In 2015 the EC announced its intention to develop this IUU fishing information system in the form of an computer database, the main function of which, judging from descriptions released so far, appears to be to digitally record the entry of certificates and processing statements into the EU. In theory, such a database could enable competent authorities of EU member states to detect over-usage of particular certificates. However, the system would not provide any further evidence as to which importer has knowingly or unknowingly been involved in importing products covered by fraudulent certificates, and where in the supply chain document fraud has been committed. Nor would a system limited to registering certificates on imports into the EU address the circulation of non-recorded and non-secured paper copies of certificates along global supply chains. Therefore, it is not clear that the database, as currently outlined, will solve the fundamental problems in the EU CCS, nor effectively implement Article 51.2, whose aim appears to be the development of a system that would enable all competent authorities–including those in third countries—to confidently operate the scheme and to eliminate fraud. 

Despite its weaknesses, the EU IUU Regulation does provide some useful elements of good practice. Equivalence is provided under the scheme for existing RFMO CDS, meaning that any products covered by RFMO certificates imported into the EU are exempted from the requirement to provide EU catch certificates. This is an important first degree of coherence between unilateral and multilateral schemes. The EU system also allows for the recognition of equivalent national systems. A number of developed countries, such as Norway, Canada, and New Zealand, have developed “national CDS” systems to respond to the requirements of the EU CDS, and have been formally approved by the EC; these systems are considered to provide the same degree of assurance. 

The designation of the CA in the third countries
According to Article 20 of the EU IUU Regulation, third countries should nominate their CA by providing a Flag State notification (see Annex III of EU IUU Regulation). 

In the run-up to the implementation of the EU IUU Regulation and in its first months, the EC (DG MARE) largely accepted the nominations of CAs from third countries without questioning whether these were indeed the most appropriate authorities. In some countries, the authority nominated has been the CA nominated to validate the Health Certificate under the hygiene regulation. This arises from confusion in the terminology applied by the EC, because the CA under the hygiene regulations were in some cases assumed by third countries to be the same CA under the EU IUU Regulation.

Indeed, when the EU IUU Regulation entered into force, some countries did not understand the purpose of the CC or see the difference between the CC and the Health Certificate.

However, in most countries the nominated CA is with the Fisheries Authority which, while generally competent about IUU fishing and Monitoring and Control and Surveillance (MCS) measures, may not be familiar with the complexities of certification.

According to the wording of the EU IUU Regulation it would seem that the acceptance of the notification is automatic and cannot be refused if the information requested in Article 20 is provided. It is not very clear on which grounds the EC is currently basing the acceptance or not of the notification. DG MARE has conducted various missions to a number of countries (sometimes more than once to the same country), while other countries have not been visited.

Explicit mention is made of signature of Catch Certificates in Article 20. Article 20 makes no mention of CAs for signing Annex IV Processing Statements nor of the CAs in States that are processing products and are not Flag States. There is provision in the Processing Statement (Annex IV to the EU IUU Regulation) for endorsement by the Competent Authority, but there is no indication as to which authority this should be. One might presume, from the fact that the Health Certificate number and date are requested on the form, that this CA is the one nominated under the Health Regulations. Similarly, there is no indication in the EU IUU Regulation or its implementing rules on which CA should be authorising transhipments within a port area and validating section 7 of the regular Catch Certificate.

The original handbook (a largely obsolete document) indicates that these authorities have to be notified to the EC, but the point still stands that there is no provision for this CA in the Regulation itself and there is no provision for the approval or publication of the authorities approved for transhipments. At present transhipments are authorised by authorities in third countries that have not had their CA notification published by the EC but have been informally allowed to sign.

Role of PSM
Rather critically, there is no port of landing section in the EU CCS, which is very bizarre, as the FAO PSMA was being negotiated at the time of inception of the EU IIU regs. As yet the EU CCS involves Port states only in one section (Section 7) of the certificate template.

Section 7 is complex and somewhat confusing. It requires “date” and “port of landing” while transshipment is actually defined as occurring between two vessels, hence no actual landing is resultant. Landing is bringing the fish on to land (even if not defined in the EU legislation). The term “port area” is also not defined but the general view on this is that it refers to being around a “port” where an anchored vessel is approached by another one to transship. However, no official explanation has been given to date.

While not clearly explained in the regulations or manuals, section 7 is the only part of the CC that requires the signature from the Port State instead of the Flag State. So, vessels flagged in Country “A” transship at a port in Country “B”. Country “A” is responsible for the validation of the CC but Country “B “is responsible for authorizing the transshipment.

The transshipment can occur before the CC certificates are raised and validated, because in many cases there still no confirmed buyer for the fish or because the fish has not been landed or processed at destination which may or may not be the Flag State.

This is a difficulty for the Port State, as if they were to sign Section 7 at the time of the transshipment, they’ll sign an “empty” CC, with information provided by the captain or agent, unless the Flag State is really “onto it” and able to provide a validated CC based on reliable estimates provided by the captain via the logbook and/or observers, prior the transshipment (there is no evidence of this ever being the case).

DG MARE in one of its notes[1]proposes that the Port State signs the non-validated CC, however this can be seen as not showing sufficient due diligence by the Port State CA.

Alternatively, they need to keep the records of the transshipment authorization on file, until such a time as the processors of the fish that was transshipped request the CC from the Flag State who can then issue the CC which can then go to the Port State for section 7 signature.

Modus operandi of the US SIMP

Under the US Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) scheme, the National Marine Fisheries Service require importers to be holders of an annually renewable International Fisheries Trade Permit and specific data and information for defined fish and fish products has to be filed and retained as a condition of import. The additional data requirements apply only to imports of “at-risk” species, and derived products thereof, which are identified by HS codes. 

Importantly, the programme actively seeks to integrate the new reporting requirements with existing electronic infrastructure, and the rule also establishes how duplication with other existing programmesshould be avoided. For instance, it is proposed that information to be filed under the scheme be collected at the time of importation, making use of an electronic single window consistent with existing systems. 

The  SIMP does not develop a dedicated documentation scheme, the centrepiece of all other existing CDS in existence. Instead, it requires importers to collect information on source fishing vessels, fishing licences, areas of operation, date and place of landing, and first buyers, etc. on the basis of existing information, and to log this information at the time of importation. 

The validation or counter-validation of industry-generated information by designated competent authorities along the supply chain is not required, as is currently the case in varying forms in all other existing schemes. 

No recording of data would be required as products pass through the supply chain from harvest towards the US market. Existing documents, such as landing reports, catch certificates, or port inspection reports may be used by importers to establish the validity of vessel identity, trip, and landings data submitted by them into the International Trade Documentation System (ITDS). 

Information regarding the movement of fish between the point of landing and its entry into the US market would not be recorded within the system but has to be collected by the importer on the basis of documents and records that are normally issued along supply chains,and such records would have to be kept by importers for five years at their place of business. 

However, it is highly unlikely that an importer could be given a transparent insight into where the products he/she is importing have been channelled through in longer and more complex supply chains as supply chain relationships (suppliers/clients) and pricing are the most sensitive and highly protected types of information in seafood trade. Verifiable traceability between the presumed source fishing vessels indicated at importation, and the fisheries products being imported, is unlikely to be achieved in the absence of a dedicated documentation system which links and records product flows each step along the supply chain (with applicable data confidentiality rules). The critical process of monitoring mass balance at individual supply chain stops, enabling the detection of fish laundering, would also be difficult to achieve under the system as it is currently presented. 

The list of “at-risk” species that will fall under the remit of the scheme under the programme’s initial phase was refined and republished through the proposed rule in February 2016. 

The list includes species that can naturally fall both under the management mandate of RFMOs, and/or under the management mandate of individual countries.Species covered by existing RFMO CDS systems are listed, specifically the entire Pacific fished tunas (albacore tuna, bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna, skipjack tuna, and yellowfin tuna). Bluefin tuna had not been covered in the earlier published version of the rule (Federal Register 2015), and had been classified as “not at-risk” owing to the multilateral mechanisms already in place—echoing practice under the EU CDS. It is now included “in order to establish consistent treatment of tuna species, and avoid possible concerns that one species of tuna may be treated less favourably than others.” (Federal Register 2016). 

It is anticipated, however, that “compliance with the entry data collection requirements of these schemes would, for the most part, meet the data reporting and recordkeeping requirements of the traceability program proposed here”. This means that an RFMO CDS duly complied with would provide an importer with all data needed to fulfil the needs of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program. In as far as the system allows for a degree of mutual recognition of RFMO CDS, the US system follows a similar approach to the EU with regard to mutual recognition. 

Role of the flag and coastal state Fisheries Administrations
Critically, industry-generated information by designated competent authorities along the supply chain would not be required, as is currently the case in varying forms in all existing other schemes. 

Role of PSM
While the US SIMP does not foresee, per se, a specific role for Ports states administrations, good PSM processes are needed to potentially verify an unloading (yes, it was authorised to happen at this location) or deny it (no, it did not happen).

On the receiving side, the importer is required to be a registered as an Importer of record (in the US). The requirements are

  1.  Name, affiliation and contact information

  2.  NOAA issued IFTP number

  3.  Importer of record is responsible for keeping records regarding the chain of custody detailed above

  4. Information on any transhipment of product (declarations by harvesting/ carrier vessels, bills of landing)

  5. Records on processing, reprocessing, and comingling of product.

Side to side comparison in between the EU CCS and US SIMP data fields

I developed a comparison of the data requirements of both market access requirements follow, with the flowing coding: 


It becomes self-evident that data fields have very limited complementarity, and therefore are of limited use at present as an integrated approach.

table 1.jpg
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On one side should not be surprising… I already wrote about how both powers seems to have very different views on which flag states and regions are mostly involved in IUU fishing… but obviously they coincide that China is not involved in IUU fishing otherwise their trade measures could have applied a long time ago ;-)


Hosch, Gilles. 2016. Trade Measures to Combat IUU Fishing: Comparative Analysis of Unilateral and Multilateral Approaches. Geneva: International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD).

Hosch, G. & Blaha, F. 2017. Seafood traceability for fisheries compliance – Country level support for catch documentation schemes. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 619. Rome, Italy.