Thursday

18th Apr 2019

Opinion

EU to go digital to fight illegal fishing

  • Paper-based system allows significant opportunity for document fraud (Photo: European Commission)

The European Union is the largest importer of seafood products in the world, representing 24 percent of the total value of world trade. This means that thousands of kilos of fish enter the European market every day.

To certify the legality of the fish, catch certificates (CC) are required to accompany seafood products imported into the EU.

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However, surprisingly in the digital era, the EU CC system is still paper-based, allowing significant opportunity for document fraud, jeopardising the traceability of products, and therefore still allowing illegal fish to be sold and consumed in European countries.

Fortunately, this outdated situation is set to change soon in the EU.

EU Commissioner for maritime Affairs and fisheries, Karmenu Vella, announced in a communication on the EU Regulation to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing that the Commission will introduce a digital system by the end of 2016.

This impressive milestone, once implemented, will mark a new era in the fight against IUU fishing, both at the EU and global level.

Indeed, the EU has been paving the way forward in the global fight against IUU fishing, and acting as a role model to other large market states with a responsibility to drive sustainable consumption of seafood worldwide.

EU flexing its muscles

In implementing the IUU Regulation, the EU has used its influence as the largest market for seafood in the world to hold exporting countries accountable for their international obligation to responsibly manage their own fisheries and fleets.

As a consequence, it has been a catalyst for positive reform in fisheries policies and management in significant fishing nations such as South Korea and the Philippines, among others.

But to go from good to excellent, the EU needed to commit and assure the digitalisation of the catch certificate system, and ensure that border control procedures are equally stringent and effective across all EU member states.

To our great satisfaction, the EC has now announced its plans to act on both of these.

In its communication, the EC rightfully announces the transition from a paper-based CC system to a centralised, EU-wide, electronic system, and the introduction of a harmonised risk analysis at border posts across the EU to improve vigilance.

In our view, these are vital steps towards the interoperability of CC processing systems among member states, closing traceability loopholes, eliminating possibility for document fraud and, ultimately, ensuring no IUU fishing products enter the EU market.

Addressing the problem of illegal fishing is quintessential to ensure a level playing field for seafood industry players that play by the rules, to improve the overall health of fish stocks, help marine ecosystems recover, boost the market for sustainable seafood products and assist with jobs and growth within the legal EU markets.

We are anxiously waiting for the European Commission to act on the commitments they have made.

Eszter Hidas is EU policy officer for WWF's illegal fishing programme

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