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International Action To Fight Illegal Fishing

EU - Illegal fishing not only seriously distorts markets for EU fishermen and consumers, but threatens to destroy the biodiversity of the world's oceans, warned the Fisheries Committee on Tuesday.

Given the high mobility of fish stocks and fishing fleets, illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing can only be effectively tackled by international cooperation, said MEPs, stressing that the EU, as the world's major fishing power and the largest importer of fisheries products, should play a key role in mobilising international community to combat IUU.

An estimated 15 per cent of world catches - between 11 and 26 million tonnes a year - come from illegal fishing, making sustainable management of marine resources impossible, says the text. Besides threatening fish stock sustainability and food security, which affects both consumers and fishing communities illegal fishing constitutes unfair competition for fishermen who abide by the rules, says the text.

"The EU needs to do more to promote effective international cooperation to combat illegal fishing," said rapporteur Isabella Lvin (Greens/EFA, SE) stressing that "we need to ensure that ruthless operators cannot simply change the flag of their vessels to avoid their responsibilities. With many fish stocks around the world already perilously threatened, illegal fishing could be the final straw."

Sanctions against negligent states

The technology to monitor and prevent illegal fishing now exists - what is missing is the political will to do so, say MEPs. The committee urges the Commission and Member States to press the issue in international fora such as the WTO, and calls for sanctions against states that fail to meet their international obligations, e.g. by ensuring that vessels that fly their flags abide by the rules.

The committee also says that aid from the EU's generalised preference system should be conditional upon applicant countries' compliance with FAO and UN rules against IUU and that the Commission and Member States should step up their financial and technical support for surveillance programmes in the waters of developing countries.

Closing markets to illegal seafood

Since two thirds of world's oceans are beyond national jurisdiction, new measures are needed, such as compulsory registration of fishing vessels above 10GT (gross tonnage), a global catch certification scheme, international exchange of information on vessels activities, import controls and an agreement on closing markets to illegally caught fish, say MEPs.

To be effective, such measures must be backed by major fish markets. MEPs urge the EU to consult major market states, such as the US, Japan and China, about developing international legal instruments, possibly under WTO auspices, to halt, prosecute and punish trade in IUU fish.

Other measures

MEPs would also like the EU to establish a register of fishing vessels authorised to fish and blacklist those that engage in illegal fishing. They also advocate stepping up inspections at sea, developing catch-documentation schemes, banning transhipments, compulsory use of electronic vessel monitoring systems (VMS) and stronger regional fisheries management organisations to cover all high seas fisheries.

Next steps

The committee vote was unanimously in favour (20 votes). Parliament as a whole will vote on the recommendations at its 14-17 November plenary session in Strasbourg.

the Fish Site Editor

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