Questions and Answers – Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in general and in Ghana

(Source: European Commission)

On IUU fishing in general

What is IUU fishing?

IUU stands for illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing.

The European IUU legislation applies to all fishing vessels, under any flag, in all maritime waters.

A fishing vessel is notably presumed to be engaged in IUU fishing activities, if it is shown to carry out activities in contravention with the conservation and management measures applicable in the area concerned. This includes, inter alia, fishing without a valid licence, in a closed area, beyond a closed depth or during a closed season, or by using prohibited gear, as well as the failure to fulfil reporting obligations, falsifying its identity, or obstructing the work of inspectors.

Why is the Commission committed to solving the problems of IUU fishing? 

IUU fishing is one of the most serious threats to the sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources, jeopardising the very foundation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the EU’s international efforts to promote better ocean governance. IUU fishing also represents a major hazard to the marine environment, the sustainability of fish stocks and marine biodiversity. IUU furthermore results in unfair competition for those fishermen and women who abide by the rules.

The Commission, in line with the European Green Deal objectives, committed in the Biodiversity Strategy 2030 to strengthen the protection of marine ecosystems and to restore them to achieve “good environmental status”. 

What is the policy of the EU to fight illegal fishing? 

The EU is the world’s largest import market for fisheries product and bears a responsibility as market State to ensure that products stemming from IUU fishing activities do not access the EU single market.

The EU Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU Regulation) entered into force on 1 January 2010. It applies to all landings and transhipments of EU and third-country fishing vessels in EU ports, and all trade of marine fishery products to and from the EU. It aims to make sure that no illegally caught fisheries products end up on the EU market.

To achieve this, the Regulation requires flag States to certify the origin and legality of the fish, thereby ensuring the full traceability of all marine fishery products traded from and into the EU. The system thus ensures that countries comply with their own conservation and management rules as well as with internationally agreed rules.

How does the EU ensure that third countries exporting their fishery products to the EU comply with their international obligations?

So far, 93 third countries have notified the Commission that they have in place the necessary legal instruments, the dedicated procedures, and the appropriate administrative structures for the certification of the catches by vessels flying their flag.

The Commission cooperates with a number of third countries and carries out evaluation missions to assess their compliance with the international obligations in the fight against illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing. Moreover, the Commission establishes IUU dialogues with third countries in view of supporting them in strengthening national policies to eliminate IUU fishing. Since November 2012, the Commission has been in dialogues with more than 60 countries, which have been warned of the need to take strong action to fight IUU fishing. In most cases, significant progress was observed and therefore the Commission could satisfactorily close the formal dialogue phase and lift the yellow card. Only a few countries have not shown the necessary commitment to reforms until now.

The Commission puts emphasis on cooperation to solve problems but there are third countries where the situation is still problematic even after years of informal cooperation. In those cases, the Commission can resort to the different actions established by in EU IUU Regulation vis-a-vis non-cooperating third countries in fighting IUU fishing.

Concretely, when the Commission has evidence that a third country does not cooperate fully in the fight against IUU fishing, it will issue a yellow card. With this first step of the process, called pre-identification, the EC warns the country of the risk of being identified as a non-cooperating country. The yellow card starts a formal dialogue in which the Commission and thecountry work together to solve all issues of concern. In most cases, this dialogue is productive and the pre-identification can be removed (green card).

If however, progress is not sufficient, the Commission will identify the third country as non-cooperating. This is called a “red card”. The Commission will then propose to the Council to add this country to the list of non-cooperating countries. Fisheries products from the country in question will hereafter be banned from the EU market.

At every step of the process (yellow/red card or listing), the third country can prove that the situation has been rectified. It will then be delisted (green card).

An overview of the process can be found in this infographic

Which countries have so far received a yellow or red card?

Out of the 27 procedures that have started since 2012, six have resulted in a red card. Only three countries have failed to take sufficient measures to lift the yellow or red card. These countries are Cambodia, Comoros and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

A full overview of all past and ongoing procedures can be found here.

On IUU fishing and Ghana

Why has the Commission decided to issue a yellow card to Ghana for a second time?

The issuing of a yellow card indicates that the warned country risks being identified as a non-cooperating country in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. After the lifting of the first yellow card in October 2015, the Commission continued to exchange with Ghana on challenges related to IUU fishing.

As part of this follow-up process, the Commission has identified serious shortcomings in the mechanisms that Ghana has put in place to ensure compliance with its international obligations as flag, port, coastal or market State. These shortcomings have been outlined to the competent authorities of Ghana. They can be summarised as follows:

  • Illegal transhipments at sea of large quantities of juvenile undersized pelagic species between industrial trawl vessels and canoes in Ghanaian waters.
  • Deficiencies in the monitoring, control and surveillance system of the Ghanaian flagged vessels. These deficiencies undermine the reliability of the traceability system that is used for the certification of the legality of the fisheries products.
  • Sanctions imposed to vessels engaging or supporting IUU fishing activities are not effective and deterrent, not depriving offenders from the benefits from the serious violations committed. Sanctions are also not commensurate with the value of the illegal catches.
  • The current fisheries legal framework is not aligned with the relevant international obligations Ghana has signed up to.
  • Ghana has not duly implemented the conservation and management measures the country developed.

As the world’s largest market for, and importer of fishery products, the EU has the responsibility to ensure that the results of its cooperation dialogues with third countries in the fight against IUU fishing are long-lasting. The Commission will therefore continue to monitor with a zero-tolerance approach that former yellow card or red card holders and listed countries participate to the fight against IUU fishing worldwide.

What happens if Ghana does not improve their situation?

Since the lifting of the first yellow card in October 2015, further cooperation with Ghana has been ongoing but insufficient implementing and enforcement actions have led to today’s second pre-identification. The Commission will evaluate progress in executing actions to address the identified shortcomings within the next 6 months.

The Commission hopes that the identified shortcomings can be successfully addressed through dialogue and cooperation. However, if the country does not fulfil its duties under international law and fails to take remedial actions, the Commission may consider proceeding to its identification (red card) and listing, entailing measures foreseen under the IUU Regulation.

For more information

Press release – IP/21/2745

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