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EU Traffic Light System to fight Illegal Fishing gives Indonesia Green Light (The Jakarta Post)

17/05/2016 - 00:00
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This opinion article first appeared in the daily newspaper The Jakarta Post.
See its online version HERE

EU Traffic Light System to fight Illegal Fishing gives Indonesia Green Light

By Karmenu Vella
European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

A lot has changed since the EU declared "zero tolerance" on illegal fishing in January 2010. The world has become more aware of the importance of responsible fishing and many countries have improved their fisheries management systems. Big market powers like the US, Japan and Canada have joined forces with the EU's trail blazing, anti-IUU legislation.

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a serious issue whose impacts cause increasing concern all over the globe, and in Asia particular. IUU fishing undermines efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks. It prevents affected countries from achieving the goals of long-term sustainability. It sabotages the competitiveness and viability of honest fishermen who act responsibly and within the law. Developing countries, which often do not have the means to control their own waters and stop unlawful operators, are hit particularly hard. Many of their coastal communities depend heavily on fisheries, and illegal fishing depletes their very source of livelihood.

The European Commission started discussing the fight against illegal fishing with Indonesia in 2011. This dialogue has been fruitful from the start. The Indonesian authorities swiftly addressed the shortcomings of the fisheries management system: they reformed the country's legal framework to align it with international standards; they transposed the recommendations of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations; they set up a special task force against illegal fishing and a new National Data Sharing system; and they increased enforcement means and efforts.

With all these steps and thanks to the Government's clear determination, Indonesia is now a key player in the global fight against IUU fishing. This is hardly surprising given the country’s far-sighted maritime vision and its modern, integrated approach to the maritime economy. I commend the country’s maritime ambition and the strong political will it is showing to fighting illegal fishing in the region.

To fight IUU fishing activities International Organisations have developed a set of powerful tools based on the responsibility of each country both for the vessels flying its flag (flag State responsibility) and for the foreign vessels using its ports (port State responsibility). Clear obligations also exist for the coastal States in whose waters the fishing occurs. However, the role of the country where the fish ends up (market State responsibilities) still needs strengthening. Closing markets to illegal products is indeed an essential step in the fight against IUU fishing: if illegal operators find no market to place their products, the incentive to fish illegally automatically disappears. The whole supply chain, from fishermen to retailers, needs to be involved and act according to responsible corporate codes.

In terms of value, the EU is the biggest importer of seafood in the world. It has considerable market weight. For over 6 years now it has been using that weight to promote responsible fishing activities and improve ocean governance with its partners worldwide. There are three main elements that make up the EU’s legal framework to fight IUU fishing.

First, the EU only allows access into its market of seafood products that have been certified as legal: to enter, the fish must come from an authorised country, have the proper catch and health certificates and pass the EU’s border inspection.  Second, an intelligence network that enables the Commission and EU Member States to exchange real time information on illegal fishing activities and tackle them jointly. Third: extensive cooperation with non-EU countries all over the world.

Our goal is to make sure that international standards are respected equally by all, and we hope to achieve this through dialogue and cooperation. If dialogue fails, the European Commission issues a warning (the so-called "yellow cards") and starts a more structured procedure of dialogue and cooperation with the country's authorities. If problems aren’t solved within a reasonable amount of time, the European Commission may then decide to issue a “red card”, the ensuing trade ban being the very last resort.

This scheme has several advantages. Within the EU, consumers are confident that the marine fishery products on the market were legally caught and can be traced back to the fishery. Internationally, it helps third countries comply with international conservation obligations and creates a level playing field for all operators. To date, more than 50 countries have put in place structural reforms in their fisheries sectors with the support of the European Commission. This is a significant step in the fight against illegal fishing.

The mind-set change brought about by the EU’s policy, coupled with the invaluable action of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), translates into better ocean governance globally. An important tool developed by the FAO is the Port State Measures Agreement, which allows countries to keep illegal operators out of their ports, raising barriers that prevent landing illegal catches. Like any international tool, the Agreement needs a minimum number of ratifying parties before it can enter into force, and it has now almost reached this number. I urge Asian States to ratify it. Closing ports of convenience is closing the door to illegal fishing.

Illegal fishing is a big business, often run by organised transnational groups that specialise in various types of criminal activities. Tracking and fighting those activities requires an active multilateral approach and a flexible system of cumulative sanctions. If for example the fishing offences are linked to crimes, such as trafficking of people or weapons, the relevant United Nations Conventions should be applied on top of the fisheries sanctions.

It is not a fight the EU can win alone, which is why multilateral cooperation is part and parcel of our work. Promoting regional solutions is equally essential. Within the EU we have learnt that sharing resources for control and harmonising legal responses to IUU offences is the only way to effectively fight this scourge. We want to share the experience here in Asia, where unscrupulous operators still take advantage of regulatory loopholes. Indonesia, already a beacon of good practice, can play a major role of advocacy. If, as I believe, a joint and consolidated effort can lead to the eradication of IUU fishing practices in Asia, Indonesia could very well be the starting point.


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