The European Commission issued yellow cards to Comoros and Taiwan on Thursday (1 October) , as they risk being identified as uncooperative in the fight against illegal fishing.
Thailand, the largest country to be under such a procedure, will have its case reviewed by the end of the year.
Ghana and Papua New Guinea, who are considered to have reformed their fisheries governance system, have been de-listed.
The Commission makes use of the yellow card as a warning procedure against third countries that their fisheries products may lose access to the EU market.
The procedure, which is a process of consultations, is maintained with Curaçao, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Thailand, which is the largest country in the group. The Thai procedure was launched in April 2015.
If countries don’t improve their standards, they risked being issued “red cards” and effectively banned from exporting fisheries products to the EU. So far, Sri Lanka, Guinea and Cambodia have been issued red cards.
Conversely, Ghana and Papua New Guinea join the growing list of countries (Korea, the Philippines, Fiji, Belize, Panama, Togo and Vanuatu) that have reformed their systems, following a warning by the EU. Belize was withdrawn from the blacklist in December 2014, after it adopted lasting measures to address the deficiencies of its fisheries systems.
In the case of Thailand, the yellow card procedure will be maintained until a Commission team visits the country later this month, and a decision is made by the end of the year. The yellow card will either be lifted or maintained, or a red card issued.
Thailand was issued a yellow card in April, due to its inadequate framework to fight illegal fishing, and poor monitoring, control and traceability systems.
In recent weeks, testimony from survivors, human rights groups, as well as articles, have exposed appalling practices in Thailand’s export-oriented seafood business. These include slave labour, and the exploitation of thousands of stateless Rohingya boat people.
Hailing from Burma, Rohingya Muslims are subject to intense discrimination, and are leaving the country in growing numbers for Thailand, which has a large Islamic community, as well as Malaysia, which is predominantly Muslim.
MEPs have warned that they would support giving a red card to Thailand, banning the import of its fisheries products, if illegal fishing isn’t curbed, and if the practice of using slave labour is not abandoned.
The Commission is silent over the issue, as the decision to yellow or red cards is of a confidential nature. Meanwhile, Thai authorities have ostensibly sought to defuse the crisis.
This last week, Thailand’s Minister of Agriculture, Chatchai Sarikalya, called the EU’s yellow card a catalyst for reforming the country’s fisheries policy.
Sarikalya said that the government was fully committed to meeting international obligations on combatting illegal fishing, protecting human rights, and stopping trafficking.
Karmenu Vella, the European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said that today’s decisions demonstrate the determination of the European Union to bring important players on board in the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
“Both Ghana and Papua New Guinea have taken ownership of their fisheries reforms and now have robust legal and policy frameworks in place to fight IUU fishing activities. I am calling on the authorities of the Comoros and Taiwan to follow their example and join the European Union in promoting legal and sustainable fisheries worldwide,” Vella said.
The NGO sector also reacted to the news. The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the WWF commended the Commission’s decisions. Tony Long, director of the Pew project to end illegal fishing, praised Vella for his “leadership in combating illegal fishing globally”.
“Today’s announcement does not include either a green or red carding of Thailand. This implies they are still working with the Commission to improve measures to combat IUU. We expect an update on these measures in the near future,” said Pew’s Marta Marrero.
Eszter Hidas, EU policy officer for the WWF’s Illegal Fishing programme said that yellow cards have proved to be effective in encouraging countries to address their failures in combating illegal fishing. Hidas’ organisation hopes that with the EU’s support, the Comoros and Taiwan will improve their standards and be left off the hook.