EU bets on digitalisation to fight illegal fishing

Karmenu Vella visiting Thailand's pavilion at Seafood Expo Global 2019. [EC/PAWLIK]

The European Commission launched a new IT tool on Tuesday (8 May) to track illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) from third countries, with a view to set up an entirely digitalised documentation of catches.

Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella presented the new import database, called CATCH, at this year’s Seafood Expo Global, the world’s biggest seafood fair taking place in Brussels on 7-9 May.

“Illegal fishing is a plague for our ocean: it is harmful, wasteful and indefensible,” Vella said at the launch event of the software.

Only fishery products coming from legal catches are allowed to enter the EU single market. However, implementing that policy relies on dialogue and cooperation with third countries, as well as on a safe EU catch certification system.

“The current paper-based certification scheme has shown its limit, as paper certificates are easier to tamper, increasing the risk of fraud,” said Vella.

The Maltese Commissioner said the EU had listened to the demands of member states, fishery firms and civil society, which have repeatedly called for the digitalisation of the catch certificate process also because the paperwork created an uneven level of implementation across the EU.

The new real-time database includes catching certificates, processing statements and importer declaration, covering the majority of direct and indirect fishing captures imported in the EU. It is just the first step, as new versions of CATCH will be deployed in the coming years.

“Our goal on a long-term basis is to achieve an entirely digitalised system,” an EU official said.

Thailand, a good example

The new CATCH digital system will help EU and national authorities control imported fish and alert against countries practicing illegal fishing activities. EU officials say it will also reduce paperwork and encourage cooperation between national authorities.

Under an EU warning system, the European Commission issued two “yellow cards” to Thailand and Vietnam, in April 2015 in 2017.

While the Commission lifted the yellow card against Thailand at the beginning of this year, Vietnam remains under the threat of a red card, which would prohibit the Asian country from exporting seafood to the EU.

EU officials said the warning system proved effective with Thailand, and led to significant changes in regulating the country’s fishing activities. Thailand was pushed to adopt modern technology to monitor catches, and put in place import controls ensuring that no IUU fish enter the country’s production chain.

It took, however, a lot of work and negotiations from the Commission side, but also investments and political will from the Thai government to upgrade the country’s fisheries governance in accordance with international commitments, several EU sources said on the margins of the launch event.

Thailand welcomes EU decision to lift warning on illegal fishing

Thailand on Wednesday (9 January) welcomed a decision by the European Commission to drop the Southeast Asian nation from a list of countries it had warned over illegal and unregulated fishing.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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