Transparency of fishing activities is essential to secure sustainable and legal seafood

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The EU’s vision to stop illegal fishing practices through increased transparency needs support, writes Pierre Karleskind.

In recent years, the EU has taken a “zero tolerance” approach to illegal fishing practices. Now its vision to stop such practices through increased transparency needs support, writes Pierre Karleskind.

Pierre Karleskind is Chair of the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament

The human connection to the ocean touches every facet of our lives, from the air we breathe to the food we eat.

As the world’s largest seafood market, how the EU sources its seafood has global repercussions at every stage of the value chain: are vessels fishing where they are licensed to?

Are they catching the agreed quantities and species? Is what is caught traceable enough throughout the supply chain? Do fishing nations adhere to their international fisheries management obligations?

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing presents a grave threat to ocean biodiversity, as well as to human wellbeing and the global economy.

With a third of the world’s fish stocks already overfished, illicit fishing activities undermine efforts to manage our marine resources sustainably, push some species to the brink of population collapse and put people’s safety and livelihoods at risk.

It is our duty to put an end to this practice, to stop unfair competition for legal fishers, and to ensure that IUU fishing products do not reach consumers.

In recent years, the EU has taken a “zero tolerance” approach to IUU fishing and has been demonstrating real leadership in fighting for its eradication, notably through the creation and implementation of its IUU Regulation, which applies both within the EU and externally.

Through this Regulation, the EU encourages and cooperates with other States to implement effective ocean governance strategies and to tackle IUU fishing.

Further, the Regulation empowers the EU to take action against nations who fail to address IUU fishing by banning the import of fisheries products to the bloc’s market. The latter is critical when we know that we import over 60% of the seafood we consume.

A lot has been achieved since the creation of the EU IUU Regulation. Still, IUU fishing continues to be one of the greatest threats to the ocean, marine life and to the livelihoods of those who depend on it.

We must maintain and increase pressure to tackle it. This will not only be instrumental to deliver on the commitments set by the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork Strategies, but it will also position the EU at the forefront of global efforts to combat biodiversity loss through the United Nations (UN) Global Biodiversity Framework, due to be negotiated at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in October this year.

Transparency is at the very heart of the IUU Regulation and an essential condition for improved control and deterring possible illegal practices.

Who is involved? What is taking place under the radar? Who benefits from these activities? These questions will remain so long as we do not have sufficient transparency on fishing activities.

Luckily, a number of tested and reliable tools already exist and simple actions can be taken that can help deter IUU fishing practices through increased and effective transparency, if rolled out widely and effectively.

With the help of all countries and relevant actors as well as with appropriate technologies, we will be able to improve transparency of fishing activities and traceability of seafood products in order to enhance the fight against IUU fishing.

The EU wishes to continue to lead by example and is working hard to improve its own systems and ensure transparency in its fishing sector. To this effect, the fisheries Control Regulation is being revised to make the EU fleet more transparent and to ensure traceability for all seafood products on the EU market.

We will continue to strive towards making the EU fleet’s activities more transparent and therefore more accountable. But, ultimately, the EU’s efforts alone cannot suffice to turn the tide on IUU fishing.

All countries that have a fishing fleet or import wild-caught fishing products need to join the fight. Otherwise, the EU’s efforts will be in vain and the playing field for our operators will be distorted.

For instance, the lack of publicly available information on other countries’ fleets is a challenge to the implementation of the EU IUU Regulation.

To address this, the EU has been a funding partner and staunch supporter of the FAO’s Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels (Global Record), whose purpose is to serve as a single access point for crucial information on fishing (and fishing-related) vessels across the globe.

If duly populated and kept up to date, this centralised database would go a long way towards achieving global transparency of fishing activities.

The EU has already amended relevant regulations to support the Global Record. It’s now up to member states to ensure that the EU, as a whole, supports this initiative and sets an international example.

We must also work closely with other countries to encourage and provide them with the support needed to follow suit and upload their information to the database regularly. These simple steps can have tremendous results in stopping IUU fishing globally and for increasing overall transparency.

The plight of our ocean has never been more in the spotlight, nor our responsibility to address the issues as leaders and citizens more salient. Truly sustainable seafood means it must no longer come at the expense of ocean health and the safety or livelihoods of people.

Subscribe to our newsletters