EU agriculture and fisheries ministers have agreed on the outlines of a system to tackle illegal fishing, but questions remain on whether the rules should apply to Community vessels and how sanctions should be enforced.
Discussions among ministers during their meeting in Luxembourg on 14 April focused on new measures to combat illegal fishing, proposed by the Commission in October 2007 in order to halt depleting fish stocks and help the marine environment.
The proposals are designed to combat what the Commission sees as the major motive behind illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, namely short-term profits.
First among the proposed measures is to monitor non-EU fishing vessels’ access to EU ports.
With respect to the scope of the regulation, one of the main issues discussed was whether it would apply to Community vessels or only to non-EU vessels. The majority of ministers agreed that as Community vessels are already subjected to existing Community legislation, all that is needed is harmonisation of the existing measures.
There was also general agreement among member states on the severity of sanctions, which should act as a “strong deterrent” to would-be transgressors. However, there was some concern over the intrusion into national competences as well as how different national sanctions would be harmonised.
The Slovenian chairman of the Council, Minister Iztok Jarc, hoped the regulation would “set an example to the international community and prove that pirate fishing does not pay”.
Ministers also agreed to simplify the EU’s import and export certification system for fish products. The Commission has proposed giving EU market access to products certified by the importing or exporting state concerned. Some ministers suggested the system apply only to products at risk of IUU fishing, and most agreed it would be a good idea to integrate the system into national systems. Moderate estimates have put the value of IUU imports into the EU at €1.1 billion, according to the Commission.
On 11 April, the Commission also published a new Communication on measures to minimise the impacts of fishing on the marine environment. A key proposal is to reduce the overall level of fishing pressure thanks to improved fisheries management. Additional measures will include an action plan to protect sharks, due in 2008, and another to protect sea-birds in 2009.