EU to close market to illegal fisheries

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The Commission has proposed tough measures to combat pirate fishing and thus protect fragile ecosystems in the high seas. Under the proposed new system, EU vessels would need to ask for permission to fish in waters not governed by international rules and importers would need to prove that their products are not a result of illegal action.

The Commission proposed, on 17 October 2007, a new strategy to strengthen the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. 

“IUU fishing threats fish stocks, damages the marine environment, penalises every honest fisherman and damages the economy of fishing communities,” said Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg. 

“We propose an innovative scheme that will require fishermen to obtain a special permit to operate in the find areas of the high seas. The member state concerned will deliver such permits only for areas that do not contain fragile ecosystems,” he added. These fragile habitats include cold-water corals, hydrothermal vents, sea mounts and deep sea sponge beds, which are seriously damaged by practices such as bottom trawling.

The EU executive also proposes a specific blacklisting mechanism to ensure that third countries’ vessels respect the marine environment. The aim is to identify those countries which carry out IUU and ban trade with them. 

Other measures include stricter overall rules on certification and trade in fish, improved port control and inspection schemes, the setting of minimum fines and other sanctions and prosecution of companies and EU nationals who benefit from pirate fishing. 

The Commission’s strengthened stance was welcomed by several environmental NGOs, as well as the Greens. 

“A significant proportion of IUU fish is caught in the waters of developing countries and the Commission is correct to note the need to help them improve their capacity for surveillance,” said MEP Marie-Hélène Aubert.  

Greenpeace, however, deplores the fact that the Commission’s proposal “only deals with those EU fisheries conducted in areas where no international fisheries management takes place. It does not address destructive fishing within Community waters. It therefore leaves vast areas of the ocean unprotected.”

Oceana, an NGO campaigning to protect and restore the world’s oceans, said it has recorded more than 150 French and Italian vessels in the Mediterranean fishing with drift nets, an illegal fishing technique. “A successful policy to combat IUU fishing will be measured by the EU’s ability to finally eliminate drift nets, five years after they became illegal,” said Xavier Pastor, the executive director of Oceana Europe.

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