The fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries would be more effective, MEPs say, if there was an EU approach, including for import controls, and a digitalisation of IUU catches.
Members of the Fisheries Committee, in a report approved unanimously (24 votes in favour), and drafted by Nuno Melo (EPP, PT), say that potential loopholes could be prevented if all the EU countries had identical procedures in the application of rules against IUU fishing.
According to this study, IUU-caught products imported annually to the EU are estimated to reach around 500 000 tonnes, at a value of €1.1 billion.
Despite the 73,000 ships with EU flag present in all the oceans and the 124 000 direct jobs in coastal states, 70% of the consumed seafood comes from abroad, which leads directly IUU fishing practices to an significant impact on food security.
In its 2022 report on EU action to combat IUU fishing, the European Court of Auditors noted that the IUU regulation has improved the situation but uneven checks and sanctions by EU countries revealed weaknesses that urgently needed to be addressed.
In addition, more import controls, with timely measures and sanctions, would help to protect public health and the fishing industry, say MEPs, who strongly encourage the Commission to harmonise import controls in EU countries to deter IUU fishing products from entering the EU market.
They also argue that digitalisation of IUU catches through the CATCH IT system will reduce fraudulent imports and encourage EU countries to have it fully operational two years after the implementation of the revised control regulation and familiarity with the system within the foreseen deadlines. The full traceability of all fishery and aquaculture products, including fresh, frozen and processed ones, as defined in the revamped legislation approved last October, together with transparent labelling, would contribute to better food safety.
The Fisheries Committee also asks for the creation of a whistle-blower protection programme, with legal safeguards and incentives, to encourage people aware of IUU fishing activities to share important information.
Support to small-scale fishers
Recognising that compliance with IUU rules may pose additional challenges to small-scale and artisanal fishers, the Committee on Fisheries asks EU member states to use the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFAF) to support these fishers, who play an important role ensuring local food security. The fund has a total budget of €580 million earmarked for monitoring, control and enforcement activities. MEPs also urge the Commission to do more to support fisheries communities affected by the transition to more sustainable fishing practices.
Better data, implementation of system of cards and tackling forced labour
To more effectively fight IUU fishing, MEPs demand the Commission take action to stop the use of flags of convenience, to improve the system for identifying vessels involved in IUU fishing, and to push EU countries to create databases to record beneficial owners of registered vessels.
MEPs want the IUU databases to be improved to include names, origin or ownership of the vessels involved in this practice. Better and more timely communication between EU countries as well as international entities could be achieved through shared electronic databases.
Arguing that a strict system of yellow and red cards should be implemented, “without regard to a country’s size or economic and commercial influence”, Fisheries MEPs want the Commission to evaluate all Chinese actions to reduce IUU fishing.
Given the higher risk of forced labour imposed by third country state authorities “in specific geographic areas”, MEPs stress that to products resulting from such conditions the entrance into EU market should be banned. Moreover, they defend the EU should improve control and enforcement measure to tackle forced labour in imported products and not to grant preferential market access to countries associated with IUU fishing practices and use of forced labour.
The report will be discussed and voted in one of the next plenary sessions.