Seafood products are among the most widely traded food commodities in the world, with the total commerce estimated at €130 billion per year. As the demand for healthier diets increases, the trade opportunities for fish products escalate, too.
Unfortunately, the high demand for seafood products also further incentivises illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The estimated global value of IUU fishing is thought to be between €8 and €19 billion per year. Between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally a year, which corresponds to at least 15% of world catches.
COSTS & MEASURES
IUU fishing depletes fish stocks, destroys marine habitats, distorts competition, puts honest fishermen at an unfair disadvantage and weakens coastal communities, particularly in developing countries.
To close the loopholes that allow illegal operators to profit from their activities, European authorities introduced a EU regulation in 2010 that applies to all landings and transhipments of EU and third-country fishing vessels in EU ports, and all trade of marine fishery products to and from the EU. It aims to make sure that no illegally caught fisheries products end up in the EU market.
To achieve this, the regulation requires flag states to certify the origin and legality of the fish, thereby ensuring the full traceability of all marine fishery products traded from and into the EU. The measures therefore aim to ensure that countries comply with their own conservation and management rules as well as with internationally agreed rules.
When flag states are unable to certify the legality of products in line with international rules, the European Commission starts a process of cooperation and assistance with them to help improve their legal framework and practices.
The milestones of this process are: yellow cards for country warnings; green cards if the issues are solved; and red cards if they aren’t — the latter can lead to a trade ban.
In addition to the certification scheme, the regulation introduced a EU alert system to share information between member states’ custom authorities about suspected cases of illegal practices.
While the EU was the first major bloc to address IUU, it is far from alone in the fight. Most major fishing nations have now implemented various plans aimed at combating the problem at different levels.
Among the most recent is the Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud, which earlier this year set a series of broad, long-term goals for the US:
- Combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud at an international level.
- Strengthen enforcement and enhance enforcement tools to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud.
- Create and expand partnerships with state and local governments, industry and NGOs to identify and eliminate seafood fraud and IUU seafood in US commerce.
- Establish a risk-based traceability programme to track seafood from harvest to entry into US commerce to prevent entry of illegal product into the supply chain and better inform retailers and consumers.
There are plenty of positives to take from such initiatives, and seafood supply chains should take some comfort in knowing that things are moving in the right direction. And yet, as the figures for IUU show, there are still a lot of operators that are not on board. It’s widely assumed that many of these are not ventures that have simply misjudged the demands of the regulations; instead, they are businesses that purposefully flout the rules to maximize profits. As such, the war on IUU is likely to be a long and complex one.
As a major seafood supplier, Pittman Seafoods takes a responsible approach to sourcing all its products. It knows precisely where all its seafoods originate from and endeavours, where possible, to utilise fish that hold third-party certification or an eco-label for being sustainably caught or produced.