Is illegal fishing a thing of the past? No, it’s not. We don’t see anything of it, so it might seem like this problem is no longer existing. But illegal fishing is still going on. The scale and impact are dramatic. It is a highly underexposed problem, which is difficult to grasp because of its international character. It is estimated that about one fifth of all fish caught is illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU). And according to a recently published report by Global Financial Integrity, the trade in these fish generates up to 34 billion euros a year. Several articles recently appeared in the media indicating the seriousness of illegal fishing. For example, this article by Follow The Money.
Illegal fishing threatens the marine environment and global fish stocks. But that’s not all: it is often linked to other illegal practices such as money laundering, drug trafficking and tax fraud. It is also the cause of human tragedy. In this shadowy sector, slavery is the order of the day. Physical abuse and forced labour are more common than you might think. And if a large international company fishes the fish off the coast of a developing country, the local population will have neither work nor food. That has major consequences. We mention: food shortages, piracy, refugees. You can read more about this in this article by De Correspondent.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing includes many different practices. Both small boats and large international fishing companies are guilty of it. The way in which the law is broken varies. To name a few: fishing where it is not allowed, not reporting catches to the authorities, using the wrong nets. Or fishing with ‘ghost ships’: ships that are not registered anywhere. Ignoring management measures to maintain fish stocks and catching protected species also falls under IUU fishing. And: the falsification or misuse of import and export papers, or the laundering of fish.
Europe is the largest fish importer in the world. The most direct way for the EU to combat illegal fishing is to ensure that illegally caught fish cannot enter the European market. Since 2010, the IUU Regulation has been in force in Europe to ‘prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing’. With this, Europe has the strictest legislation against illegal fishing in the world. With the use of catch certificates, Member States can detect illegal products at the border and prevent their importation. Moreover, under this regulation there is the possibility to give yellow and red cards to third (non-European) countries that do not cooperate in the fight against IUU fishing.
Together with four other organisations, GFF is working on the implementation of the guidelines in Europe. And that is desperately needed. Christine Absil, director of Good Fish Foundation says: “EU regulations are a step in the right direction, but rules stand or fall with implementation. In many European countries, fish imports are still insufficiently controlled. That makes it easy to get illegal fish into Europe”.