A proposal published today by the European Commission that would close loopholes in the regulation governing the European Unions (EU)’s long-distance fishing fleet has been welcomed by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF.
“The European Commission’s proposal reinforces the EU’s commitment to combatting illegal fishing globally,” said María José Cornax, Fisheries Campaign Director for Oceana in Europe. “We welcome the initiative to create a public transparency register finally putting an end to years of secrecy about the activities of the fleet outside EU waters, as well as the decision to include the agreements that EU fishing companies sign unilaterally with coastal states, mainly developing countries (private and chartering agreements). The entire European long-distance fleet should be transparent, accountable and sustainable, including vessels fishing under private agreements”.
The measure revises the 2008 Fishing Authorisation Regulation (FAR), which governs standards for EU fishing fleets operating across the world's oceans. If adopted, it would bring the FAR in line with stringent legislation to curb illegal fishing introduced by the EU in 2010 and the legal provisions on EU external fisheries in the new Common Fisheries Policy . The proposal would require for the first time that vessels are listed on a public database or register and adhere to EU fisheries management standards and laws for private and chartering agreements.
One problem addressed in the proposal is ‘reflagging’. There are known instances of EU operators repeatedly and rapidly switching their vessel’s flag to those of non-EU states, some of which were not fighting illegal fishing. These operators were then free to reflag in the EU again and benefit from EU access agreements and subsidies. The European Commission is seeking to stop vessels from engaging in these activities, and to make International Maritime Organization (IMO) numbers mandatory when operating outside EU waters.
Over 15,000 vessels operate under the FAR to fish in non-EU waters, through various agreements such as access agreements between the EU and third countries and private and charter agreements made directly between private EU companies or citizens and authorities or companies in coastal countries. The total number of vessels fishing under the FAR, their names, and the timing and location of their operations had not been disclosed publically until recently, when EJF, Oceana and WWF launched www.whofishesfar.org.
Mireille Thom, Marine Policy Specialist at WWF UK’s International Fisheries Programme said: “The EU has already shown its determination to stop the trade of illegal fishing products into the EU. To retain credibility, a similar strong effort must now be applied to ensure stringent measures are in place to prevent EU operators from engaging in any illegal activity outside EU waters, by closing all loopholes in the current FAR regulation”.
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