NGOs Call for Urgent Action: Conservation Measures Vital for Protection of Mediterranean Fisheries and Ecosystems
Press Release Date: November 6, 2023
Location: Split, Croatia
Irene Campmany | email: firstname.lastname@example.org | tel.: +34 682 622 245
New Measures Would Allow Authorities to tackle non-compliance and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing
As officials from Mediterranean countries gather this week for the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) annual session in Croatia, NGOs are urging the adoption of a system of corrective measures that would allow the GFCM to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and cases of non-compliance within its region – a call backed by a legal analysis published this week that shows that GFCM has the competency to impose such measures .
The proposed system under discussion this week – which already exists in other regional fisheries management organisations – would allow the GFCM to take action against countries that consistently disregard fishing regulations. Several organisations of the Med Sea Alliance (MSA) argue that creating a compliance mechanism is crucial for the Mediterranean’s biodiversity, fish stock recovery, and the communities that rely on marine resources .
“At the moment, the GFCM cannot act when countries systematically fail to follow its requirements on, for example, fleet control or properly reporting on their fishing activities, but with such a system in place, the GFCM could apply measures such as suspending fishing authorisations or requiring increased controls”, said Helena Álvarez, Senior Marine Scientist at Oceana in Europe. “This is a prerequisite for ensuring the survival of the Mediterranean’s unique biodiversity, to support the recovery of fish stocks and the communities that rely on marine resources”.
“The Mediterranean Sea, rich in biodiversity and vital to the livelihoods of countless fishers, faces persistent challenges”, said Nils Courcy, Senior Jurist, Marine & Mediterranean, at ClientEarth. “Fishing rules and regulations are established through consensus, but implementation and enforcement often fall short. A compliance mechanism can help enforce regulations that prevent destructive fishing practices, such as bottom trawling, which can harm or destroy vital habitats, such as seagrass (Posidonia oceanica). This gap in enforcement endangers shared natural resources and the very existence of the fishers who depend on them.”
A legal analysis by Professor Tullio Scovazzi – retired former professor of international law at the Universities of Parma, Genoa, Milan and Milan-Bicocca, Italy – and Professor Simone Vezzani, – professor of international and European law at the University of Perugia, Italy – confirms that the GFCM has the competency to impose corrective measures in cases of non-compliance . The analysis was commissioned by the Med Sea Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organisations working to improve the health and productivity of the Mediterranean Sea, in response to questions raised during the GFCM Compliance Committee meeting in May 2023 about the compatibility of such a system with international law . The legal analysis concludes that the current lack of a compliance mechanism is not a legal, but rather a political question.
According to a briefing on the legal analysis, prepared by ClientEarth, Environmental Justice Foundation and Oceana, “in accordance with international law and GFCM rules, the GFCM has the competence to establish a system that incentivises and ensures compliance through robust corrective measures, including trade-related sanctions . Setting up such a system would also bring the GFCM in line with the practice of several other Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs)”.
“As this legal analysis shows, the only thing holding back the GFCM from effectively dealing with states who don’t follow the rules is a matter of political will,” said Jesús Urios Culiañez, Environmental Justice Foundation’s lead campaigner for the Mediterranean. “This week, GFCM Members have an opportunity to make the meaningful change we need. By establishing a strong enforcement system for the conservation and management of the Mediterranean, they can protect marine ecosystems and support the livelihoods of those who rely on them. They must not let this opportunity slip away.”
In a Call to Action published during the GFCM High-level conference on MedFish4Ever initiatives, several member organisations of the Med Sea Alliance urged GFCM members to create a compliance mechanism, expand vessel tracking and that other tracking measures (AIS) and ensure that that trawl bans in the Mediterranean Sea are fully enforced and complied with to support the recovery of fish stocks and the protection of sensitive habitats .
 General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean – GFCM https://www.fao.org/gfcm/about/en/
46th session of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), 6-10 November 2023
 While some of these measures are directed against vessels and individuals (e. g., IUU vessel lists or the prohibition of subsidies), others target states, both parties and non-parties to the RFMO (e. g., trade restrictions). Some are designed to encourage compliance, for example by providing technical assistance and capacity building, making records of non-compliance publicly available on RFMO websites, or requiring a catch documentation scheme. Other follow-up measures, such as restricting trade in seafood products or reducing quota allocations, are designed to sanction the IUU fishing activities.
 Scovazzi, T., and Vezzani, S. (2023) Legal opinion on compliance and corrective measures in the GFCM system. https://ejfoundation.org/reports/legal-opinion-on-compliance-and-corrective-measures-in-the-gfcm-system
Professor Tullio Scovazzi, retired; former professor of international law in the Universities of Parma, Genoa, Milan and Milan-Bicocca, Italy.
Professor Simone Vezzani, associate professor of international and European Union law, University of Perugia, Italy.
 GFCM Compliance Committee (CoC) – 16th session, 5 May 2023
 Briefing on the legal analysis: The legal case for an effective GFCM compliance mechanism
ClientEarth, Environmental Justice Foundation and Oceana, October 2023.
“The legal opinion addresses, inter alia, whether the GFCM has the competence to impose corrective measures in cases of non-compliance, which types of measures could be adopted in accordance with relevant international law obligations, and how to tackle potential conflicts of norms.’”
“It can therefore be concluded that the lack of a compliance mechanism at present is rather a question of political will and not of legal feasibility.”
 FAO: The State of the Mediterranean and Black Sea,Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Rome, 2022: 2022 https://www.fao.org/3/cc3370en/cc3370en.pdf
 MedFish4Ever Call to Action by the Med Sea Alliance