Tough EU illegal fishing legislation needs stronger implementation to reach full potential, say NGOs

Press Release Date: February 2, 2016

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

The European Union’s regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has made an impact, but implementation must be more robust to ensure that no illegal fish enter the European market, according to an analysis published today by the Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF.

The analysis finds that the 2010 regulation has proved to be a powerful tool in preventing illegally caught fish from entering the EU. Implementation has also driven positive change in fisheries management in third countries, where more than 60 percent of the fish products consumed in the EU originate.

However, some member states must do more to fully apply the law to prevent illicit operators from gaining access to the EU market, the nongovernmental organisations concluded. The analysis suggests that EU members must be more consistent and effective in checks of catch documentation (catch certificates) and consignments (in particular from countries judged as high risk) to ensure that fish have been caught legally.

While reporting catch and trade is a core component of modern fisheries management, the IUU regulation is weakened by the use of a paper-based system for the documentation of imported seafood products. This prevents the cross-checking of information among the different EU border control agencies.

WWF’s EU Policy Officer on Illegal Fishing Eszter Hidas said the Commission must make good on its commitment to adopt an electronic database of information on imported seafood products in 2016, to prevent potential abuse. “This system can only be effective in the long run if information on seafood imports can be shared among the 28 member states in real time, allowing for cross-checks, verifications and ultimately, a coordinated approach in identifying and blocking suspicious consignments. The ultimate goal, to protect fish stocks and the communities that rely on them, can only be achieved if illegal products have zero chance of reaching the EU”.

The analysis also concludes that all member states should issue stringent penalties for nationals involved in illicit fisheries trade, which is required by the regulation, and reform other relevant legislation to ensure that EU vessels operating in foreign waters are acting legally.

Oceana’s Fisheries Director Maria-Jose Cornax said, “This analysis shows how countries such as Spain are working to penalise EU nationals shown to be involved in illegal fishing anywhere in the world. This approach needs to be uniformly adopted by all member states. In addition, the adoption of robust new rules governing the EU’s distant water fishing fleet will drive a real shift to more transparent, sustainable fishing everywhere.”

Steve Trent, Executive Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation said the EU should also support the adoption of global measures to ensure transparent and sustainable fishing practices. “The EU has proven it is committed to helping raise standards in fisheries globally, supporting many countries to tighten their measures against illegal fishing, and calling out those who fail to cooperate. Getting other key markets around the world to join the EU in this battle should be a key priority in the coming years.”

Tony Long, Director of Pew’s Ending Illegal Fishing project, said that as the world’s largest market for imported fish products, the EU plays a pivotal role in reforming the global fishing trade.  This assessment shows that the EU’s regulation for tackling illegal fishing has raised standards in global fisheries management. We support continued action at the Commission and member state level to realise the regulation’s full potential.”

Report: The IUU Regulation: Building on success. EU progress in the global fight against illegal fishing

Editor’s Notes

Facts about EU fish imports: The EU is the world’s largest importer of seafood products, buying in 60 percent of the fish it consumes. EU imports grew by 6.5 percent in value from 2013 to 2014, reaching a total of €20.5 billion, approximately 35 percent and 90 percent more by value than U.S. and Japan, respectively.1

The EU regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing entered into force on 1 January 2010. It is seen as the most ambitious legislation of its kind globally aimed at preventing illegal fishing, which undermines global food security and marine biodiversity.

The regulation requires all fisheries imports in to the EU to be certified as legal via a catch certificate scheme. In addition, non-EU (third countries) assessed as failing to combat illegal fishing can face warnings (yellow and/or red ‘cards’) and ultimately trade bans of their fisheries products, and EU member states are required to issue punitive sanctions against their nationals if found guilty of involvement even indirectly in illicit fisheries trade.

About the analysis: The nongovernmental organisations used an access to information request to conduct a preliminary appraisal of country activities during the first four years of the Regulation, based on member state reports submitted for 2010-11 and 2012-13. The analysis includes a special in-depth focus on implementation by the EU’s six biggest importing countries2 (Spain, Germany, U.K., Netherlands, France and Italy), which accounted for 73 percent of wild-capture fish imports from third countries by value in 2014.

Key stats from the analysis

  • EU member states received 1,136,704 catch certificates (mostly in paper form, with photocopies permitted) and around 100,000 processing statements between 2010 and 2013.
  • 4,486 requests for verification were submitted to third-country authorities to ascertain the legality of fish imports.
  • The EU has worked with almost 50 countries to improve fisheries management under the regulation. Four countries have been identified as ‘non-cooperating’, and issued with a red card, which means a trade ban on their fish products entering the EU. Three of these countries – Cambodia, Guinea and Sri Lanka – remain red-carded to date (January 2016), while Belize was delisted in December 2014.3
  •  More than 15,000 vessels flagged to EU member states have been authorised to fish in distant waters since 2010. The analysis urges the Commission to ensure that reforms underway of the rules (Fishing Authorisation Regulation) governing this fleet guarantee better transparency to prevent the EU’s own vessels from engaging in illegal fishing activity. See for more information.

Facts about illegal fishing: Between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally each year4 globally, resulting in annual losses of between $10 and $23.5 billion. Estimates suggest that global IUU catches correspond to between 13 percent and 31 percent of reported fisheries production. In some regions, this figure can be as high as 40 percent.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF are working together to secure the harmonised and effective implementation of the EU Regulation to end illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.


1 See analysis p.4/5 for all sources

2 Eurostat. Imports From outside the European Economic Area (EEA) subject to IUU Regulation calculated based on methodology set out in MRAG (2014)

3 For up-to-the-minute listings of all countries affected by this process, see

4 Agnew DJ et al. (2009) Estimating the Worldwide Extent of Illegal Fishing. PLoS ONE 4(2): e4570. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004570