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European Commission

Maria Damanaki

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Illegal Fishing: There is no way back

Ending Illegal Fishing Event from Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF)/Brussels

5 November 2013

Ladies and gentlemen,

When I took office in 2010 the Regulation against Illegal Unreported Unregulated fisheries (IUU) was brand new. Less than four years later we are, so to say, "midstream": on the one hand, the requirement to present validated catch certificates for imports of fish into the EU is well established. On the other hand, we know that there are still unscrupulous operators who abuse every loophole in the system. This is hardly surprising for a worldwide fish market worth 92 bn€/year.

Around this time last year we warned eight countries that they better start doing something about IUU activities by vessels flying their flag and by vessels operating in their waters, or they would be blacklisted. We had been investigating them for several years and had concluded that they were disregarding their international obligations.

Please note that these international IUU rules are not made by us. They are rules adopted by the UN and the FAO that we merely seek to enforce for goods affecting the EU territory.

For those 8 countries, we initiated a formal dialogue and proposed an action plan tailored for each country's specific problems. A few months later Fiji, Togo, Sri Lanka, Panama and Vanuatu had made credible progress. They had adopted new legislation and improved control and inspection capacities. In short, they showed "goodwill". This convinced me, to give them more time, to continue addressing their systems' weaknesses. We'll evaluate their progress again next March.

Regrettably, the same does not apply to the other three countries concerned: Belize, Cambodia and Guinea. At the moment we speak, they have not addressed concerns linked to legislation, effective monitoring and surveillance systems, nor have they introduced satisfactory sanctioning regimes.

This leaves me with no other choice but to move on to the next phase: I will ask the College to identify them and formally propose to the Council to identify those countries as uncooperative in the fight against IUU.

Now, what does that imply in practice?

Well, first the Commission Decision will incentivize Member States to investigate methodically fishery products coming from these countries.

Thereafter, upon final listing by the Council, all fisheries products caught by vessels of these countries will automatically be banned from entering the EU market. EU vessels won't have the right to fish in the waters of those countries anymore.

Bilateral fisheries agreements or partnerships with any of these countries will be out of the question. Let me underline at this juncture, whilst talking about commercial agreements, that the issue of IUU and, more widely, the issue of sustainable fisheries, are key issues in ongoing commercial discussions lead by my colleague Karel De Gucht.

But, ladies and gentlemen,

Listing may be the most visible result of enforcing IUU rules. It is however not an end in itself. It is a means to achieving more effective and intense cooperation. Cooperation is indeed the Commission's preferred avenue to solve problems.

But some countries show a clear lack of commitment, even after years of informal diplomatic cooperation. When I am confronted to delaying tactics, empty promises or blunt refusal to have real discussions, I have only one choice: propose a new set of "yellow cards" to signal that we are serious about IUU regulation. This will be a usual procedure.

Other countries like Indonesia, are improving their management system. In the same vein, I am pleased to thank Seychelles' Minister Peter Sinon, present here today, for his cooperation on the regional plan established by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) to upgrade control and monitor activities. This is yet more proof that cooperation against illegal fisheries is continuing to pick up.

More thanks go to Steve Trent and the Environmental Justice Foundation: not just for inviting me here today but for their work against modern-day pirates. In Sierra Leone you provided a surveillance boat to local fishermen, who were able to film industrial trawlers working illegally in protected waters. This allowed the Commission to launch investigations and press for appropriate measures. A fruitful cooperation.

On the basis of timely information from a lot of NGOs, the Commission was also able to alert Member States of possible illegal consignments reaching EU borders, thereby preventing their import.

In the last few years the EU has also stepped up cooperation with key international partners. We remain a driving force within regional management bodies. Last year, the European Commission also became an observer in Interpol's Fisheries Crime Working Group.

What I'm trying to say here is that, in close cooperation with the European Parliament and its Fisheries Committee as well as NGO's, we have been using all the tools at our disposal.

What about our own backyard?

In close cooperation with the Commission, Member States have improved control in ports, more specifically where landings of illegally caught fish are most likely. In close cooperation with the Spanish authorities - and let me thank Minister Cañete for this - control procedures have been bolstered on all landings by third-country vessels at the port of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.

Moreover, more and more national authorities use the mutual assistance system coordinated by the Commission and perform focused risk analysis on catch certificates: if just four years ago refusing import linked to illegal fishing was unthinkable, more than a 100 import refusals so far go to show that Member States enforcement is on the rise.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude.

Four years on, there is no denying that the IUU Regulation is making a difference: we are "midstream": we have left the river side, where any fish could be sold anyhow, to any EU citizen. We are aiming to reach the other side where "zero tolerance" is the rule. We are midstream because we have some credible achievements - and more to come very soon – but also with a lot of issues to address before reaching "zero tolerance".

I agree in this respect with the European Parliament call for more action and the Lövin report on IUU.

I will not stop acting in this area: now that the reform of the common fisheries policy and the EMFF are on track, my priority continues shifting to enforcing the rules. This is in line with the Commission's workplan for 2014 as announced by President Barroso. I cannot however achieve anything alone: I will need the support of the European Parliament and its Fisheries Committee, the help of courageous fisheries ministers, the assistance of the industry and of civil society to achieve together sustainable fisheries for the current generation of EU citizens.

Thank you for your attention.

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