|Maria Damanaki. Julien Warnand/EPA|
theguardian.com, 26 November 2013
Fish imports from Belize, Guinea and Cambodia are to be banned from the European Union, and three more countries have been warned their imports are in danger, in the first major sanction against countries that allow illegal fishing operations to carry on under their countries' flags.
The three countries to be banned were warned last year that the European commission was preparing to end imports of their fish and fish products, because of concerns that they had failed to take action over piracy and illegal fishing. It is the first time imports have been banned as a result of the widespread global trade in landing fish for which vessels do not have the correct fishing permits. EU vessels will also be banned in fishing in the waters of the three offending nations.
On Tuesday, the commission also showed a "yellow card" South Korea, Ghana and Curaçao. The three countries will have to show progress on tackling pirate fishing in the next six months, or their imports will also be banned.
The sanctions, announced by the European commission on Tuesday, will have to be ratified by the EU's council before they come into force next year.
Maria Damanaki, the EU's fisheries commissioner, said: "The heart of the problem is the lack of effective control on their fleet. How can they claim in these circumstances that the fish caught under their flag or in their coastal waters is sustainable?"
Countries are able to license vessels from other nations to fly under their flags – the so-called "flags of convenience", which can mask the real origin of a vessel. Belize has long been targeted by critics of the "flag of convenience" rules. The EU's willingness to tackle these opaque rules has sent a warning to countries that have lax rules on flags of convenience that their vessels will no longer be able to operate with impunity, green campaigners said.
Tony Long, director of the Ending Illegal Fishing Programme at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said: "The EU is a huge market for seafood, so it is critical that the council should act to ensure that only legally caught fish are reaching consumers. While the three countries cited do not represent the whole picture, we are pleased that the European commission is continuing to investigate other countries known for their lax enforcement of illegal fishing."
The EU imports around 65% of the seafood consumed. Its imports from three countries to be banned amount to less than €10m a year, on official figures, but the three "yellow card" countries amount to well over €200m a year.
Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, said the EU's move showed "leadership". He said: "[This] sends an unequivocal message to pirate fishing operators that the EU will leverage its unique legislation to prevent their wilful and illegal actions that are damaging marine environments, depleting fish stocks, undermining legitimate operators and destroying the livelihoods of many poor coastal communities."
He said that unless there was a "dramatic" improvement in Korea's operations, its imports should also be banned.
Green MEPs welcomed the targeting of Korea, which they said had played "a very obstructive role" in negotiations over ending illegal fishing