On 17th June 2014, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum in which some initial measures to combat illegal and unregulated fishing were established. A task force which included representatives from Environment, Commerce, Department of State, Interior, Justice and Defence was integrated with the aim of advising the White House on the design of a comprehensive framework to counteract IUU fishing.
The task force has now passed its recommendations, and opinions are being sought on their implementation from a wide range of stakeholders.
Amongst other things, the US is seeking to develop in cooperation with RFMOs and other governments catch traceability systems that are compatible with those already established regionally.
The US should do well to look across the Atlantic to the EU’s catch certification system implemented under Council Regulation 1005/2008 (The IUU Regulation). The certification system is already widely used by a large number of exporting nations and has been designed with RFMO and WTO compatibility in mind.
Amongst its strengths is the scheme’s ability to engage exporting flag States in the catch certification process, hence affording a high degree of definition to the general international obligation to cooperate in an objective and transparent manner. Further, by endorsing the catch certificate at point of capture, exporting flag States are, in a single act, publicly assuming their international responsibilities of vessel control, effectively declaring to any purchaser the legality of the catch.
The consequences of illegality being subsequently demonstrated have already been shown, as a number of exporting flag States have been yellow-carded since the scheme came to life in January 2010. Others who had systematically endorsed the legality of IUU products have already seen the large, lucrative European markets close their doors to them, in essence being made to assume to cost of illegal fishing by their fleets. Belize, Guinea, Cambodia and Sri Lanka have all been at the receiving end of this treatment, with Belize being so far the only one re-admitted to trading upon making legislative improvements.
In fact, the toothmarks of the IUU Regulation are already visible: The Republic of Korea is tightening controls over its mighty distant water fleet, and Ghana and Philippines have publicly highlighted multiple initiatives to combat IUU fishing since they were notified of a yellow card by the Commission. Even Thailand, who has not been formally warned yet, is reportedly hurrying to improve fisheries controls. Fiji, Panama, Togo and Vanuatu have also addressed structural regulatory deficiencies in vessel control, whilst other countries still under warning (Curacao, St Vincent & Grenadines, Tuvalu, St Kitts & Nevis, and Solomon Islands) are said to be working through their respective regimes.
With the US now looking outward to implement its own trade and traceability system, there is a unique opportunity to strengthen and unify market mechanisms to filter out illegal produce and reward those who are able to demonstrate the legality of their catch.
There is also a unique chance to contributing to strengthen the capability and resilience of the EU catch certificate by making a push towards a joint move from paper to electronic certification – something that would make the traceability element of the certification more reliable and the system in general less susceptible to tampering.
Lastly, electronic schemes capable of coordination should be capable of integrating two fundamental elements for effectiveness: the ability to trace imports by species, quantity, capture location and nationality, and the ability to marry import data with exporting vessel identity and its VMS readings.
Because, ultimately, only knowing and sharing the truth about capture data will arm regulators with the right tools to defeat IUU fishing.