The bilateral fisheries agreements, known as Fisheries Partnership Agreements (FPAs), that exist between the EU and third countries have been providing the perfect cover for illegal fishing activities, reports Jason Holland.
Speaking at the 7th International Forum on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, held in London in February, UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon explained many of the FPAs between the EU and African countries are of particular concern to European policymakers and that he hoped the forthcoming Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reforms, due for implementation in 2013, will address these failings.
“The current system of FPAs is nowhere near achieving the sustainability, nowhere near achieving value for money, nowhere near ensuring that the activities of the EU fleet are properly controlled,” the minister told the forum.
“In the future, we must prove the evidence upon which FPAs are based, ensuring that there’s good analysis and monitoring of the stocks in third-countries. Taxpayers’ money must only be used for responsible fishing activities, which respect fishing rights of local people. The control at EU level must be equivalent to that of vessels fishing in EU waters. This will help us to prevent the IUU activities of EU vessels in other waters.
“How will we look to other generations if on our watch we fished out our own waters and then did the same to developing nations’ waters? It would be a disgrace that I’m not prepared to put up with.”
Mr Benyon pointed to last year’s high profile Fish Fight campaign that drew attention to the practice of discarding edible fish at sea for a variety of reasons, but not least because of a lack of quota. He said this had angered British and then European consumers and added that he believes the next big campaign will be against “those malign” FPAs that are not properly governed.
“There are almost non-nation vessels fishing in some African waters and it’s having a terrible impact on lives. Whereby local boats used to fish 500 metres offshore to earn a sustainable living; they’re now having to fish five miles offshore. Fishermen are being killed in accidents at an alarming rate. It’s very worrying.
“In the future, let’s make sure that the money from FPAs goes back into research and making coastal communities economically sustainable. We need to make sure there are local processing plants so that the fish caught under the agreements are landed into those countries and they can get the value-added worth of those products. But if the correct data isn’t available then we have to ask serious questions about the legitimacy of these partnerships.”
Forum delegates heard that 15-20% of the world’s catch comes from IUU and that some African countries lose as much as 40% of their fish resource to these illicit activities each year.
Sierra Leone fisheries minister Soccoh Kabia told attendees that his own country currently loses about $30m (€22.8m) annually to the “global phenomenon” of IUU.
“Many vessels operate without authorisation in Sierra Leone, and many use illegal nets,” said Mr Kabia, who said another significant problem is the illegal transshipment of fish and that he suspects a lot of such products end up in Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, just a few hours’ steam away from West Africa. And from here they can enter many international supply chains.