Driving Good Governance in Fisheries: How the European Union Is Tackling Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing

06/04/2015 10:56 am ET | Updated Jun 01, 2016
AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing poses a threat to fishermen who respect the rules. It threatens endangering fish stocks. And it pushes fishing communities into the margins. The numbers say it all: it is estimated that the global value of IUU fishing represents almost 10 billion euros per year. This represents 15% of the world's reported value of catches. Over the last decade, in terms of volume, approximately one fifth of all catches came from IUU.

Sustainable oceans are at the forefront of our policy and tackling IUU fishing is one of its aspects. This is why it will be featured in the launching of my listening tour on ocean governance at The Economist World Ocean Summit on June 4th in Cascais, Portugal. The aim? To gather opinions that could inform and influence future policy decision-making, on a global scale, where the European Union (EU) wants to be a leader.

The EU is already a global leader in fishing and in fish consumption. Therefore it had the leverage to tackle action to stop IUU. That it chose to use that leverage is a great example of what makes the EU work: We introduced an IUU Regulation in 2010 to ensure that no illegally caught fish products end up on the European market. This decision was taken to improve fish stocks, ensure food security and create a fairer market for the fishermen who play by the rules. This means that big fishing countries must comply with existing international rules and obligations. And no, this does not constitute a barrier to trade. The EU imports 65% of fisheries products it consumes. This rule is about making sure that as much of that 65% as possible is sold to help build sustainable fishing communities around the world and assure European consumers.

And the regulation is working. EU Member States are now able to control imports and refuse IUU products from entering into the market. More than 200 such refusals were made in the past five years. We have already established a network of cooperation with more than 90 third countries. We are assisting 50 of them to upgrade their control, enforcement and monitoring tools in line with international law.

What is the "secret" to our strategy? Dialogue, pure and simple. This is the only way to facilitate changes in the way these countries conduct their fisheries policy. A modern legal framework in line with international law, effective surveillance of fishing fleets, sustainable management of fishing resources -- these form the building blocks of a sustainable fishing sector. Traceability of fishing transactions -- from "net to plate" -- allows the ethical hopes to become practical steps. It is a lengthy process but dialogue is the main component to achieve enhanced bilateral cooperation, offer technical assistance and development aid.

What if a third country fails to cooperate in the fight against IUU? Well, to correct established problems, the EU has a formal step-by-step process. At first, countries receive a "yellow card" with a request to carry out root and branch reform. They are given a deadline by which they must meet international law. If they achieve this, then the warning is lifted. This has been the case with several countries, most recently South Korea and the Philippines.

And the good news? Both South Korea and the Philippines have thoroughly reformed their fishing sectors. Even better, they are now significant players in the fight against IUU.

Our regulation is not just about warning shots. If actions fall short, the country receives a "red card" and is banned from exporting fish products to the EU. Up till now, we have opened such proceedings for 18 countries and, at the moment, eight are under a "yellow card" and three have been "red carded."

In line with the efforts made by the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Interpol, we are promoting better compliance rules, global catch certificates and initiatives to deter illegal activities.

We are working ever more closely with other major players, such as the United States of America, Japan and China. In 2011, we signed Joint statements with the USA and, recently, American authorities have initiated a process of reform to their own policies, led by the U.S. Presidential Task Force on IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud. With China, the second-largest exporter of fishery products to the EU, we have initiated a process of enhanced cooperation on control and monitoring of long-distance fleet and traceability.

There is still more to do and the key lies in cooperation with other actors, from the processing industry to Non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs, active in the fight against IUU (Environmental Justice Foundation, WWF, Oceana and The Pew Charitable Trusts) and industry representatives both agree on the need for a constructive dialogue.

I hope you have a happy World Ocean Day on June 8.

Please follow me at @karmenuvella

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action. The series is being produced to coincide with World Oceans Day (June 8), as part of HuffPost's "What's Working" initiative, putting a spotlight on initiatives around the world that are solutions oriented. To read all the posts in the series, read here.