The United States and European Union signed this week an agreement to fight illegal fishing which, according to EU estimates, costs EU fishermen 23 billion euro per year. The agreement calls for cooperation and the free flow of information between the EU and US in combating this growing problem.
Maria Damanaki, the EU Commissioner on Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, was in DC for the signing, which took place yesterday, and also spoke at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, where she described the threat of illegal fishing, also known as IUU or Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing, and what the EU was doing to fight it.
The EU has exclusive jurisdiction over offshore fisheries of member states and has power to make laws that EU member states must follow. Damanaki was candid in describing how dire the fishery situation was, admitting that the current EU policy was simply not working. Although the EU has enacted a ‘catch certificate’ to be attached to each fish sold in the EU in an effort to combat IUU, she predicted that only 8 of 136 existing fish species in European waters would still be around in 10 years if drastic steps were not taken.
Of course, Damanaki also admits that part of the challenge is not only limiting illegal fishing and promoting sustainability, but also maintaining supplies for an increasing demand. Currently, the EU is number one in fish imports, with the US close behind in third place. (Japan holds second place.) The EU is worried that stocks, like in some West African countries, could quickly become depleted.
The new EU-US law should build on progress made by EU regulation passed in 2010, which gave the EU authority to check any EU vessel around the world and to check any vessel that comes into European waters, irrespective of flag. However, once a non-EU vessel leaves European waters then international cooperation will be essential.
The commissioner was asked about what steps were next. She also said that the “next target for cooperation has to be Japan”. However, certain fish such as the Bluefin Tuna, which is a delicacy in Japan, and sell for an estimated 1000 euro/kg, turn the Japanese market into a “gold rush” of illegal fishing. She stated that she was not optimistic regarding Japan, despite Japan’s interest in cooperation.
In a renewed U.S. drive to curb whaling abuses, President Barack Obama has ordered government agencies to step up pressure on Iceland to convince that country to terminate fishing operations against the endangered species, fin whales. Considered a delicacy in Japan, the fish has benefitted from a suspension of Icelandic hunting in recent months since the collapse of the Japanese whaling market after the tsunami in March. Washington wants to make that suspension permanent and says that it will review the situation in six months with a view to sterner action against Iceland if necessary. Iceland's whaling policy has also been a point of contention for EU membership.
In Europe, one of the greater challenges, admits Damanaki, will be to convince the public that supporting the fruits of illegal fishing is counterproductive and that long-term sustainability, despite possible short-term sacrifices, is best for the future.
Lorin Speltz is Editorial Assistant at European Affairs