Features — 14 June 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Belize trying to avert EU sanctions over IUU fishing on high seas

“…Belize keeps an International Merchant Marine Registry responsible for vessel registration which does not ensure that vessels flying the flag of Belize have a genuine link with the country.”

– Official Journal of the EU, November 2012

“…Belizean authorities were not empowered to require information from and to conduct administrative investigations of operators, registered owners and beneficial owners of the fishing vessels flagged to Belize,” the journal said.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced on Wednesday that a primary justification for the Government of Belize’s decision to take full control of the merchant shipping registry, along with the registry for International Business Corporations (IBCs), which were being managed by Belize International Services Limited under a contract dating back to 1993, is to avert impending sanctions by the European Union (EU), which they have threatened to impose due to allegations that Belize—which has about 130 flagged vessels operating on the high seas, but only 28 of which land products in the EU—has been deemed uncooperative in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Barrow said that the EU, by way of the Commission decision of November 2012, has served Belize notice that unless the country gets control of the registry and does something to regularize the operations of the registry and in particular of the fishing fleet, its exports to the EU will be banned.

Barrow said that whereas the aquaculture sector has primarily been concerned over the threatened sanctions, he could not say that the ban on Belize’s exports to the EU would not also extend to two other major foreign exchange earners – banana and sugar.

As our newspaper reported in May, following the EU declaration, the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee recently blacklisted Belize on allegations that Belize and seven other countries—Cambodia, Fiji, Guinea, Panama, Sri Lanka, the Togolese Republic and the Republic of Vanuatu—had been uncooperative in the fight against IUU fishing.

The November 2012 edition of The Official Journal of the EU said there is a failure of Belize to fulfill its flag state obligations to combat IUU fishing on the high seas, which, it said, undermines the conservation and management of living resources.

Furthermore, the journal said, the EU’s mission in November 2010 revealed that Belize keeps an International Merchant Marine Registry responsible for vessel registration which does not ensure that vessels flying the flag of Belize have a genuine link with the country.

“The lack of such genuine link between that State and the vessels that are registered in its registry is in breach of the conditions set out for the nationality of ships in Article 91 of the Unclos. This conclusion is further confirmed by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) which considers Belize as a flag of convenience…” said the report.

EU officials were informed during their Belize mission of November 2010 that the relevant Belizean authorities were not empowered to require information from and to conduct administrative investigations of operators, registered owners and beneficial owners of the fishing vessels flagged to Belize.

“The mission said it also found malfunctions in the system of authorized observers carrying out verifications of activities of economic operators, in particular with regard to landings outside the Belizean exclusive economic zone (EEZ), since certain authorized observers were at the same time acting as representatives of beneficial owners of vessels flagged to Belize,” the report added.

Prime Minister Barrow indicated Wednesday that the Government would look at putting observers on the high seas vessels as a part of a larger suite of reform measures being proposed by the ministry responsible for fisheries.

Those proposed measures, he said, would be instituted as a first step to improve regulation and oversight of the sector; if the EU says these measures are not enough, then the Belize Government would consider deregistering, Barrow said.

“We will put in place measures to regulate and control the activities of the IMMARBE fishing fleet. We are perfectly conscious of the fact that if those measures don’t work, we may as a last resort have to deregister the fishing fleet. We’re not going to run any joke; we’re not playing games.

“The fact of our exports to the EU having to be protected at all costs means that if we have to deregister the fishing fleet or particularly those fishing in the EU zone, then we will do so only as a last resort, but people need to know about our seriousness,” Barrow said.

We understand that “high seas fishing” is a highly competitive sector, and if Belize abandons the sector now, it may never again get a space on the high seas.

The EU has also taken issue with the fact that Belize has yet to adopt new fisheries legislation, which has been formulated with EU aid.

Barrow said Wednesday that the EU had asked for refinements to the law, and they are working towards finalizing the law for passage.

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