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European Commission “yellow cards” Belize for bad fishing practices on the high seas

HeadlineEuropean Commission “yellow cards” Belize for bad fishing practices on the high seas

Belize fisheries officials are preparing to respond to a notice from the European Commission (EC) that the country has been named among 8 fish exporting countries which have received a “yellow card,” warning of possible sanctions for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, specifically in relation to fishing activities on the high seas, where about 10% of Belize’s fleet reportedly exploit tunas, tuna-like species and sharks.

Twenty-eight Belize-flagged vessels land their catch in the EU market at varying frequencies ranging from twice a year to monthly.

Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade told Amandala that Belize has been given until December 17, 2012, to respond to the notification. She received the official notice from the European Union (EU) last Friday, she said.

Wade explained that in 2010, the EU passed regulations under which they could list “third countries” – countries outside the EU – for non-compliance with those regulations.

A week ago, the EU issued a statement saying that “…the European Commission stepped up its action to fight illegal fishing worldwide by warning 8 third countries that they risk being identified as countries it considers non-cooperative in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).”

It named Belize along with Cambodia, Fiji, Guinea, Panama, Sri Lanka, Togo and Vanuatu.

“This is not a black list, but a yellow card,” Commissioner Maria Damanaki said. “We want these countries as partners to combat illegal fishing. We want them to improve their legal and control systems as required by international rules, but we also want to signal to the world that the EU will not tolerate IUU fishing — a criminal activity which undermines the livelihood of fishing communities and depletes fish stocks. It must be eradicated by all means.”

In a 47-page document explaining the EC decision, it said that 6 vessels with Belize flags, namely Goidau Ruey No. 1, Orca, Reymar 6, Sunny Jane, Tching Ye No 6, and Wen Teng No 688, were included on the IUU list by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs).

Belize, said the notice, had failed to carry out its obligations as flag state with respect to these vessels operating on the high seas.

The notice said, “…Belize has failed to undertake its flag state responsibilities under international law…[and] has failed to exercise its responsibilities effectively, to comply with RFMO conservation and management measures and to ensure that its vessels do not engage in any activity which undermines the effectiveness of such measures.”

The EC undertook a mission to Belize two Novembers ago, and according to the notice published last week, “That mission revealed that the relevant Belizean authorities were not empowered to require information from and to conduct administrative investigations of operators, registered owne rs and beneficial owners of the fishing vessels flagged to Belize.”

It also noted a conflict of interest, as “…certain authorised observers were at the same time acting as representatives of beneficial owners of vessels flagged to Belize.”

Wade conceded that some of the concerns expressed by the European Commission are legitimate, but others, such as those citing alleged non-compliance with regional fisheries organizations such as ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), may not be.

Belize fisheries officials plan to have further discussions on the EC notice next week.

Fisheries Minister Lisel Alamilla said she is aware of the “yellow card” issued to Belize, and noted that Belizean officials held a meeting with EU personnel on Monday to discuss the matter.

“The decision will not, at this stage, entail any measures affecting trade,” said the EC notice. “The eight countries have been notified and given a reasonable time to respond and to rectify the situation.”

The EC said that it has also proposed an action plan for each country.

“Should the situation not improve, the EU could take further steps, which could entail trade measures such as a ban on selling fisheries products to the EU,” the notice added.

Wade said that an EU ban could also affect local capture fishery markets, because if the EC puts Belize on a so-called blacklist, other countries who import Belizean fisheries produce could react negatively, leading to other restrictions of trade.

The EC said, “This decision is the first of its kind…”

Its data indicates that IUU fishing costs 10 billion euros (roughly US$13 billion) annually and accounts for 19% of the reported value of catches.

“It is estimated that 16% of all sea-caught fish imported into the EU is caught illegally,” it added.

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