Comparing Import Control Schemes aimed at tackling IUU Fishing in the top three seafood market States

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By Milthon Lujan

Better unified controls on seafood imports into main markets are needed to prevent IUU fishing products from being redirected into regions without proper measures in place.


Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is prolific in many fisheries worldwide. As a response, some countries, trade blocs and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) have developed import control and catch documentation schemes to deny market access to products sourced illegally. However, the schemes in existence today differ in how they operate and what information they request, resulting in loopholes which IUU operators can exploit, as well as a lack of clarity and additional bureaucratic burden for industry.

Successfully tracing a seafood product through all relevant stages of its supply chain requires information on key data elements (KDEs) which correlate to a seafood product’s who, what, when, where and how. This report from the Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana, The Nature Conservancy, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF (the EU IUU coalition) highlights 17 KDEs that should accompany any fisheries product that is imported into a market State and that form the basis of any robust import control system. These KDEs include, but are not limited to, the vessel’s flag, catch area, International Maritime Organization (IMO) number, fishing authorisations, transshipment declarations, unloading ports and catching methods.

The EU introduced its catch documentation scheme in 2010, covering all marine wild caught fish traded by non-EU countries into the EU market. The United States introduced its own import controls, known as the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) in 2016, which covers 13 types of seafood identified as the most vulnerable to IUU fishing and seafood fraud. As other countries begin to develop their own systems, most notably Japan, it is vital to understand the benefits and disadvantages of these diverse systems operating today.

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The report compares the EU and US import control schemes, as well as measures by RFMOs, against the 17 recommended KDEs. While the EU currently requests 13 out of these 17 KDEs, the US requests 12. Japan has not yet set up a targeted and national import control scheme, but does comply with the KDE requirements of four RFMOs, namely ICCAT, CCAMLR, CCSBT and IOTC. The assessment shows that the EU and US systems are 59% aligned with each other, demonstrating a clear opportunity for greater harmonisation and information sharing between the world’s two largest seafood markets. Stronger alignment between these systems would be beneficial for fishers and supply chain actors who currently sell or process catch for both markets, or may seek to do so in the future, reducing the cost of complying with multiple systems.


Reference (open):
Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana, The Nature Conservancy, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF. 2020. A comparative study of key data elements in import control schemes aimed at tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the top three seafood markets: the European Union, the United States and Japan. 

Source: WWF

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