Since the new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) entered into force on January 1st 2014, there have been improvements registered in Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements. However, tide still needs to turn as regards vessels fishing outside the framework of SFPAs.
Indeed, the EU external fleet counts around 700 vessels, but only 245 vessels fished under SFPAs in 2014: Several hundreds of EU vessels operate outside SFPAs, negotiating private agreements with third countries (this is only allowed when there is no SFPA between the EU and the particular country in place), or setting up chartering arrangements for their vessels with local businesses. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to have information about these arrangements.
This may change in the next months with a review of the so-called ‘Fishing Authorisation Regulation’ (FAR). This regulation will stipulate ‘eligibility criteria’, - designed to ensure transparency and sustainability- , that any EU vessel wanting to operate in external waters will have to fulfill to obtain a fishing authorisation from the EU Member State in which it is registered.
The proposal for a future FAR Regulation is currently being examined by the European Parliament and the Council. However, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), has already given its opinion on the matter. The EESC considers it necessary for the European Commission to verify the validity of the authorisations given by the Member State, checking whether the eligibility criteria have been duly applied.
In this article, CFFA explores why the European Commission should indeed verify what Member States do. Looking in particular at the case of Italy, we highlight that some EU countries tend to turn a blind eye to what their vessels are doing once they fish outside EU waters, thereby failing to fulfill their responsibilities as flag State under international law. Italy has consistently delivered fishing authorisations for all these vessels to fish in West Africa regardless of the fact that they shouldn’t be fishing there or that they were involved in illegal fishing.
This shows that if the EU is to ensure, through its Fishing Authorisation Regulation, that all its fishing vessels fishing outside EU waters respect “the same principles and standards as those applicable under Union law in the area of the CFP” as required by the new CFP, the European Commission has to play a key role to verify that all EU member states apply sustainability criteria rigorously before allowing their vessels to fish in third countries waters.