Belize Bans Unmonitored Transshipments
The Belize Fisheries Department has announced a moratorium on unmonitored transshipments of fish at sea for Belize-flagged vessels, effective immediately. This is very interesting and comes on the heels of the nationalization of its vessel registry which I touched on last week.
This advancement is strongly supported by EJF, which has long monitored illegal fishing, and the transshipments that conceal it, off the coast of West Africa. Earlier this year, in fact, EJF called for the banning of all the transshipment of catches in West African waters.
The moratorium will not end all transshipment by Belizean vessels. The Belize Fisheries Department banned transshipments on the high seas for Belize-flagged vessel with the exception of transshipments carried out in the framework of at-sea transhipment programs regulated by a Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) to which Belize is a party. Belize also banned transshipments at sea in coastal countries’ EEZ, unless the transhipment was explicitly authorized to take place at sea and can be properly monitored.
Why the change? The clear reason is that the European Union is threatening trade sanctions against Belize for its non-action on the illegal fishing conducted by its flagged vessels. Specifically, on 15 November 2012, the EU Commission warned eight third countries, including Belize, that they risked being identified as non-cooperative in the fight against IUU fishing. European Commissioner Maria Damanaki, in charge of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, described this as “a yellow card” to these countries who were urged to improve their legal and control systems as required by international rules.
Here’s a nice quote from Steve Trent, the Executive Director of EJF:
The complications involved in monitoring large-scale transfers of fish at sea, mean that any transhipment of fish from one vessel to another can hide illegal activities. Transhipment enables pirate fishers to launder illegally caught fish in to world markets and avoid detection. EJF welcomes the announcement by the Belize Fisheries Department that they have banned unmonitored transshipments at sea by Belize-flagged vessels; however, we’d like to see them go further and ban all transshipments at sea by their vessels in West Africa. This would show international leadership and is commensurate to the risks of IUU fishing in the region.
At the same time, we are calling for action by all Governments, international organisations and the seafood industry to address IUU fishing and urgently implement the transparency required for global fisheries to be managed effectively and fairly.