A tuna industry delegation from Fiji responded with ire to the media statement released by the European Commissioner Maria Damanaki, warning eight countries that the Commission thinks the sector has not done enough to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The group expressed their dissatisfaction during the annual meeting that the Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association (PITIA) is holding in New Zealand.
A recent independent review by European Union (EU) consultants, GOPA, scored the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Papua New Guinea as low-risk IUU countries, and Kiribati and Fiji as medium-risk.
"We want these countries as partners but we also want to signal to the world that the EU will not tolerate illegal fishing — a criminal activity which undermines the livelihood of fishing communities and depletes fish stocks," Damanaki said.
The Commission’s decision has not entailed any measures affecting trade, but it could. The eight countries have been notified and offered a “reasonable” time to respond and to “rectify” the situation.
The Commission also proposed an action plan for each country and informed that, should the situation not improve, the EU would include them in a blacklist and may take further steps possibly involving trade measures such as a ban on selling fisheries products to the Union. The warning was also addressed to Panama, Belize, Cambodia, Guinea, Sri Lanka, Togo and Vanuatu.
PITIA communicated that it fully supports Fiji’s concerns given the country’s actions and the processes it has implemented, such as its very strict compliance system. Fiji is also in the process of strengthening its monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) tools, by applying an Offshore Decree to control activities of flag state vessels on the high seas.
The association also highlighted that actions to improve compliance throughout the Western and Central Pacific Ocean are receiving support from the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
The country's Ministry of Fisheries and Forestry (MFF) applies 100 per cent inspection on all vessels landing into Fiji, including foreign ones and applies a vessel monitoring system (VMS) to all its tuna vessels and an observer scheme, according to PITIA.
MFF has already sent two submissions to the EU’s DG Mare informing them of the steps being taken, and is now revising its National Plans to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (NPOA-IUU) with assistance from Devfish II.
“To say that Fiji does not participate in enough dialogue is rather strange given its efforts to strengthen what is already a very strong monitoring, control and surveillance system,” PITIA stated. “Strange then that other countries that demonstrate higher levels of risk have not been singled out for attention.”