Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Fifth Report




COM(02) 180

Commission Communication for a Community action plan for the eradication of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Legal base:


Document originated:

28 May 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

31 May 2002


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Basis of consideration:

EM of 27 June 2002

Previous Committee Report:


To be discussed in Council:

Later in the year

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

For debate on the Floor of the House (together with related fisheries documents)


    1. One of the priorities in the area of international fisheries identified in the Commission's ("Roadmap") Communication[12] is the need to control illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The Commission says that this is an area in which the Community has played an active role in the drawing up of an international plan of action under the auspices of the FAO Committee on Fisheries, and that, as a result of the commitments it has given there, it must now adopt the necessary implementing measures. It has therefore produced in this document a draft Action Plan, with a view to a model document being presented at the next session of the FAO Committee in 2003.
    2. The current document  

    3. The Commission points out that Community rules in this area are already relatively developed, and that it is therefore concentrating on the new measures or initiatives which need to be taken under Community rules, in the context of regional fisheries organisations, or by multilateral fisheries organisations.
    4. The Plan includes the following elements at Community level:

    • State control over nationals

The Commission identifies flags of convenience as a serious threat to conservation, and believes that, in the absence of appropriate international rules, Community operators should be discouraged from flagging their vessels under the jurisdiction of a state which is failing to fulfil its responsibilities.

    • Implementation of internationally agreed arrangements on the sustainability of fish stocks

The Commission says that certain actions agreed internationally have been incorporated in Community law, but are not observed by some non-member countries. It therefore proposes to adopt Community rules banning trade in fisheries products taken in breach of such agreements.

    • Control of activities associated with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

The Commission points out that, if vessels engaging in such fishing do not have outlets for the lawful disposal of their catch, they will no longer have a financial interest in this practice. It therefore proposes that the conduct of business or trade in products derived from illegal fishing should be an offence. It would also aim to publish lists of offending vessels and of those operators directly associated with them.

    • Alerting the industry, consumers and public to the need to control illegal fishing

The Commission says that the action it has agreed to take in applying the FAO Code of Conduct will be more effective if it is backed by public opinion. It therefore intends to raise awareness of the problem by various means.

    1. The Commission envisages that these steps would be supplemented by the following measures within the regional fisheries organisations:


    • Development of framework plans for control and inspection

The Commission points out that conservation measures adopted by regional fisheries organisations need consistent control and inspection arrangements, and it considers that the Community should take the initiative either in putting forward outline plans for all such organisations which do not have them, or in strengthening those which exist at present.

    • Regulation of certain fishing activities on the high seas

The Commission suggests that progress in regulating and controlling certain fishing activities runs the risk of effort being transferred to techniques which are not environmentally friendly or towards species which will rapidly become over-fished. It therefore wants the Community to take the initiative in putting forward management measures for the high seas to limit types of fishing which are unregulated at international level, particularly where Community rules are more stringent than those applying internationally.

    • Identification and monitoring of vessels fishing illegally

The Commission says that the number of vessels engaged in illegal fishing is not properly known, and that flag changes increase the difficulty of identifying them. A further problem is the lack of clarity in the criteria used by regional organisations. The Commission therefore proposes that the Community should seek to establish within those organisations objective and transparent criteria for identifying illegal fishing activities.

    • Promoting uniform action plans to curb illegal fishing

The Commission says that these activities generally concentrate on commercially valuable species, which need to be tackled by targeted action.

    • Identifying and quantifying illegal catches

The Commission says that the adoption of management and conservation measures requires proper stock evaluation, which has proved to be very difficult. It therefore intends to encourage regional organisations to implement procedures for data collection and identifying the origin of illegal catches.

    • Certificates and documents

The Commission says that the present arrangements meet the needs only partly, in that they lack uniformity and make no distinction between the responsibilities of operators and the authorities, thereby hindering any attempt to achieve greater accountability. It therefore proposes a Community initiative to reform existing systems.

    1. Finally, the Commission identifies a set of measures to be pursued at international level:

    • Improvement of information on vessels

The Commission says that, although it has ratified the relevant FAO Agreement, this has not yet entered into force. It will therefore in the meantime transmit to the FAO on a voluntary basis information relating to the Community fleet.

    • Strengthening of international co-operation

The Commission points out that the inherent mobility of fishing vessels means they often operate in areas of the high seas not directly under national jurisdiction, and that closer co-operation between states is needed. It therefore advocates participation by the Community and its Member States in a network of monitoring agencies proposed by the UN.

    • Definition of a substantial link between a state and a vessel

The Commission says that open registers encourage flags of convenience, and that some states allow their flag to be flown by vessels fishing on the high seas without exercising proper control. It is therefore anxious to see criteria drawn up to define what constitutes a substantive link between a state and a vessel.

    • Definition of the rights and responsibilities of port states

The Commission says that the rights and responsibilities of such states are not defined in any international convention, which encourages the existence of ports of convenience. It therefore proposes a Community diplomatic initiative to convene a conference to negotiate an appropriate international agreement.

    • Assistance for developing countries to control unlawful fishing

The Commission says that many developing countries do not have the resources to monitor and control fishing activities, and that the Community should offer technical and financial assistance.

The Government's view

    1. In his Explanatory Memorandum of 27 June 2002, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Commons) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Elliot Morley) says that the UK remains concerned about the growing prevalence of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by flag of convenience vessels, and the adverse impact which this is having on the sustainable management of global fish stocks. He points out that the Community Action Plan has not introduced any new legislation at this stage, but has set out a framework for introducing measures in future. He adds that, while some of the initiatives may prove difficult to agree among Member States, tackling illegal fishing remains a UK objective, and the Government would therefore support an agreement on the Commission's plan.
    2. Conclusion

    3. Although this action plan is in fairly general terms, and will be followed in due course by further proposals, it does nevertheless form an important part of the overall package of measures for reforming the Common Fisheries Policy. We therefore believe that it should be debated with the other parts of that package.


12   (23511) COM(02)181; see paragraph 1. Back

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