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Belize Restricts the Transhipment of Fish at Sea

11 July 2013

BELIZE - The Belize Fisheries Department has announced a moratorium on unmonitored transhipments of fish at sea for Belize-flagged vessels, effective immediately. EJF strongly supports the decision, having investigated the links between the transhipment of fish at sea and illegal ‘pirate’ fishing as well as issues of traceability and transparency which currently allow ‘laundered’ fish to enter seafood markets.

Global losses due to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) or ‘pirate’ fishing are estimated to be between US $10 billion and US $23.5 billion every year. Through its work towards the eradication of IUU fishing in West Africa, EJF has gathered evidence showing that the transhipment of fish from one vessel to another frequently facilitates the laundering of ‘pirate’ fish, due to the inability of coastal and flag State authorities to monitor how, by whom and where transferred fish was caught.

EJF is calling for all coastal States in West Africa to ban transhipment at sea and work with neighbouring countries and international partners to effectively control their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Whilst some ports in coastal countries cannot accommodate large reefers, these countries should authorize transhipments in a position that allows access by port inspectors to properly monitor the activity.

EJF is encouraging the flag States of fishing vessels and reefers to restrict them from carrying out transhipments at sea, and is calling on Belize to go one step further and implement a complete ban on transhipment at sea in West Africa. 

So far, the Belize Fisheries Department has banned transhipments on the high seas for Belize-flagged vessels, (with the exception of transhipments carried out in the framework of at-sea transhipment programs regulated by a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO) to which Belize is a party). Belize has also banned transhipments at sea in coastal countries’ EEZ, unless the transhipment was explicitly authorised to take place at sea and can be properly monitored.

EJF has identified Belize-flagged vessels carrying out transhipments at sea on several occasions in the past and welcomes this recent decision to restrict transhipment which will help clarify the legality of these activities in future.

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.

This decision to ban unmonitored transhipments at sea could be helpful to the EU Commission in
assessing the recent efforts made by the Belize Fisheries Department to monitor its vessels.

Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF, says: “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 transhipments at sea by Belizeflagged vessels; however, we’d like to see them go further and ban all transhipments 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.”

TheFishSite News Desk

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