Press release: 10 February 2021

EU fight against illegal fishing must go digital, fast – new ClientEarth reports

Lawyers at ClientEarth have published new research confirming that EU countries urgently need an online, Union-wide system to track and catch illegal fish imports, which cost the fishing industry billions every year.

The research, which looks at a decade of Spain’s fight against illegal fishing, suggests all EU Member States should get on board with the use of recent technology.

The news comes as the European Parliament PECH Committee just gave the green light to the mandatory use of ‘CATCH’ – an EU-wide online system that would house all the catch certificates for imported fish. This is the first positive step before the final vote in the European Parliament in the coming months under the revision of the EU fisheries control system.

However, ClientEarth says Member States must seize the moment. The lawyers are calling on all EU countries to quickly step up the fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing by implementing CATCH on a voluntary basis now, instead of waiting for it to becoming mandatory after the implementation period – which could take years.

ClientEarth sustainable seafood lawyer Nieves Noval said: “Illegal fishing is a major threat to fishing jobs, to fish stocks, and to our fragile ocean. In 2021, it is hard to imagine that countries across the bloc are still relying on pen and paper to keep track of a huge cross-border industry and try to weed out illegal activity.

“To comply with the IUU Regulation, successful tracking of where fish are really from is essential. Spain’s system has different tools to verify that fish entering the Spanish market comply with EU rules. This helps protect the jobs of Spanish and European fishers who do follow those rules.”

Illegal Unregulated and Unreported fishing represents billions of euros of lost income for law-abiding operators every year and is a serious threat not only to fish stocks themselves, but to marine biodiversity, and ultimately to people’s livelihoods. To help tackle it, the EU rules are that only fish imports with the necessary ‘catch certificates’ can enter the EU market.

But the way things are currently done in-country makes it extremely hard to identify whether fish imports comply with rules designed to fight IUU. Too often, the diverse systems for checking catch certificates in EU countries – some paper-based, some digitised – are letting fraudulent fishing operators ‘slip through the net’ and participate in the single market.

ClientEarth’s reports shows that Spain has been at the forefront in clamping down on illegal fish imports, including having designed and implemented an online catch-tracking system ten years ago.

But there are some shortcomings in maintaining the necessary levels of policing and the need for a unified system across the bloc is clear.

Noval said: “The obvious move now is for countries to get on the same page and start using CATCH as soon as possible.

“We urge all EU countries, including Spain, to embrace the CATCH system without delay. This is a major step in the fight to end overfishing, and the threats it poses, all over the world.”


Notes to editors:

Read ClientEarth’s reports here and here

Spain has maintained steady progress in most areas of the implementation of the IUU Regulation, but there are nevertheless some shortcomings in maintaining the necessary levels of checks.

The Spanish Integrated System for the Management and Control of Illegal Fishing (SIGCPI) has enabled digitalisation and control of 100% of catch certificates imported in Spain. But the system is limited by a lack of coordination with other countries’ systems, which prevents authorities from sharing and cross-referencing the catch certificates of every fish product entering the EU.

ClientEarth’s lawyers say that a swift implementation of the CATCH system by all EU countries is essential to drying up the sources of IUU fishing.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.