The 2018 Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Trade Scandal and how ICCAT deals with it

26th Regular Meeting of the Commission , Palma de Mallorca, 18-25 November, IACCT

In his recent report, Gilles Hosch described the loopholes within the system of  “International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas” (ICCAT). This inter-governmental fishery organisation is responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species. And it fails, as Hosch shows in his report. 

Palma de Mallorca, Spain: The ICCAT is holding its 26th Regular Meeting of the Commission from 18 to 25 November. The experts are frequently meeting on very crucial issue. It’s not just about the survival of fish. It is about sustainable business. Overfishing is not only a disaster for the fishs affected, but also for the people who make money with them. If too many fish goes into the net, the short-term profit is nevertheless damaging to the business because there is a gap for future profits. This concerns ICCAT-members. An ongoing investigation since last year on intra-EU illegal trade concerns the participants of the meeting. The ICCAT works closely together with the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), a legal body of EU Commission. Its Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, said clearly that illegal tuna trade leading “cannot be tolerated”. He also said that they are “in breach of EU and international rules.” Does ICCAT meet this requirement? The expert Gilles Hoch has his doubts. EurObsIT was able to discuss with him.

You are mentioning in your report that contact to officials during your investigation was rare. What are reasons for this?

I said in the report that contact to any officials did not occur during the field phase of the study. Officials either declined to meet (DG MARE, EFCA, Spain), or did not answer (Malta, Europol). Spain explained that only the EU Commission (DG MARE) was entitled to discuss this matter, while DG MARE and EFCA claimed that their agendas were too encumbered, and that summer holidays implied a lot of critical staff were on vacation. The ICCAT secretariat informed it would be highly inappropriate to talk to me while an investigation was underway. ICCAT did however provide answers to written questions, limited to information existing in the public domain.

How was the reaction on your report and who reacted anyhow?

I am not at the meeting, but I was told by colleagues that the report “made a splash” – which I understand that it has caught the attention of many people. The report was immediately picked up by the press as a feature story, signalling high interest also. Since WWF as funding partner was not ready to publish at this time, I self-published the report on research gate, and the page has been accessed more than 150 times, and the report has been downloaded more than 70 times, over the two and a half open business days since it has been hosted online. I have received overwhelming positive feedback from colleagues, while I was informed that some of the stakeholders associated to the scandal, in one way or another, were less enthused, as they felt the report casts them in a bad light. I think it is important to look beyond the cosmetics of this story, and to focus on what fundamental weaknesses afflict the BCD scheme, and how they can be mitigated effectively.

Gilles Hosch

Let’s talk about solutions. How should an international tracing-system be designed?

The idea is to prevent illegally caught fish to enter trade. My opinion is that we need a single properly designed system that covers all species subjected to trade controls, in the same way thousands of species of flora and fauna are covered by, and protected under a single CITES certification scheme – which is also wholly trade-based. I am not saying the CITES scheme is perfect – it is not, and it can be improved – but starting with a single system is the right way to do it. Within such system, any country can unilaterally decree what species are to be covered by the system if they are to enter its market – so market states would retain – or gain – full command of trade headed for their borders, as they currently do under unilateral schemes; but on a much broader and solid footing. Therefore, the other key element is that the system should be multilateral in nature, and that by all means. Multilateral problems cannot be solved unilaterally, and this has been amply documented for both unilateral EU and US schemes currently in place. They are ineffective in what they set out to do. Unilateral schemes suffer from the principal limitation that they do not embody 100% of the demand and trade in any given species. the single multilateral system I have been advocating for a number of years now is referred to as a “super-CDS” [catch documentation scheme].

What developments do you expect here in the upcoming future?

That is a good question. IUUWATCH, a brussels-based coalition of environmental NGOs, is in the process of launching a consultation, picking up the idea above (that of a single multilateral trade control mechanism), and is currently poised to result in a 2020 guidance document for policy makers. That is a positive development. It signals a gain in momentum. FAO has suggested in the past that they support the idea of a single multilateral super-CDS. It is important to underscore that FAO’s IPOA-IUU specifically discourages countries from implementing unilateral trade measures, and recommends multilateral solutions as the way forward. With regards to ICCAT – and RFMOs in general – the situation remains unclear. A super-CDS requires RFMOs to come together, and to collaborate. RFMOs are notoriously poor at doing that. So I feel future solutions headed in the direction of a super-CDS need to be carried by an FAO-type body. I personally do not feel that we need a separate body of a CITES-denomination to achieve this, and that FAO could carry this within the remit of its broad mandate. It is important to appreciate, that within a single system, transparency, traceability and the impermeability of supply chains to the entry of illegal products can be maxed out globally, without engendering an erosion of national sovereign action. The system is to be operated centrally – as the CITES system is to a certain degree – but implementation and enforcement remain national prerogatives.

Gilles Hosch is an independent expert focusing on the development of systems to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. You can find his recent report “THE 2018 ATLANTIC BLUEFIN TUNA TRADE SCANDAL – The catch & trade control framework of ICCAT – and how to fix it” here.