Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Comoros have been identified as non-cooperating third countries under the EU's regulation to fight and deter illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, while Liberia has been pre-identified.
Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, commented: "We are showing our commitment to fight illegal fishing globally. The EU's actions in the past years created an incentive for states to take their responsibilities seriously, and implement reforms to their fisheries sector.
"We do not like to impose sanctions on third countries, but sometimes clear action is needed," he said.
"We invite the Comoros and Saint Vincent and Grenadines to seriously step up their fight against illegal fishing so that we can reverse this decision quickly. Following today's warning to Liberia we hope their authorities choose to act quickly and correct their wrongdoings."
The decision to issue a red card to the Comoros is based on the typical use of its national flag as a flag of convenience, which means registering a ship in a sovereign state different from that of the ship's owners, explained Vella.
Most of the Comorian fleet has no connection to the country and operates in breach of national law, mainly in the waters of West Africa. These vessels have been found to disregard the laws applicable in the national waters they operate in, transhipping fish from one vessel to another, a practice related to the laundering of illegal catches, said Vella.
Despite receiving a yellow card in October 2015, and despite considerable effort by the European Commission to support this country in addressing the issue, no progress has been made.
Although the red card implies trade sanctions, in this particular case the decision will not impact on trade as the Comoros do not export fish to the EU. However, EU vessels will no longer be allowed to take licences to fish in their waters, Vella stated.
For Saint Vincent and the Grenadines the decision comes due to the lack of control by the authorities of vessels flying their flag. These vessels operate all over the Atlantic and offload their catches in Trinidad and Tobago (which has already been warned in order to improve control over activities in its ports). Effectively, these vessels elude any control over their activities.
This raises the concern that they are involved in illegal practices. Two vessels from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are already on the international vessel "black list" compiled by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations. Similar to the Comoros, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines do not export fish to the EU, Vella noted.
Liberia has the second biggest shipping registry in the world with over 100 fishing transport vessels registered under its flag. The national fisheries authorities do not have the information or means to control this fleet. This lack of control has been confirmed by the listing of a Liberian vessel on the international "black list" last October.
Liberia has taken reform measures including the revision of its fisheries laws, but no tangible progress has followed, said Vella. The Commission hopes that the pre-identification will raise political awareness and encourage the country to implement the necessary reforms in fisheries governance.
The Commission's decisions taken today are the result of thorough analyses, following informal and formal discussions with the relevant authorities in each country. The Commission has proposed to Liberia a tailor-made action plan and estimates the identified issues can be resolved in six months. The Comoros and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines received action plans when they were pre-identified (in October 2015 and December 2014, respectively). Ongoing dialogue and support will encourage these countries to step up their efforts to fully implement these action plans.
Fighting illegal fishing is part of the EU's commitment to ensure the sustainable use of the sea and its resources under the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, and in the context of promoting better governance of the oceans worldwide. The Commission attaches great importance to cooperation with third countries. The EU's support helps these countries strengthen their fight against IUU fishing.
Today's decisions are based on the EU's 'IUU Regulation,' which entered into force in 2010. This key instrument in the fight against illegal fishing ensures that only fisheries products that have been certified as legal can access the EU market.
Since November 2012 the Commission has launched formal dialogues with several third countries (pre-identification or "yellow card"), which have been warned of the need to take strong action to fight IUU fishing.
When significant progress is observed, the Commission can end the dialogue (lifting the pre-identification status or "green card"). A few countries have not shown the necessary commitment to reforms. As a result fisheries products caught by vessels from these countries are banned from being imported into the EU (identification and listing or "red card"). A full list of countries is available on: https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/sites/fisheries/files/illegal-fishing-overview-of-existing-procedures-third-countries_en.pdf.
The global value of IUU fishing is estimated at approximately 10 billion euros per year. Between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally a year, corresponding to at least 15% of world catches. The EU is the world's biggest importer of fisheries products.