In a major move against illegal fishing, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) this week banned the import of bigeye tuna from Belize, Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Honduras, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. All five countries are notorious flag of convenience (FOC) countries and collectively operate a fleet of some 280 industrial longline vessels fishing illegally on the high seas in the Atlantic Ocean.(1)

Bigeye tuna, the main target of the Atlantic pirate fishing fleets, commands a high price on the Japanese market and is mainly used for sushi. Japan, together with the European Union, the United States and other countries that are members of ICCAT, are now legally bound to close their markets to the tuna caught by vessels registered to the five flag of convenience countries.

Greenpeace welcomed the ICCAT decision as an effective step, if fully implemented, to cut off one of the most important markets to pirate fishing fleets. Earlier this year, a Greenpeace expedition in the Atlantic documented and confronted pirate fishing for tuna on the high seas, and tracked a cargo ship with a load of pirate caught tuna as it arrived in a Japanese port in August.(2)

"It is our hope that the import ban will put these boats out of business," said Greenpeace fisheries campaigner Helene Bours. "These fleets operate beyond any international control in complete disregard for the damage to fish stocks, sharks and other species affected by their activities."

Japan has taken a lead role in combating pirate fishing and initially proposed the ICCAT import ban. The Japanese government is upping the pressure on Japanese companies involved in transporting and trading tuna to stop doing business with pirate fishing fleets. South Africa, another member of ICCAT, has also recently taken action to ban pirate fishing vessels from landing their fish catch in South African ports.

The EU, though a member of ICCAT and other regional fisheries organizations plagued by pirate fishing, has done little to halt the problem. A large number of flag of convenience fishing vessels operating around the world are owned by companies based in EU member states, primarily Spain.

In recent years, ICCAT has been at the forefront of the fight against flag of convenience fishing. However, the global nature of the problem and the mobility and flexibility of FOC fleets require a concerted effort by the international community in order to avoid merely shifting the problem from one ocean or fishery to another. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is in the process of developing an international plan of action (IPOA) to 'prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing'.

"Too much talk and too little action have marked past UN FAO negotiations and the result so far has been disappointing," denounced Ms. Bours. "Time is running out for the world's fisheries and oceans. Concrete action to close ports and markets to these fleets and close the companies that get away with high seas robbery is the only way to put an end to this problem."(3)

Greenpeace is calling on governments to:
  • close harbours to FOC fishing vessels and vessels servicing FOC fishing fleets;

  • close markets to FOC caught fish and fish products and prevent companies from owning or operating FOC fishing vessels or otherwise doing business with FOC vessels.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
HélèneBours, Greenpeace International, (m) +32 477 430 171 or +32 844 77 177
MatthewGianni, Greenpeace International Oceans Campaign Coordinator, + 31 20 523 6279
Luisa Colasimone, Greenpeace Communications, (m) +31 6 21 29 69 20

Stills and footage from Greenpeace expeditions against pirate fishing in the Atlantic Ocean and Southern Ocean available upon request: stills +31(0) 653819121; footage +31(0) 65304721


NOTES:
  1. A "flag of convenience" country is one that allows fishing vessels to operate under its flag without exercising any control over the activities of the vessel. Under international law, the flag state has the primary responsibility to ensure a vessel fishing on the high seas abides by all international rules and regulations. Unscrupulous fishing vessel owners and companies use flags of convenience to avoid fisheries conservation and management regulations, as well as safety and labour standards. ICCAT published a list of 345 fishing vessels flying flags of convenience operating in the Atlantic of which 279 are registered to the five countries listed above. ICCAT met in Morocco and adopted the import ban on Monday (20 November).


  2. Greenpeace has been actively campaigning against fishing activities by vessels flying flags of convenience in the Mediterranean Sea, the Southern Ocean and, more recently, in the Atlantic Ocean. In April and May 2000, Greenpeace documented FOC vessels fishing in the Atlantic Ocean and transhipping tuna to cargo vessels bringing the tuna to Japan.


  3. The next UN FAO meeting on pirate fishing will be held in Rome from 26 February to 2 March 2001. There will be a last negotiation session on 23-24 February where states will attempt to come to an agreement on the international plan of action on IUU fishing.