Tracking fish from sea to plate to keep illegal catches outStaff Writer | April 13, 2017
An FAO-led push to establish internationally agreed standards that can guide the development of catch documentation schemes.
Food trade Voluntary Guidelines
A set of draft Voluntary Guidelines on Catch Documentation Schemes was last week unanimously adopted by a technical consultation that brought a 5-year negotiation effort to a close, and are now poised for adoption by all FAO Members at the UN agency's upcoming bi-annual governing conference (Rome 3-8 July 2017).
Once approved by the Conference, the guidelines will act as an internationally-recognized "gold standard" reference for governments and businesses looking to establish systems that can trace fish from their point of capture through the entire supply chain - from "sea to plate" - in order to stop illegally caught fish from entering the marketplace.
Globally, some 91-93 million tonnes of fish are captured each year, and seafood products are among the world's most widely traded food commodities, with an export value of $142 billion in 2016.
On top of that, Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is estimated to strip as much as 26 million additional tonnes of fish from the oceans annually, damaging marine ecosystems and sabotaging efforts to sustainably manage fisheries.
Catch documentation schemes (CDS) offer a way to cut down on trade in illegal fish.
The basic concept: shipments of fish are certified by national authorities as being caught legally and in compliance with best practices; certifying hard-copy documentation then accompanies the fish as they are processed and marketed nationally or internationally. Only fish with valid documentation can be exported or traded to markets where a CDS requirement exists.
Until recently, only a few such schemes had been established, and mostly focusing on high-value species whose overexploitation prompted particular concern, such as Chilean Seabass harvested in Antarctic waters, or Atlantic and Southern Bluefin Tuna.
But with seafood trade at record highs and consumer demand still rising, catch documentation schemes are increasingly seen as a tool that could be more widely applied.
Indeed, the EU since 2010 has used a CDS that covers all fish shipments imported into the bloc from overseas; and in 2016, the United States announced its own scheme, the Seafood Import Monitoring Program.
One challenge facing broader use of CDS relates to the logistics of ensuring that a paper certificate safely makes it from a fishing port in one country to an inspection station in another.
The new guidelines recommend moving beyond paper-only documentation, so that information on fish shipments is recorded preferably in a digital system that can be referenced at any point along the value chain, reducing administrative burdens but also cutting down on fraud opportunities.
To function well, CDS need to be relatively simple and adaptable to different fisheries circumstances, so that diverse actors across the supply chain will find them both useful and "user friendly" - something the new guidelines call for. ■