A proposed European Union (EU) guideline requiring imported seafood to be accompanied by a “catch certificate” from a competent authority could help curb illegal fishing on the Indian Ocean.
Exporters will be required to produce the certificate showing area where the catch shipped to the EU was made, the method of fishing, the trawler used and processing details.
The proposal comes as good news to about 20,000 Kenyan fishermen who are almost being locked out of the export trade as fish supply drops.
Athman Seif, a director of the Malindi Marine Association, says foreign fishing vessels operating illegally along the Kenyan coast are to blame for declining catches.
If the EU guideline is implemented, Kenya is likely to continue producing 200,000 metric tonnes of fish annually from its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), stretching about 200 nautical miles into the Indian Ocean.
Records at the fisheries department show that about 60 foreign vessels have been licensed to fish within Kenya’s EEZ, but local fishermen associations say more than 200 vessels are seen in a single fishing season, a threat to Kenya’s ability to catch enough fish.
Marine experts warn that the supply along the 600km stretch of the coast stretching from the border with Somalia in the north to Tanzania in the south is decreasing.
The EU guideline comes in the wake of another, from Russia that says all shipments to that country must carry an inspection certificate issued by its authorities from August 1.
The guideline is aimed at eliminating unregulated fishing activities, comes into effect from January 1, 2010. Estimated to be about 10 to 15 per cent of the region’s total catch, illegal and unreported fishing disrupts the tuna trade, worth tens of millions of dollars every year according to experts.
The trade is booming due to insufficient patrols along the Indian Ocean with one or two patrol vessels, lacking capacity to intercept the hundreds of small boats, mainly from Taiwan and Indonesia.
“The Kenyan waters are virtually unpoliced and the fisheries department does not own patrol boats and navy is too committed to defence matters, leaving a loophole of illegal fishing,” Mr Seif said.
The move by fish export destinations to introduce more stringent regulations is likely to lead to reduction of piracy incidents along the coast of Somalia where a section of residents seem to back the youth involved in piracy saying “it is some sort of compensation of illegal fishing.”
Currently, shipments to the EU require only a health certificate and the results of a test showing products are free of banned ingredients.
The existing system, according to an exporter, is simpler.
The European Commission, on behalf of the union, has in the past show interest in curbing Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fisheries in the region.
Recently, the commission entered into a partnership with the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) to fight the menace and announced that it would fund an initial project under this plan to the tune of seven million euros covering the first three years (2007-2010).