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JERNIGAN: Coherence needed in fish trade deals

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Boats on a Lamu beach. File photo | nmg
Boats on a Lamu beach. File photo | nmg 

As the world gathers in for the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, it is worthy to reflect that by the close of 2018, thousands of enormous fishing fleets of distant water fishing nations would have cruised in Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Ocean, harvesting, processing and packaging prized fish species to rich markets, mainly Europe and Asian Markets.

In wide contrast thousands of small holder fishers in bare-chest with broken nets and lantern would have paddled their canoes at night to catch the same kind of fish for the same markets albeit stringent Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures. The glaring difference shows that building coherence, transparency, accountability is urgently needed from these fishing fleets. Ocean development is a paramount and is part of goal 17 in SDGs.

The agonising issue for Port states, is that most of these fishing fleets are involved in illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing; unsustainable harvests of marine stocks; and degrading ocean ecosystem despite various agreements or licensing and export substantially to rich markets, thus undermining the sustainable blue economy, and shared prosperity.

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This contrast has put European Union (EU), China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan at discomfort position to quantify the progress of EU Fisheries Partnership agreements (FPAs) and other bilateral agreements with developing countries and to demonstrate genuineness and transparency of the agreements or licence, which could be a game-changer for the sustainable blue economy.

The EU FPAs, (which provide EU vessels with access to surplus stocks that were not fished by coastal states’ local fleets) and other bilateral agreements in fisheries with developing countries have the potential of enhancing the blue sustainable economy and establish coherence in international trade in fish and other marine ecosystem.

However, the agreements are not adhered to, and there is no specialised enforcement to ensure transparency and accountability from these fleets. Instead the agreements or licences enhance the deterioration of marine ecosystem in Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and beyond in developing countries.

Although EU gives financial and technical support, the first road to establishing sustainable blue economy is the multilateral trading system addressing the depleting fish stocks and IUU caused by huge subsidies from EU. This apparently involves the EU coming up with disciplines to address the harmful subsidies, addressing proper fisheries management and provide special and differential treatment for developing countries.

There are discussion going on to strengthen the current mechanism of WTO agreement on subsidies and countervailing measure.

Secondly, the agreements need to support and strengthen port states to handle and manage distant water fishing nations. Another problem is the deplorable working conditions of the fishers and the dock workers. Most of these fishing fleets have human right abuses, poor labour practices, poor terms of engagement and forced labour. The fishers’ family live in deplorable state.

The issues discussed require coherence on development of fisheries to enhance sustainable blue economy.

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