WWF says EU seafood traceability could help sustainability

The EU should make an improved traceability system for seafood compulsory to combat illicit trade and prevent illegal fishing that can damage marine environments, says the World Wildlife Federation (WWF).

As the EU is the world's largest market for seafood, importing more than 60 per cent of the seafood consumed every year, taking a firm line on traceability could have a positive impact on marine sustainability around the world, says the non-governmental organisation (NGO).

The WWF call to action was made at a conference entitled From Bait to Plate, which took place last week to draw attention to the problem of illegal fishing and overfishing, as well as the consequences of warming oceans. It estimates that around 25 per cent of all catches worldwide come from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

At the event, the head of the European Commission's Unit for Fisheries Control and Inspections – Francesca Arena – said that the EU intends to "fully digitise all types of data in the fisheries world and across the supply chain, as well as to follow catches back to the individual fishing trip which caught the seafood being sold at market."

There are gaps in the data currently available however, she warned. The EU is currently reviewing its rules on seafood traceability as part of the revision of its fisheries control system.

The European Parliament recently adopted a policy that calls for a mandatory digital and harmonised system to make seafood products in the EU market fully traceable, and EU member states are also working on their position statement on seafood traceability, which is due by the end of May.

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The EP position is that all fishing vessels must report everything they catch, including sensitive and protected species, which will make data for over 49,000 EU vessels available for the first time.

Those vessels should be tracked using remote electronic monitoring (REM) tools, so seafood available in the EU market will be digitally traceable, it said.

Critics of the position have said that a decision to extend the 'margin of tolerance' for fishers could allow up to four in ten fish to go missing from the records, which undermines the sustainability objectives.

The EP rejected attempts to monitor and curb the bycatch of sensitive species, including dolphins, seals and seabirds using REM technology.

"Without proper traceability, we can’t be sure about the sustainability of the seafood we’re spending our euros on," commented Katrin Vilhelm Poulsen, senior seafood policy officer at WWF's European Policy Office.

"Businesses and policy-makers must urgently establish efficient digital traceability systems which span the entire supply chain, from harvest through landing and processing to retail," she added. "The future of our fisheries and the health of our seas depend on it."

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