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New Measures Would Allow Authorities to tackle non-compliance and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing - As officials from Mediterranean countries gather this week for the Γενική Επιτροπή Αλιείας για τη Μεσόγειο (GFCM) annual session in Croatia, NGOs are urging the adoption of a system of corrective measures that would allow the GFCM to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and cases of non-compliance within its region - a call backed by a legal analysis published this week that shows that GFCM has the competency to impose such measures.

The proposed system under discussion this week - which already exists in other regional fisheries management organisations - would allow the GFCM to take action against countries that consistently disregard fishing regulations. Several organizations of the Med Sea Alliance (MSA) argue that creating a compliance mechanism is crucial for the Mediterranean's biodiversity, fish stock recovery, and the communities that rely on marine resources.

“At the moment, the GFCM cannot act when countries systematically fail to follow its requirements on, for example, fleet control or properly reporting on their fishing activities, but with such a system in place, the GFCM could apply measures such as suspending fishing authorisations or requiring increased controls”, said Helena Álvarez, Senior Marine Scientist at Oceana in Europe. “This is a prerequisite for ensuring the survival of the Mediterranean’s unique biodiversity, to support the recovery of fish stocks and the communities that rely on marine resources”.

“The Mediterranean Sea, rich in biodiversity and vital to the livelihoods of countless fishermen, faces persistent challenges”, said Nils Courcy, Senior Jurist, Marine & Mediterranean, at ClientEarth. “Fishing rules and regulations are established through consensus, but implementation and enforcement often fall short. A compliance mechanism can help enforce regulations that prevent destructive fishing practices, such as bottom trawling, which can harm or destroy vital habitats, such as seagrass (Posidonia oceanica). This gap in enforcement endangers shared natural resources and the very existence of the fishermen who depend on them.”

A νομική ανάλυση by Professor Tullio Scovazzi - retired former professor of international law at the Universities of Parma, Genoa, Milan and Milan-Bicocca, Italy - and Professor Simone Vezzani, - professor of international and European law at the University of Perugia, Italy - confirms that the GFCM has the competency to impose corrective measures in cases of non-compliance.

The analysis was commissioned by the Med Sea Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organisations working to improve the health and productivity of the Mediterranean Sea, in response to questions raised during the GFCM Compliance Committee meeting in May 2023 about the compatibility of such a system with international law. The legal analysis concludes that the current lack of a compliance mechanism is not a legal, but rather a political question.

Σύμφωνα με ένα briefing on the legal analysis, prepared by ClientEarth, Environmental Justice Foundation and Oceana, “in accordance with international law and GFCM rules, the GFCM has the competence to establish a system that incentivises and ensures compliance through robust corrective measures, including trade-related sanctions [5]. Setting up such a system would also bring the GFCM in line with the practice of several other Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs)”.

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"As this legal analysis shows, the only thing holding back GFCM from effectively dealing with states who don't follow the rules is a matter of political will," said Jesús Urios Culiañez, Environmental Justice Foundation’s lead campaigner for the Mediterranean. "This week, GFCM Members have an opportunity to make the meaningful change we need. By establishing a strong enforcement system for the conservation and management of the Mediterranean, they can protect marine ecosystems and support the livelihoods of those who rely on them. They must not let this opportunity slip away.”

Σε Πρόσκληση για δράση published during the GFCM High-level conference on MedFish4Ever initiatives, several member organisations of the Med Sea Alliance urged GFCM members to create a compliance mechanism, expand vessel tracking and that other tracking measures (AIS) and ensure that that trawl bans in the Mediterranean Sea are fully enforced and complied with to support the recovery of fish stocks and the protection of sensitive habitats.

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