LADB Blog: The European Union, Belize and the Fight Against Illegal Fishing

November 10, 2014

As the world's largest fish importer, the 28-member European Union (EU) carries a lot of weight when it comes to maritime and fishing laws. Those laws, controlled and enforced by the Commission for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, allow the EU to enforce bans and sanctions when it comes to imports of fish and seafood.

These laws and regulations, formally established in 2008 by the EC under Council Regulation No. 1005, are implemented in order to "establish a community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing."

Over a half a year since the EU officially banned fish imports from Belize (read more from Louisa Reynolds in NotiCen, Oct. 30, 2014), the European Commission (EC) has rescinded the ban in recognition of Belize's progress in bringing the Central American nation's fisheries to compliance with EC law. According to an official press release by the EC, the decision to lift the ban on Belize was because the Central American country had demonstrated "its commitment to reforming its legal framework and adopting a new set of rules for inspection, control and monitoring of vessel."

This press release also included news that proposed bans on Panama, Togo, Fiji and Vanuatu were also lifted because those nations had made progress in combating piracy and illegal fishing.

The sanctions imposed over the last five years, largely under the leadership of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki, have vastly broadened the jurisdiction of these EC regulations by enforcing import bans for violations that do not occur in the EU territory. Internationalizing the scope of enforcement of the issues represented under the EC regulations has been a central goal of Commissioner Damanaki.

Russian, Chinese Connection?

Although EC sanctions seem to disproportionately affect nations with struggling economies, an investigation launched in the last week is looking into the possibility of one of the largest "pirate" fishing boats in the world as being Chinese and Russian controlled. This case includes details and examples of how a fishing vessel can become pirate, such as switching between various, false national flags while traveling between China and South America.

The European Union itself was formed in order to protect economic interest of member nations, such as the European Coal and Steel Community, regarded as the predecessor of the modern EU. The recent action by the EC's Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commission is an important development along this almost 70-year history of attempts to create international communities for the enforcement of transnational agreements and accords, be them economic, political or human rights-based.

In this light, the EU is not only a global rarity of a political-economic union between nations, but also represents one of the few transnational organizations (like OPEC) with the power to enforce by wielding heavy sanctions. The main difference between EU and OPEC, however, is that OPEC rarely if ever utilizes its power to enforce sanctions in the name of environmental sustainability and human rights.

In the case of the EU's Commission on Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the bans and sanctions are in place not in order to protect the markets of member states necessarily, but to enforce international agreements against over-fishing, piracy and other illegal practices. Despite much criticism leveled against the harsh enforcement of regulations under Damanaki's leadership, criticism that rightfully draws to attention the unfair impact these sanctions will have on the poorest sectors of the economy, Damanaki and the EC are standing behind their position that these regulations are meant to enforce and promote maritime sustainably, and are in no way aimed at reinforcing EU's control of international markets.

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About LADB

The Latin America Data Base (LADB) is one of the longest running premier news and educational services on Latin America. Established in 1986 as a unit of the Latin American and Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico (UNM), LADB has had an internet presence since 1996. LADB features three weekly electronic publications: NotiCenNotiSur, and SourceMex, and a fully searchable archive of over 28,000 articles that provide timely information and historical perspective on a variety of Latin American issues. LADB is a subscription service made available at no cost to the UNM community. For more information, contact To keep apprised of current events in Latin America, follow LADB on Twitter @LADBatUNM.