In fisheries, the flag state is ultimately responsible for the activities of a vessel, including declaring catches, enforcing management measures, control activities, etc. Both the EU’s IUU Regulation to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and the FAO guidelines on IUU are based upon this principle.
This long-established principle is threatened by the practice of chartering. If a state engaged in fishing on the high seas charters a vessel flying the flag of another state, the flag state and not the chartering state must be responsible for the vessel’s actions.
However, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) there are currently considerations to adopt a text which would assign responsibility for the vessel’s activities to the chartering state. For instance, it would be responsible for signing export certificates for species caught on the high seas by vessels flying the flag of another state. Clearly, if this text is adopted, it would create a dangerous precedent and a loophole for IUU fisheries.
Many states that conclude chartering arrangements are not capable of controlling fishing activities in their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), let alone on the high seas. If the proposed text is adopted in CITES, the countries that want to use charters would advocate the same ‘special situations’ in other international fora, specifically Regional Fishery Management Organisations (RFMOs), where it could do immense damage to the fight against IUU fishing.
Could the Commission explain what its position is on this matter and how it intends to ensure the absolute primacy of flag state responsibility, in CITES and other relevant international fora?