BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union moved Tuesday to ban Sri Lanka from selling its seafood to the massive EU market in a bid to stop illegal fishing by the second biggest exporter to the bloc.
The European Commission, the EU s executive arm, meanwhile proposed to scrap a ban on fish from Belize and lifted a threat to bar seafood from Panama, Fiji, Togo and Vanuatu.
“The other side of the coin today is Sri Lanka,” Maria Damanaki, commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, told reporters.
“We tried to work with them, but they were not cooperative. I can say the contrary happened,” Damanaki said.
“Sri Lanka is now authorising huge vessels to fish in the Indian Ocean without marine GPS. That means that control is impossible,” she said.
After conducting a four-year investigation and issuing a warning in 2012, the commission said Sri Lanka had failed to make “credible progress” toward fighting illegal fishing, including creating a scheme to punish high-seas violators.
The ban on Sri Lankan products will take effect in mid-January, so as not to interfere with current contracts, the commission said.
The EU last year imported 7,400 tonnes of products such as fresh and chilled swordfish, tuna and tuna-like species from Sri Lanka worth about 74 million euros (94 million dollars).
The commission said EU member states will over the next few months also impose bans on fishing in Sri Lankan waters by EU-flagged vessels as well as on joint fishing operations.
Damanaki said Sri Lanka was the second largest exporter to the EU, which is the world s most valuable fish market.
Belize saw its products banned by the EU in March for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, along with those from Cambodia and Guinea, which remain on the EU blacklist.
Once the European Council confirms Belize s removal from the blacklist, the commission said, the EU can resume importing fisheries products from the Central American country and EU-flagged ships can return to fish in its waters.
Illegal fishing is estimated to account for 15 percent of world catches, or some 10 billion euros a year, and the decisions by the EU, which imports 65 percent of its seafood, won swift praise from environmental groups.
Saskia Richartz, the EU oceans policy director for Greenpeace, said: “Where diplomatic efforts fail, the EU is right to ban the imports of products from countries like Sri Lanka that fail to manage their fisheries properly.”