Sri Lanka breathed a sigh a relief on Thursday with the European Commission announcing that it has recommended the lifting of the ban on fisheries export products from Sri Lanka to the European Union. According to a statement from the Commission, the proposal will be discussed by the European Union (EU) Fisheries Council at the next available opportunity and if the Council agrees with the proposal, the ban will be lifted with immediate effect.

“On a more positive note, after a lengthy dialogue process, Sri Lanka has now successfully reformed its fisheries governance system. By today it has amended its legal framework, strengthened sanctions and improved its fleet control,” the EU said adding that Sri Lanka joins the growing list of countries (Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Korea, the Philippines, Fiji, Belize, Panama, Togo and Vanuatu) that have reformed their systems, following a warning by the EU.

Sri Lanka was issued with a yellow card in 2012 and listed by the Council in February 2015. Following the ban, Sri Lanka’s seafood exports in 2015 plummeted drastically by US$ 89.6 million (35.5%) in 2015 to a mere US$163 million compared to US$ 252.7 million earned during the year 2014.

The EU said that this was the result of a long standing failure to address serious shortcomings in the implementation of control measures, a lack of deterrent sanctions, as well as the failure to comply with international and regional fisheries rules.

“Sri Lanka was previously the second biggest exporter of fresh and chilled swordfish and tuna to the EU with exports worth EUR 74 million in 2013,” The EU pointed out.

“Today’s decisions are yet another sign of the EU’s determination to fight illegal fishing globally. It also shows that we can bring important players on board: Sri Lanka has now a robust legal and policy framework to fight illegal fishing activities. As the fight against IUU, fishing is part of the EU’s commitment towards sustainability and good ocean governance, each third country that comes on board is an asset,” the European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said.

The estimated global value of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is approximately 10 billion euros per year. Between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally a year, which corresponds to at least 15% of world catches.

IUU fishing is a major threat to global marine resources. It is estimated that between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally each year with an annual global value of up to 10 billion euros.

Why is the Commission proposing to remove Sri Lanka from the list of non-cooperating countries?
Sri Lanka was listed as uncooperative by the Council in February 2015. The proposal to remove Sri Lanka from the list is the result of constructive cooperation between the country and the Commission, which has led to structural reforms in the national fisheries management system. The country has developed new legislation, increased sanctions, improved monitoring, control and inspection and strengthened traceability systems.

What about the countries that received  ‘red cards’ in the past?
Following Commission proposals, the Council adopted trade restrictions against Cambodia, Guinea and Belize in March 2014 (IP/14/304) and against Sri Lanka in October 2014 (IP/14/1132). Despite ongoing dialogues and efforts, the situation for Cambodia and Guinea remains unchanged and fisheries products caught by vessels from these countries are still banned from entering the EU. Belize was withdrawn from the blacklist in December 2014 and Sri Lanka is being withdrawn from the list today. Both countries have adopted lasting measures to address the deficiencies of their fisheries systems.