The European Commission last week gave the initial clearance to resume Sri Lanka’s fisheries exports to the 28 nation-strong region, lifting a ban that was clamped down since January 2015, depriving the country of US $100 million per annum in foreign exchange.
Congratulating Sri Lanka’s achievement, EU Ambassador in Colombo David Daly told the Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka and the the EU developed an exceptional partnership through the past months in combating the illegal fishing trade worldwide.
Speaking from Kandy, Daly said “Sri lanka has made excellent progress in improving a national fisheries governance system.
“The political leadership shown by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was exceptional.”
He also thanked Fisheries Ministry Secretary W.M.M.R.Adikari and Director General of the Fisheries Department Christy Lal Fernando for the lead roles they played to lift the ban.
Although the decision by the Commission to lift the Red Card should also get the approval from 28 Fisheries Ministers in the EU Council for it to become fully effective, this is considered only a formality. Hence, Sri Lanka is expected to resume it’s fisheries exports to EU countries by July this year.
Before Sri Lanka lost its rights to export fish products to the EU, in 2014, it exported nearly 10,000 metric tonnes of seafood to the region earning US $ 100 million that year. The fisheries sector generated a total of US$ 266.5 million in export earnings that year. The exports in 2013 accounted for 74 million Euros. Sri Lanka was the second largest exporter of fresh tuna and chilled swordfish to the EU.
Of the total fisheries exports, exports to the EU accounted for 45 percent, according to the Seafood Exporters Association Chairman Prabash Subasinghe. Subasinghe said Sri Lanka gained new markets during the period it was under the Red Card of the European Commision but the ban was a major blow to the industry and it did not even come close to recovering the total loss.
Sri Lanka started exporting processed fish products to Russia and the Middle East in a bid to offset EU losses. Some processing plants imported raw material from the Maldives and India for value addition to be done here and re-export to keep the EU regulators satisfied.
It took over one year for Sri Lanka to work and impress upon the EU bloc to withdraw the Red Card issued based on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) regulations introduced by the EU in 2010 to combat illegal fishing practices worldwide.
“By today, Sri Lanka has amended its legal framework, strengthened sanctions and improved its fleet control,” the EU said in a statement announcing the lifting of trade sanctions on Thursday.
The European commission said Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Korea, the Philippines, Fiji, Belize, Panama, Togo and Vanuatu reformed their fisheries management systems after warnings from them. The European Commission issued a Yellow Card warning to Sri Lanka over a lack of regulation to stop illegal fishing in Sri Lankan waters in 2012. On a decision in October 14, 2014 a full ban was imposed three months later. It became effective in January 2016, a week after President Maithripala Sirisena assumed office.
According to the Commission, the EU began monitoring Sri Lanka as far back as 2010 and the discussion to get Sri Lanka to comply with international standards have been progressing since 2012. Fisheries Ministry Secretary Adikari said the resumption of fisheries exports was a great relief for the local fisher community.
Around 272,140 active fishermen engage in marine and inland fisheries and 1,023,780 members of their household depend on the income from fishing and related activities.
Sri Lanka has met 36-time bound tasks that were in the road map presented by the EU to stop IUU fishing in the country’s territorial waters. This included introducing several amendments to the Fisheries Act and introducing a vessel monitoring system.
“Sri Lanka has shown other countries what can be done individually to combat illegal fishing,” the EU Ambassador said adding that impressively the country has developed a system today, to send alerts from Colombo to every boat operating in the high seas.
In addition to the 36 time-bound tasks, the sector needs to consistently comply with another 21 on-going tasks including regular port inspections, maintaining log books, capacity-building and monitoring the movement of vessels.
Director General of the Fisheries Department Fernando said they hope to increase the volume of fisheries exports to the region, exceeding the 2014 figures once the EU market is reinstated. He said the 32 processing factories were running under capacity at the moment.
Fish prices have soared
“World fish prices have soared since 2014 and there is no limit or quota to what Sri Lanka can export,” he said therefore, the industry is expected to bounce back within months.
Fisheries and Aquatic resources Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said most of the given tasks, such as upgrading the factories and the vessels contributed positively to uplift the local fisheries sector, therefore the EU sactions were a blessing in disguise.
“Following the ban Sri Lanka’s exporters explored new markets, and in that sense there were positive outcomes as well,” he added.
Although some have criticised the ban as a political move against the former administration, Fisheries Department DG said with the global warming and other factors leading to depleted fish stocks globally, the EU is also bracing for a global food shortage. It is strictly monitoring countries with which they have dealings.
While announcing the lifting of the ban on Sri Lanka, the EU called for action on three other countries Kiribati, Sierra Leone and Trinidad & Tobago with Yellow Cards. It has also extended the Yellow Card issued on Thailand, the world’s third largest exporter of seafood.
Immediately after the ban was imposed in January 2016, only a week after President Maithripala Sirisena took office, the government geared into action with the Prime Minister summoning a hurried meeting at Temple Trees to address the issue. Special emphasis was given by the government to get the export of fisheries products and the GSP + trade concessions reinstated.
With these two missions in hand Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera travelled to Brussels, in late January 2015. However, with the opening of the EU market, there is fear that local prices of fish could further soar due to supply constraints.
This has already been brought to the attention of the authorities and discussions are focusing on manufacturing bigger vessels and arming fishermen with latest technology to increase the harvest.