Tuna held in ports as UK import checks drag on

May 10, 2013, 8:47 am

Weeks after the UK first started upping its monitoring of tuna shipments from west Africa and Ghana in particular, the situation has not improved, said industry sources.

“The UK continues to double check every container that comes in. They’ve informed us that they expect to finish very soon,” said an executive with a major tuna importer.

The UK Marine Management Organization (MMO) started double-checking all imports from west Africa -- Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Cape Verde -- mainly around two months ago, citing concerns over tuna coming from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) catches.

The checks are said to have intensified in recent weeks, in particular with shipments from Ghana.

Imports into other European Union ports are also affected, but most of the talk is about the UK, which is the largest importer of tuna from Ghana. "European custom authorities are now demanding extra information on ownership of vessels and documents than previously required," the importer told Undercurrent News.

Ghana’s government has expressed its concern to UK authorities, he added. “The Ghanaian directorate of fisheries, on behalf of the minister, wrote an official letter [in mid-April] underlining the concern of the government about the situation."

According to the importer, the MMO has been asking for “a lot of documentation” from companies and the Ghanaian authorities over their catches of tuna, in order to check compliance with rules on IUU.

“Our hope is that the process will conclude soon."

In what the importer hopes will speed up a resolution, the EU's DG Mare will carry out an official visit to Ghana at the end of May. “It’s good that the delegation will go directly on the terrain, and see things for themselves.”

The focus of the visit will be on IUU regulation, said a DG Mare spokesperson. "I can confirm the visit, but it is a much more general evaluation mission of the implementation of the EU IUU regulation in Ghana as carried out in almost 20 other third countries as from the entry into force of the EU IUU regulation," the spokesperson told Undercurrent.

It is also understood some companies -- including MW Brands, the largest tuna producer and exporter in Ghana -- have encouraged raw material suppliers to sign transparent CSR (corporate social responsibility) contracts. Since the end of last year, all Ghana-flagged vessels also have 100% satellite monitoring of the vessel positions for each trip, on behest of international requirements.

Held in ports

A spokesperson for MMO confirmed “potential problems” have been found with certain shipments from Ghanaian-flagged vessels and said these are being held at ports.

“To reduce the risk of illegally-caught fish being presented to the UK market, authorities are continuing to monitor the provenance of all imports, suspending imports, conducting verifications and where necessary refusing imports in the usual way,” the spokesperson told Undercurrent.

“Potential problems have been identified with consignments of tuna caught by Ghanaian flagged fishing vessels and this is being held at ports while we carry out checks. There is no blanket ban on any imports from any third country approved under the relevant EU regulations.

“We are working closely with the supply chain and the Ghanaian authorities on this.”

The EU as a whole started double checking the origin and catch certificates of all tuna imports in 2010 as part of a crackdown on IUU fishing.

Ghana is the UK’s largest source of tuna, accounting for more than a tenth of tuna imports in both volume and value.

In 2011 the UK bought 97,965 metric tons of tuna from Ghana, worth more than £267 million, making it the second most imported and valuable species after cod.

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