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Examining the impact of the European Union’s carding scheme to combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing on the Republic of Panama’s seafood trade


The European Union (EU) developed a market-based approach to prevent, deter, and end illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Its carding scheme highlights countries that lackadequate measures to combat IUU fishing and introduces a trade sanction that prevents “red-carded” countries from exporting their seafood products to the EU. Before a trade sanction, the European Commission warns countries with a “yellow card”. Delisting from a red or yellow card results in a "green card". The Republic of Panama (Panama) was the first country that received a yellow card twice. This allowed us an opportunity to examine how the yellow card impacted Panama’s seafood trade. We used publicly available datasets—the United Nations Comtrade Database and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Fish statistical software—to quantify changes in the EU’s seafood imports from Panama following carding decisions and to examine whether a yellow card impacted Panama’s seafood trade. Between 2010 and 2020, we observed very little change in the imports of Panama’s seafood products to the EU.

In the EU, Spain and Portugal were the biggest importers of Panama’s seafood commodities, mainly importing frozen, non-filleted seafood products. We expected that Spain and Portugal, as EU member states, would decrease imports from Panama to distance the EU from carded countries. However, we found that Spain and Portugal responded inversely over the course of the decade that the IUU Regulation has been in place and that Panama received its carding decisions. Our study aligns with and IUU Watch report (Mundy 2018) that suggested that Portugal may be an entry-point for high risk, IUU products into the EU. From our study, we could not determine if it was the yellow card alone that accounted for Spain’s, and the EU’s, overall decrease in Panama’s seafood imports. Instead, it may be partially due to Panama’s overall catch decline or other factors not measured that also impact fisheries trade. Conversely, we were not expecting to find Portugal’s increased imports from Panama and recommend that the EU ensures its member states are implementing the IUU Regulation within its own countries. We recommend that the EU continues to collaborate with and listen to Panama to create better fisheries management practices and IUU strategies. We agree with Sumaila (2019) that suggested if countries, like the United States and Japan, enact similar carding schemes to incentivize countries like Panama, this may place greater effort on preventing IUU fishing.

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