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The EU Tackles Wildlife Trafficking

One year after its adoption, the European Union’s action plan shows signs that it could positively impact the ornamental aquatic industry if effectively implemented.


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When we come across reports relating to illegal wildlife trafficking, the subjects are usually dramatic ones such as seizures of illegal ivory, tiger skins, bear organs and so on. Therefore, we tend to think that the ornamental aquatic industry is not part of this world of illegal international trade activities. But, unfortunately, it is.

The concept of what constitutes illegal wildlife trafficking is sufficiently wide to embrace not just consciously engineered illegal trans-boundary trade, but also unintentional nonobservance of international trade rules.

This—from the European perspective—was brought sharply into focus in February when the European Union celebrated the first anniversary of the adoption of the EU Action Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking at a major conference held in Brussels. The idea behind this meeting was to provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to evaluate the effectiveness of the action plan following its implementation. Present at the gathering were not just representatives of the various EU Member States’ judiciaries and enforcement agencies, but also representatives from the pet, air transportation and courier industries.

It was reported that the EU is a major market for legal trade in wildlife, with such trade valued at 100 million euros per year. It also is a major transit and source region for illegal wildlife products.

The action plan is, therefore, seen as the EU response to the need to control the illegal sector. As mentioned above, the plan was adopted by the European Commission one year prior to the February meeting. It then had to go through two essential steps before it could be implemented. The first one—its adoption by the EU Council—was completed in June of last year, with the final one—the granting of official support by the EU Parliament—completed last November. So, in effect, the action plan has only been in operation for a few months at the time of writing this piece.

Its original aims remain unaltered: 

Preventing wildlife trafficking and addressing its root causes

Implementing and enforcing existing rules and combating organized wildlife crime more effectively

Strengthening the global partnership of source, consumer and transit countries against wildlife trafficking

Few would argue with these aims, and certainly not the ornamental aquatic industry, which has been supporting legal trade and condemning illegal trade for years now. Encouragingly, this stance has not gone unnoticed, with the pet industry in general being depicted in the various presentations made at the February conference as a well-organized sector. This, undoubtedly, is largely down to the hard work of our representatives at the numerous conferences and meetings that take place all over the world. Another factor that holds us in good stead is that the pet industry has always emphasized the need for a collaborative and mutually supportive approach at all levels of the stakeholder community in tackling wildlife crime.

We can, therefore, walk away from meetings such as the first anniversary conference of the EU Wildlife Action Plan with the reassuring feeling that we hold a strong, positive stance against illegal trading that is acknowledged within the corridors of power. Having said this, we must not believe for one moment that this type of activity does not occur within our circle of trade activities.

Intentional illegal trafficking still occurs, although the general consensus is that it is at a considerably lower level than it did in the past. Intentional mislabelling of exported/imported species is, perhaps, the most obvious and best-known way in which this has tended to happen in the past. There have been, for example, several high-profile cases where CITES-listed species—most notably, dragonfish (Scleropages formosus) and hard corals—have been seized at various EU border inspection posts. There also have been cases of attempted smuggling, of course, with animals, for example, being hidden among items of personal luggage.

And then there are the unintentional cases of wildlife trafficking. These occur when shipments, or individual species, carry inappropriate or incorrect documentation. Though one could argue that it is the responsibility of the exporter/importer to ensure that every shipment and every species carries all the necessary documentation, it is very possible for some vital factor to be overlooked, especially following the implementation of new legal requirements. Unfortunately, all seizures that might result from this will be recorded as cases of illegal trafficking.

The action plan might have shortcomings, but it does set out to battle against illegal trade. With regard to aquatic species, it makes special mention of illegal coral harvesting, aquatic species that might be in danger of becoming extinct, online sales of aquatic organisms, the need to strengthen measures regarding the illicit trafficking in species intended for aquariums, the need for traceability, awareness-raising among consumers, the establishment of “positive lists,” i.e. species that can legally be traded and kept, and other factors.

It’s still very early in the life of the action plan, and it is unclear how effectively or otherwise it will be enforced, but, whatever the case, our industry is, and will continue to be, actively involved in its development and promotion.

FURTHER READING

The full text of the EU Action Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking can be consulted by searching for: European Parliament Resolution of 24 November, 2016, on EU Action Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking.

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