By Charlie Dunmore
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission proposed on Tuesday an EU-wide ban on fisheries imports from Cambodia, Belize and Guinea, saying they had not done enough to stamp out illegal fishing.
The European Union's executive branch also warned South Korea and Ghana that they faced similar bans unless they took concrete steps to address the problem.
The European Union is the world's top importer of fresh and frozen fish and seafood. It has been criticised for not doing enough to prevent fish caught illegally in other parts of the world from ending up on European dining tables.
"These decisions show our steadfast commitment to tackling illegal fishing," EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki said in a statement. "We continue to put pressure on the countries which are fuelling the supply chain of illegal fishing."
Earlier this year, EU governments banned imports of herring and mackerel from the Faroe Islands, accusing the self-governing Danish territory of setting unsustainable catch quotas for the fisheries it shares with the EU, Norway, Russia and Iceland.
Once approved by fisheries ministers from the 28 member states in the coming months, the proposed Asian and African restrictions would also prohibit EU vessels from fishing in the affected countries' waters.
Up to 26 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally each year worldwide, with an estimated value of 10 billion euros, the Commission said.
The European Union imported more than 50 million tonnes of fisheries products in 2011 worth 18.5 billion euros, according to EU statistics office Eurostat.
Last year, a study by a British environmental group found that nine out of 10 vessels believed to be responsible for the bulk of illegal fishing off Sierra Leone were licensed to export their catches to Europe.
"The Commission has acted for the first time to curb the effect that European fish imports have on the long term viability of global fish stocks and the fight against illegal fishing," said Saskia Richartz from environmental campaign group Greenpeace.