The European Commission has warned the Philippines and Papua New Guinea it could impose sanctions on fisheries imports if they do not do more to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

In a statement published on Tuesday (10 June), the two Southeast Asian countries were accused by the EC of taking “insufficient action” to fight illegal fishing, and warned they risked being identified as “non-co-operative”.

The Commission said the countries were being given a “yellow card” reprieve of six months to get their affairs in order and address deficiencies in the monitoring, controlling and surveillance of their fisheries.

It warned that the EU could take further steps if the situation did not improve, and cited the recent fisheries bans imposed on the likes of Guinea, Belize and Cambodia due to their lack of co-operation over illegal fishing as an example of the steps that could be taken.

“If half of the Western Pacific’s tuna is exported to the EU, we cannot ignore illegal fishing activities in this region,” said European Commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries Maria Damanaki.

“I urge the Philippines and Papua New Guinea to fight this practice, which puts the livelihoods of fishermen at risk. In the end, sustainability of fisheries in the Pacific Ocean means sustainability here in Europe, on our plates,” she added.

The EC’s warning comes as a report by the Guardian alleged slaves were being forced to work for no pay for years at a time on fishing boats in Asia, under the threat of extreme violence.

It claimed large numbers of men were “bought and sold like animals” and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand, while their catches were processed into fishmeal for farmed prawns which ended up on the shelves of major US, British and European retailers.