"I welcome Palau's ratification of the Port State Measure Agreement as the first-ever country in the Pacific to have done so," said FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva during a meeting with the President of Palau on the sidelines of the United Nations climate conference in Paris (COP21).
"I hope this will encourage other small islands to do the same, as they are heavily dependent on fisheries, and for that reason, particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of illicit fishing," he added.
"We look forward to partnering with FAO to strengthen our collective efforts to fight IUU fishing," said President of Palau Tommy Remengesau, adding that these measures will support his country's larger efforts to conserve and manage its fish stocks and biodiversity.
Port state measures set standards for inspection of foreign vessels that seek to enter the port of another state. Importantly, the measures allow a country to block ships it suspects of having engaged in illicit fishing and thereby prevent illegally caught seafood from entering local and international markets.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices may account for as much as 26 million tonnes of seafood each year, or more than 15 percent of the total global output.
This new development makes Palau the 15th party to the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing that FAO members adopted in 2009. The small island state was preceded by Somalia earlier this month. Meanwhile, a number of other countries are in the advanced stages of becoming a party to the treaty raising hopes that the treaty could take effect within the next year. The agreement stipulates it will enter into force once there are 25 Parties to the Agreement.
To help states such as Palau and Somalia build their capacity to implement the agreement, its article 21 foresees a special assistance fund for developing countries.
Port state measures do more than just protect economic interests - they are also crucial to protecting local food security and ocean health by combating the types of fishing that threaten the sustainable management of fish stocks.
Healthy Oceans key to development
Ocean conservation is also an key component for achieving long-term development goals, as Graziano da Silva underlined during the recent Our Ocean Conference in Valparaiso, Chile: "The health of our own planet and our food security depends on how we treat the blue world," the FAO Director General said, adding that encouraging states to become party to the Port State Measures Agreement and to fulfil their international obligations as spelt out in the Guidelines for Flag State Performance , is "essential".
Speaking at the climate conference on Monday, President Remengesau reminded the audience of the added stress that climate change imposes on ocean health, saying that "Some of the most damaging effects of climate change for the Pacific will be on marine environments -- which is why Palau is working hard to protect our ocean."
Adopting the port state measures agreement is critical for the success of the country's recently established Palau National Marine Sanctuary, according to the president, "which encompasses our entire exclusive economic zone and includes a no-take zone of over 500,000 square kilometers," an area roughly the size of France that covers some 80 percent of Palau's EEZ. The remaining 20 percent is designated for domestic use to assure food security for its people, the president said.
He said that the Port States Measures Agreement should help ensure the success of the newly established marine sanctuary, noting: "Large marine protected areas are critical to allow marine biodiversity to recover and fish stocks to rebound, benefiting our region and the world by helping the oceans to maintain their critical function as an effective carbon sink," he added.