Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is estimated to strip between $10 billion and $23 billion from the global economy, and their impacts undermine the way fish stocks are managed to make it a double concern around the world.
To help tackle the problem, FAO brokered the adoption in 2009 by its Member countries of the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.
The agreement comes into force when 25 countries have deposited their instrument of ratification, known as acceptance of accession; so far, 12 countries have done so, the latest being Iceland in June. Two more states will soon join them.
"Port state measures" generally refer to actions taken to detect illegal fishing when ships come to port.
The Agreement promotes collaboration between fishermen, port authorities, coast guards and navies to strengthen inspections and control procedures at ports and on vessels. Importantly, it also allows states to prevent the landings of catches derived from IUU fishing by vessels regardless of the flag they fly.
"The Agreement aims to harmonise port controls in order to prevent illegally caught fish from ever entering international markets through ports," said Blaise Kuemlangan, Chief of FAO's Development Law Service.
"The ability to turn away vessels taking part in IUU fishing will greatly reduce opportunities for selling their catch, decreasing IUU fishing worldwide," he added.
The Agreement will enable better compliance with the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, which seeks to promote the long-term sustainability of the sector.
Illicit fishing, which includes operating without authorisation, harvesting protected species, using outlawed fishing gear and violating quota limits, may account for up to 26 million tonnes of seafood a year, more than 15 per cent of the total global output. Besides economic damage, it poses risks to local biodiversity and food security in many countries.
Workshop for coastal African countries
To assist countries in building their capacity to implement the Agreement, FAO has convened a series of workshops in all world regions.
The sixth in the series, funded by the Government of Norway and covering West Africa, ran this month in Praia, Cabo Verde. Fifty participants from 16 African coastal countries took part, along with experts from the European Union, the International Maritime Organisation, the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the COMHAFAT Ministerial Conference on Fisheries Cooperation Among African States Bordering the Atlantic Ocean, the Pew Charitable Trust and the WWF.
"Fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a key priority along the Atlantic coast of Africa, where IUU fishing contributes to overfishing, creating negative effects for the economies of these countries," said Remi Nono Womdim, FAO Representative in Cabo Verde.
Gabon is the only local country to have ratified the Agreement, but several others are close to completing the process.
"Many countries in the region have the will to address IUU fishing, but require the most cost-effective tools and an understanding about how these can be implemented at the legal, policy and institutional level," said Mr Womdim.
Ratification of the treaty requires countries to designate ports that foreign vessels can use and to block entry to ships known or believed to have been involved in IUU, as well as share information with other governments of vessels discovered to be carrying an IUU catch.
In addition to Gabon, signatories that have completed the ratification process are Chile, the European Union, Iceland, Mozambique, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, the Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Uruguay.