Aquaculture for all

New Treaty Leaves 'Fish Pirates No Safe Haven

Sustainability Politics

GLOBAL - Ninety-one members of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have agreed on an international agreement to implement 'port state measures' to combat illegal fishing. 'Port state measures' are steps taken by coastal countries at their fishing ports in order to identify illegal fishers.

The final text of a new treaty that aims to close fishing ports to vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has been agreed upon by a group of 91 countries during talks brokered by FAO, the UN agency has announced.

The 'Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing' will be the first ever global treaty focused specifically on the problem of IUU fishing. It is hoped that the agreement will help block IUU-caught fish from entering international markets, thereby removing an important incentive for some fishermen to engage in illicit fishing.

In the Agreement, countries agree to take a number of steps to harden their ports against IUU fishers. Key points of the treaty include:

  • Foreign fishing vessels wishing to dock will be required to request permission from specially designated ports ahead of time, transmitting information on their activities and the fish they have on board. This will give authorities an opportunity to spot red flags in advance.
  • The treaty commits countries to regular inspections and outlines a set of standards that will be used during those inspections. Reviews of ship papers, surveys of fishing gear, examining catches and checking a ship's records can often reveal if it has engaged in IUU fishing.
  • Signatories must ensure that ports and inspectors are adequately equipped and trained
  • When a vessel is denied access, port states must communicate that information publicly and national authorities from the country whose flag the vessel is flying must take follow-up action, and
  • The treaty calls for the creation of information-sharing networks to let countries share details on IUU-associated vessels, and also contains provisions intended to assist resource-strapped developing countries meet their treaty obligations.

These measures apply to foreign fishing vessels not flying the flag of port states (see definitions below), however countries can apply them to their own fishing fleets as well should they choose.

"By frustrating responsible management, IUU fishing damages the productivity of fisheries – or leads to their collapse. That's a serious problem for the people who depend on them for food and income," said FAO Assistant-Director General for Fisheries and Aquaculture, Ichiro Nomura. "This treaty represents a real, palpable advance in the ongoing effort to stamp it out."

Ratification process

The Agreement falls under Article XIV of the FAO Constitution, with FAO's Director-General acting as legal depository for countries' ratifications.

As such, it next will be reviewed by FAO's Committee on Constitutional and Legal Matters at its next meeting (23 to 25 September 2009) and from there it will go to FAO's Council in September and the FAO Conference in November for final review and formal adoption. The substantive work on the treaty may be considered as having been finalized, however.

In order to enter into force the Agreement must then be agreed at the national level. Once 25 states have done so, it will enter into force after 30 days.

Regular monitoring of compliance will take place, with a major review scheduled to occur four years after the Agreement takes effect.

Strategic bottleneck

So-called 'port state measures' like those prescribed in the new treaty are widely considered as one of the most effective and cost-effective weapons in the fight against illicit fishing.

"Of course, the effectiveness of port state measures depends in large part on how well countries implement them," said David Doulman, an expert on the issue at FAO.

"So the focus now is to make sure that countries and other involved parties have the means and know-how to enforce it and are living up to their commitments. Importantly, the Agreement provides for assistance and support to developing countries to help them with implementation," he added.

FAO Members involved in the talks included: Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Canada, Central African Republic, Chile, China, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Cyprus, Congo DR, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, European Community, Fiji, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Zambia and FAO Associate Member, Faeroe Islands.

Definitions used in the treaty

IUU fishing: Commonly used to describe a wide range of fishing activities that are proscribed under national and international laws and conventions. The most common IUU fishing violations, according to FAO, involve fishing without license and the use of illegal gear, followed by disregard for established fishing seasons, fishing in closed areas and catches of illegal or undersized species.

Port states: Coastal countries that have seaports and harbours where fishing vessels dock in order to offload or tranship their catches, get food and supplies, fuel up, etc.

Port state measures: Controls undertaken by port states to authorize or not the entry into port of foreign fishing vessels and to inspect fishing vessels to determine if they have been involved in IUU fishing and to deny port services to those vessels involved in IUU fishing.

Flag states: Countries that give their nationality and right to fly their flag to commercial ships operating at sea, including fishing boats. The boat sails "under the flag" of the country and must abide by its laws and regulations.

Coastal states: Coastal countries in whose waters fishing occurs.

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