Twenty-nine countries have committed to a new UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) international accord aimed at stamping out illegal fishing but South Africa, where more than 600 tons of illegally caught squid was recently seized, is not one of them.
The accord became effective on June 5, and has been welcomed by FAO director-general Jose Graziano da Silva who said Sunday was “a great day in the continuing effort to build sustainable fisheries that can help feed the world”.
Signatories to the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, known by the acronym PSMA, are Australia, Barbados, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, the European Union (as a member organisation), Gabon, Guinea, Guyana, Iceland, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Palau, Republic of Korea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, Tonga, the United States of America, Uruguay, and Vanuatu.
PSMA is the first ever binding international treaty that focuses specifically on illicit fishing. It was adopted as a FAO agreement in 2009 following years of diplomatic effort and came into force when the 25 country ratification number was passed in May, starting the countdown to the entry-into-force.
FAO has been told additional formal instruments of acceptance of the PSMA are expected shortly from other countries.
According to FAO, parties to the PSMA are obliged to implement a number of measures while managing ports under their control, with the goals of detecting illegal fishing, stopping ill-caught fish from being offloaded and sold and ensuring information on unscrupulous vessels is shared globally.
These include requiring foreign fishing vessels wishing to enter ports to request permission in advance, transmitting detailed information on their identities, activities, and the fish they have aboard. Landings can only happen at specially designated ports equipped for effective inspections.
Ships suspected of being involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing can be denied entry into port outright – or permitted to enter for inspection purposes only and refused permission to offload fish, refuel, or resupply.
Vessels allowed into ports may be subject to inspections conducted according to a common set of standards. They will be required to prove they are licensed to fish by the country whose flag they fly and that they have the necessary permissions from the countries in whose waters they operate. If not, or if inspections turn up evidence of IUU fishing activity, vessels will be denied any further use of ports and reported as violators.
Once a ship is denied access or inspections reveal problems, parties must communicate that information to the country under whose flag the vessel is registered and inform other treaty participants as well as port masters in neighbouring countries.
Operating without proper authorisation, catching protected species, using outlawed types of gear or disregarding catch quotas are among the most common IUU fishing activities. Such practices undermine efforts to responsibly manage marine fisheries, damaging their productivity and in some cases precipitating their collapse.
While there are options for combating IUU fishing at sea, they are often expensive and – especially for developing countries – can be difficult to implement, given the large ocean spaces needing to be monitored and the costs of the necessary technology. Accordingly, port state measures are one of the most efficient and cost effective ways to fight IUU fishing.
The now-active port state measures agreement provides the international community with valuable tool for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a stand-alone goal on the conservation of and sustainable use of oceans and a specific sub-target on IUU fishing.