Taking action to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing

by Matthew Camilleri, 
November 2017

In this article, the author assesses actions states and the international community should take to address illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. These actions include the global implementation of the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA).

The promotion, regulation, and monitoring of responsible fishing practices, through robust fisheries management and governance frameworks, are essential for the sustainability of fisheries resources in both coastal areas and high seas. The principles of responsible fisheries management have been prescribed in a number of international ocean and fisheries instruments, and have been supported and strengthened by regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) around the globe.

Unfortunately, states do not always satisfactorily fulfil their duties in line with such instruments and regional mechanisms, and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing often sets in, undermining national, regional and global efforts to manage fisheries sustainably.

Taking action against IUU fishing

Recognised as a major threat not only to the sustainability of fisheries resources but also to marine ecosystems in general, IUU fishing has been addressed intensely over the past decade by the international community. The need to improve flag state performance and implement port state measures, supported by the use of monitoring, control and surveillance mechanisms and tools, has featured prominently in international and regional fisheries fora.

Whilst innovations in technology have enabled states to better monitor their fishing fleets, it is not enough for states to detect IUU fishing; they must strengthen fisheries laws and regulations, be able to take effective action against perpetrators to deter non-compliance, establish mechanisms that encourage compliance, and ensure that subsidies, or any other benefits that states may grant to their fishing sectors, do not nurture IUU fishing.

The development and adoption of international guidelines to improve flag states’ compliance with their duties and to promote better traceability of fishery products in the value chain through the use of catch documentation schemes, together with the development of fishing vessel records at regional and global levels, are important achievements in the fight against IUU fishing.

Furthermore, considering that fishing vessels are highly dependent on the use of ports, including the ports of states other than their own, support for the implementation of port state measures in combatting IUU fishing increased remarkably over the years leading to the adoption of the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA), which came into force in June 2016.

Benefitting from the PSMA

The PSMA provides a specific framework to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing. It does this through:

  1. Setting conditions for the entry and use of ports by foreign fishing vessels and defining minimum international standards to be applied by port states in reviewing information prior to the vessels’ entry into port;
  2. Conducting inspections in their designated ports; and
  3. Taking measures against vessels found to have engaged in IUU fishing.

The global implementation of the PSMA would effectively establish “compliance check-points” in all corners of the world for a large number of fishing vessels, especially those that operate in waters outside the jurisdiction of the flag state and seek entry into the ports of other states.

Moreover, the Agreement provides an opportunity for states to collaborate and exchange information on fishing vessels and their activities. This collaboration can take place through and with RFMOs, thereby creating a network which supports port states in combatting IUU fishing, flag states in controlling their vessels, coastal states in protecting their fishery resources, and market states in ensuring that fishery products derived from IUU fishing do not enter their markets.

The inspection and compliance records of fishing vessels, compiled through the information exchange mechanism under the Agreement, could be used as a reliable source for states to undertake risk assessments and, in cases of lack of compliance with national, regional or international laws and regulations, to take appropriate action, including the prohibition or freezing of subsidies by the flag states concerned.

Dr. Matthew Camilleri is Senior Fishery Officer at the Fishing Operations and Technology Branch of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

In May 2017, ICTSD organised a roundtable on subsidies to IUU fishing, as part of a series of dialogues examining means to advance SDG 14.6 through fisheries subsidies disciplines in the WTO.

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