Overview on Illegal Fishing and the Port State Measures Agreement

Date: 16th December 2015

Illegal fishing is a major threat to the sustainability of the world’s fisheries. Estimates show that illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing account for up to $23.5 billion annually, and up to 20 percent of all of the wild-caught marine fish caught globally. Illegal fishing not only undermines the essence of global ocean governance and the work of honest fishers, but it threatens the sustainability of marine resources and, subsequently, the livelihoods of coastal communities and countries that depend on them.

Ports play a significant role in the fishing industry. While they are essential for vessels and crews in providing access to supplies and services, they also offer a lifeline for illegal fishing operations seeking to offload their catch and introduce it into market. In 2009 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing—a cost-effective solution to IUU fishing, otherwise known as PSMA. When implemented both globally and effectively, this international treaty requires parties to exert greater port controls on foreign-flagged fishing vessels and aims to ensure that port States are closed to IUU fishing vessels and their illegal catch. Port States enforcing the treaty will refuse port entry or access to their services, including landing and transshipment of fish, to foreign-flagged vessels known to have engaged in IUU fishing.

With every new ratification, the treaty builds momentum. Currently 16 countries, in addition to the European Union, have become parties to the Agreement. For the treaty to enter into force a total of 25 parties is needed.  A number of countries—Cabo Verde, Canada, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa, Tonga, and recently the United States—have also committed to becoming parties in the near future, several of which are now working to satisfy the necessary political and administrative requirements needed to become a member. It is only a matter of time before “25” becomes a reality and members of the treaty will be legally-bound to the PSMA.

Treaties are only as good as the parties that ratify them. Thus, it is imperative that the PSMA be implemented in unison with ratification, broadly across regions throughout the globe. With a comprehensive set of tools, cooperation among States, and a commitment to information-sharing, successful implementation of the Agreement is certainly within reach. Now is the time for global thought leaders and key decision-makers to come together and start developing port enforcement strategies and methods for transparency—a framework for robust implementation.

Cover photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

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