Shutting the door on illegal fishing
At FAO-brokered meeting, countries debate ways to block access to seaports by ships involved in IUU fishing
10 September 2004, Rome - The problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is growing both in scope and intensity, recent FAO studies show.
A wide range of illicit activities fall into the category of IUU fishing, for example: operating without licences; targeting and catching prohibited species; using outlawed types of gear; disregarding catch quotas; or non-reporting or underreporting of species and catch weights.
"Taken together, the impacts of these activities add up. Globally, IUU fishing is seriously undermining international efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks in a sustainable manner," says Ichiro Nomura, FAO Assistant Director-General for Fisheries. "All responsible countries must work together to put an end to IUU fishing."
In some places, catches of commercially valuable fish species may be surpassing permitted levels by over 300% due to IUU fishing, according to reports made to FAO by regional fisheries bodies (RFBs).
In the face of the problem, an increasing number of these RFBs -- intergovernmental organizations established by regional blocs of countries to jointly oversee management of shared fisheries -- are adopting a wide range of measures to crack down on IUU fishing.
At the national level, individual governments are working to confront the issue as well.
Nonetheless, many countries are still struggling not only with making sure that ships flying their flags behave responsibly overseas, but also with stamping out IUU fishing in their own national waters.
Tighter port controls: an important tool
In addition to controls by flag states (countries that maintain overseas fishing fleets) and coastal states (countries where fishing occurs), measures that make it harder for vessels to offload or tranship illegally caught fish form another important link in the chain of IUU control, says FAO.
Such controls are referred to as "port state measures," and at the most basic level generally involve inspections of fishing vessels that come to port to refuel, buy provisions, make repairs or unload catches.
Reviews of ship papers, surveys of fishing gear and inspections of catches can often reveal if a ship has engaged in IUU fishing during its trip.
"The weakness or absence of good port state controls is often cited as one of the main reasons IUU fishing continues to occur," explains Mr Nomura. "But on the flip side of the coin, port state measures may be one of the most effective ways of fighting IUU fishing because they complement controls over vessels by the flag state."
Strengthening international cooperation
FAO recently convened a meeting of its members in order to brainstorm ways countries can do more together to strengthen port state controls and crack down on IUU fishing.
During the meeting, held August 31 - September 2 at FAO's Rome headquarters, countries fleshed out a model scheme that could be used flexibly by countries, RFBs or others in implementing port state measures.
"The principles amount to a checklist of 'best practices' in terms of anti-IUU fishing port state controls and can help countries improve national and international control regimes aimed at discouraging IUU fishing," says David Doulman, an FAO Senior Fisheries Officer and expert on IUU fishing.
According to the guidelines, fishing boats and fish-processing vessels wishing to land in a port should be required to first radio in ahead of time and request permission to dock, providing their vessel identification information as well as details about their cargo and recent fishing activities.
This would allow authorities to simply turn away any ships previously reported as involved in IUU fishing, unless the vessel was experiencing stress and needed to come into port for safety reasons.
And all fishing vessels granted port access could be subject to random inspection, the model scheme says.
If inspections turn up evidence that a ship had engaged in IUU fishing, it would be denied permission to offload its cargo. Confirmed cases could result in blacklisting and, potentially, legal action.
"Under this proposed model scheme, vessels that fish responsibly, whose flag countries are keeping an eye on the operations of their fishing fleets in accordance with international law and standards would have no problems," says Mr. Doulman. "The idea is to simply put in place some very basic criteria for examination -- for example, are a boat's papers in order? does it have prescribed gear installed? -- that can help red flag cases where a boat may have fished illegally."
FAO asked to help
In addition to producing the model scheme, participants at the recent FAO meeting on port state controls asked the UN agency to establish training programmes in developing countries aimed at helping them get their port inspection programmes off the ground.
This work would also involve a policy-development assistance element, with FAO helping countries to incorporate stronger port state controls into their national laws.
The Organization is also expected to work with groups of countries to help them draft multilateral agreements establishing common standards for port state controls in their regions.
With all countries in a given region agreeing on common requirements that vessels should meet before entering port, and to sharing the information they accumulate on vessels working in the region, efforts to combat illegal and unscrupulous fishing would get a major boost, notes Mr Doulman.
FAO was also asked to create a comprehensive database of port state measures currently in use around the world, which countries can use when drafting their own national policies and regulations.
Information Officer, FAO
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