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The sustainable management of the world’s fisheries resources has long been a primary concern to the world community but as the effects of over-fishing and the prevalence of IUU fishing have emerged as significant threats to that sustainable management philosophy, the global concern has been reflected through a series of instruments and initiatives. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the foundation and over time a greater emphasis has been placed on specific measures to ensure sustainability and counter illegal fishing.

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More recently there has been specific reference to the need for a Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels recognizing that the lack of transparency across the global fisheries sector is a major facilitator of illegal and destructive fishing practices. The project to explore the development of a Global Record of Fishing Vessels has emerged as a result of that recognition.

Key background instruments include:

  • UNCLOS: United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea The primary international legal instrument governing high seas fishing (among other things). It sets out a framework of rights, obligations and duties with respect to high seas fishing – most importantly, the freedom to fish on the high seas, balanced with the responsibility for a State to control the activities of its nationals and vessels.
  • FAO Compliance Agreement A legally-binding Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas.
  • FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries Unlike the two preceding agreements, the Code is voluntary and no specific action by States is required for it to take effect. However, its provisions may be used as a basis for domestic action, whether in the form of policy initiatives or even in shaping specific legislative provisions. It focuses on “responsible behavior” similar to “codes of ethics” in other professions and sectors.
  • The 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement This Agreement facilitates the implementation of certain provisions of UNCLOS concerning the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks. It complements the 1993 Compliance Agreement and the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. It builds on UNCLOS provisions, and sets out the framework for cooperation with other countries to conserve and manage highly migratory fish stocks such as tuna and stocks that straddle both the high seas and a State's EEZ.
  • International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU) The objective of the IPOA is to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing by providing all States with comprehensive, effective and transparent measures by which to act, including through appropriate regional fisheries management organizations established in accordance with international law.
  • High Seas Task Force on IUU Fishing Final Report The Task Force proposed (amongst other things) the establishment of a publicly-available, internet-based, database of information relating to the global high seas fishing fleet.
  • The 2005 Rome Declaration on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Includes a key recommendation to develop a comprehensive global record of fishing vessels within FAO, including refrigerated transport vessels and supply vessels, that incorporates available information on beneficial ownership, subject to confidentiality requirements in accordance with national law.
  • Model Scheme on port State measures to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing A "soft law" instrument intended to reinforce the implementation of the IPOA-IUU on port State measures. It contained detailed annexes for the strengthening port State controls for fishing vessels. Unfortunately, uptake was slow and inconsistent leading to a view that stronger measures were needed.
  • This led to the development of the new 'Port State Measures Agreement to Prevent Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing' which was passed by the FAO Conference at its Thirty-sixth Session in November 2009. The Agreement will enter into force 30 days after the date of deposit with the Depositary of the twenty-fifth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession in accordance with Article 26 or 27.
  • The Voluntary Guidelines for Flag State Performance were agreed upon after over five years of consensus-building among FAO Member Countries. The guidelines include recommended approaches to encourage and help flag states comply with their international duties and obligations regarding the flagging and control of fishing vessels. They also present possible actions in response to non-compliance.
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