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More countries back treaty to deter illegal fishing

Signature by Russian Federation brings total to 16

Photo: ©FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri
Fishing ports are a strategic bottleneck in the fight against illegal fishing.

29 April 2010, Rome - Five more nations have signed the FAO-brokered treaty that once it enters into force will deny access to fishing ports to ships involved in illegal fishing.

The new signatories include: Australia (27/04/2010), Gabon (26/04/2010), Peru (3/03/2010), New Zealand (15/12/2009) and the Russian Federation (29/04/2010).

This brings the number of countries that have signed the "Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing" to sixteen.

Signatures represent a signal of support for the Agreement and are an important first step in the process, followed by ratification at the national level and then official notification of ratification to FAO.

Once notice of the 25th ratification is received by FAO, the Agreement will become active. It will be the first legally binding international treaty focused specifically on the problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. It will also be the only such treaty to enlist so-called "non-flag states" in this effort alongside "flag states," which are primarily responsible for the conduct of vessels flying their flags on the high seas. (See definitions at right).

Eleven other FAO members -- Angola, Brazil, Chile, the European Community, Iceland, Indonesia, Norway, Samoa, Sierra Leone, the United States and Uruguay -- signed the Agreement in November 2009 after its text was approved by the FAO governing conference.

"Once it becomes active, this will be the most significant international treaty dealing with fisheries since the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement," said Changchui He, FAO's Deputy Director-General, following the signing of the Agreement by Andrey Krainiy, Head of the Federal Agency for Fisheries of the Russian Federation, on April 29 during a ceremony at FAO.

"We take it as a very positive sign that the Russian Federation as well as other recent signatories such as Australia, Gabon, Peru, and New Zealand have come on board. It indicates a broad level of support. The sooner the treaty receives the required 25 ratifications to become active, the sooner countries will have a valuable new tool for combating illegal fishing," he added.

An effective tool

"Port state measures" generally refer to actions taken to detect illegal fishing when ships come to port. This can include undertaking inspections of documentation, catches and equipment when boats land to take on fuel and supplies or offload fish, or requiring vessels to make activity reports before entering port. Vessels found to be involved in IUU fishing can be denied docking rights, causing considerable financial losses to their owners. Such measures are among the most-effective means of preventing the import, transhipment or laundering of illegally caught fish.

The text of the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing is available online; additional background information can be found here and here.