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Planned treaty will close ports to fish pirates

FAO-brokered talks lay groundwork for binding agreement to combat illegal fishing

Photo: ©European Community fileadmin/user_upload/newsroom/photos/patrolboat.jpg CE fileadmin/user_upload/newsroom/photos/patrolboat.jpg Ijmuiden fileadmin/user_upload/newsroom/photos/patrolboat.jpg P-008961/00-11 fileadmin/user_upload/newsroom/photos/patrolboat.jpg 25/03/2002
Patrolling at sea is only one way of combating illegal fishing.
3 February 2009, Rome - Representatives of over 60 countries have made significant progress in negotiating a binding international agreement aimed at closing ports to ships involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Following five days of talks chaired by Brazil's Fabio Hazim last week at FAO's headquarters, the general outlines for an international agreement or treaty on "port State measures" that would deny vessels engaged in IUU fishing access to fishing ports are largely in place.

After the agreement becomes active, fishing vessels that wish to land will be required to request permission from specially designated ports ahead of time, transmitting information on their activities and the fish they have on board - this will give authorities an opportunity to assess and detect possible problems prior to docking.

Information-sharing networks will enable countries to deny port access to any vessel previously reported as involved in IUU fishing by other agreement participants or by regional fisheries management organizations.

And the designated landing ports will be equipped to undertake inspections of boats in order to monitor for evidence of IUU fishing activities.

However, final details of the agreement still need to be ironed out in a future round of talks, whose date has yet to be determined.

The current negotiations began following a March 2007 decision by 131 countries attending FAO's biennial Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture. FAO convened an Expert Consultation to consider the matter ahead of a first set of talks in June 2008.

An international plan of action to combat IUU fishing and a model scheme for better port State measures developed by FAO provided the basis for the draft agreement currently under discussion.

A key tool

Port State measures are widely viewed as one of the best and most efficient ways to fight IUU fishing. Operating without proper authorizations, catching protected species, using outlawed types of gear or disregarding catch quotas are among the most common IUU fishing offences.

While there are ways to combat IUU fishing at sea, they are often expensive and for developing countries in particular can be difficult to implement, given the large ocean spaces that need to be covered and the costs of the required technology.

"Strong oversight of fishing vessels at the ports where they land fish and refuel, take on supplies or make repairs will allow countries to cast a wider and more tightly woven anti-IUU net," said FAO's David Doulman.