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Shining a spotlight on illegal fishing

New FAO initiative aims to combat IUU fishing by improving transparency in the global fisheries sector

Photo: ©FAO/...
The majority of IUU fishing occurs in national waters and much of that illegal catch can end up as an export commodity.
22 November 2010, Rome - In a bid to shed new light on the shadowy world of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, an FAO Technical Consultation has agreed to identify a structure and strategy for the development and implementation of the Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels, FAO said today.

The recommendations will be presented to the January 2011 meeting of FAO’s Committee on Fisheries for approval.

IUU fishing remains one of the greatest threats to sustainable fisheries and the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on them. While no exact figures are known, it is widely accepted that the scale of illegal fishing is huge - one recent study estimated that it could be worth an estimated $10-23 billion dollars annually.

Lack of information a major challenge

One of the greatest obstacles faced by fisheries authorities and regional fisheries management organizations as they seek to detect and eradicate IUU fishing, is a lack of access to even basic information on fishing vessel identification, ownership, control and activity.

This provides easy passage for the criminals backing IUU fishing because their vessels can move about at will, change flag and identity, and vary the owner and operator details so that legitimate authorities find it virtually impossible to track them,

The recommendations that have been developed are designed to create a Global Record that will remove this lack of transparency and strongly compliment existing tools and measures available to combat IUU fishing by providing a single web-based portal through which information such as vessel identification, capability, capacity, history, ownership and activity can be easily accessed.

The information is currently available to varying degrees within national jurisdictions but this project offers the International community the opportunity to cooperate in a way that can really make a difference.

The Global Record will include not only fishing vessels, but also refrigerated transport vessels and supply vessels which support fishing vessels at sea. Such vessels are often integral to IUU fishing operations.

The Record will also apply to vessels in all areas of operation including the high seas and waters under national jurisdiction. This recognises that the majority of IUU fishing actually occurs in waters under national jurisdiction and much of that illegal catch can end up as an export commodity.

A stepwise approach

FAO member countries suggest the Global Record should be established as soon as possible incorporating flexibility and a phased implementation approach so that all States can develop their capacity to participate. The needs of developing countries were specifically recognised and FAO is requested to work closely with them and to improve capacity where needed and coordinate their full participation.

Phase one of the Global Record will involve the introduction of larger vessels in the global fishing fleet into the Record. All vessels greater than 100 gross register tonnage (GRT) or greater than 24 metres in length (LOA) will be eligible for immediate inclusion but countries will also have the discretion to introduce other vessels if they wish. The first step in the introduction process is to obtain a ‘unique vessel identifier’ (UVI) for each vessel and this will be coordinated by flag State authorities.

The biggest hurdle still to be overcome is that of identifying sustainable long-term funding for the initiative. Substantial development and operating funds will be needed and States will be asked to urgently consider how they can contribute.

The value of having relevant vessel and vessel-related information readily available to fisheries managers and fisheries enforcement agencies has long been recognised but over time the Global Record could have many other important uses.

It could be a useful tool in helping to control fishing capacity, assisting in the management of safety at sea, supporting maritime security efforts and improving the health and welfare of fishing crews. The fishing vessel is at the heart of all these issues and the Global Record will provide a means to identify, monitor and control its activity - something that is currently not possible on a global scale.

Market demands

Many large-scale seafood retailers are asking that their providers certify that their products have come from responsibly-managed fisheries. In January 2010 new EU regulations came into effect requiring fish exporters to show that their products were harvested legally as a condition of entry to the European market. The Global Record will provide a useful reference point in that certification process and provide end-users with an ability to check the identity of the vessel.

The idea of a Global Record of fishing vessels first emerged in the late 1990s and fisheries management experts have promoted the concept ever since. In 2005, Fisheries Ministers from around the world met at FAO and collectively called for such a comprehensive Global Record to be established.