Stronger port security key to fight against illegal fishing
FAO workshops to help developing countries shut the door on fish pirates
28 August 2006, Rome -- In a crowded fishing port, a uniformed inspector climbs the gangplank of a rust-speckled ship moored at dock.
The crew silently watches. A raucous crowd of gulls reels overhead. The wind carries the smell of diesel fumes and the shouts of workers loading fresh tuna into an ice-filled truck further down the quay.
The inspector moves amidships, where a large metal hatch sits, tightly shut. He gestures to the crew, who scramble to open it. He leans over, peers in, and in the darkness there glints...
...a silvery pile of fish.
Sardines, to be precise. Which is just as it should be: the hold's contents match the catch logbook and what the ship radioed in to port authorities requesting permission to dock.
The inspector makes a tick on his clipboard and moves on to examine the boat's permits.
He looks at its fishing gear, as well. The boat has reported catching fish in waters where regulations require that gear be of a specific type and gauge to avoid captures of smaller juvenile fish that have not yet reproduced. This way local breeding stocks are preserved, meaning that fish catches should remain abundant and stable.
Scenes like this hypothetical one are played out daily in ports across the globe -- but not nearly as frequently as FAO would like.
The UN agency believes that the future of the capture fisheries sector -- which produces over 105 million tonnes of food each year, provides jobs for some 40 million people and generates crucial export revenues for many developing countries -- depends to no small extent on wider implementation of stronger and more effective port controls.
That's because they offer one of the best ways to combat what is known as illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing (IUU): fishing without permission, catching protected species, using outlawed types of gear or disregarding catch quotas, to name the most common offenses.
"By frustrating responsible management, IUU fishing damages the productivity of fisheries -- or leads to their collapse. And that's a problem for the people who depend on those fisheries for food or income," says David Doulman, an IUU fishing expert at FAO.
"The idea behind management controls is not to stifle fishing but to preserve it, to fish sustainably, so that 100 years from now there'll still be a global fishing industry," he adds.
Boosting port security, one region at a time
IUU fishing is particularly problematic in the developing world, where limited funds and expertise mean that oversight of fishing activities in coastal waters is often lax and port controls are weak, providing a convenient entry point for illegal catches.
"These countries need better-trained people, better equipment, and more funding for fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance -- what we call MCS," says FAO's Judith Swan, also of the agency's Fisheries Department.
"Surveillance on the dock is important, we need to shut out illegal fishers in ports, where they stop to refuel, take on supplies, make repairs or offload their catches in what are now more commonly known as ‘ports of convenience’," she stresses.
This is why FAO's Fisheries Department, through its FishCode Programme, is organizing a series of hands-on workshops for fisheries authorities in different world regions in order to strengthen their IUU fishing control strategies and train them in best practices in fishing boat inspection. The workshops are also aimed at improving communication among authorities at the regional level, so they can compare notes and warn each other about chronic offenders.
The first workshop, supported financially by the Swedish government and organized in collaboration with the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, is being held this week in Fiji.
In advance of the event FAO conducted a survey of IUU fishing and existing port state controls in the Pacific Islands region. Participants will review and update this documentation and will work together and with FAO staff and other experts to identify areas for improvement as well as opportunities for harmonizing control standards across the region.
"This has never been done before. There's a real need for a program of workshops like this -- port State controls are so important in stamping out illegal fishing," says Swan. "We're getting requests from around the globe to hold more workshops."
Currently, however, funding for the workshop series is limited; FAO is seeking additional support from donor nations.
FAO model scheme points the way
In 2005 FAO developed a model scheme for better port state measures which recommends steps that should be taken to improve port controls and stem IUU fishing.
"The scheme serves as a guide and sets a minimum standard for countries which wish to develop new port state controls or strengthen those already on the books," says Swan.
The FAO scheme also calls for training of inspectors to improve their effectiveness and for the harmonization of controls and reporting standards among countries in order to facilitate crossborder information sharing about offenders. This would allow authorities to run a background check on boats requesting docking privileges; vessels blacklisted as involved in IUU activities would be turned away.
"The idea is that as ports expand their roles and deploy better trained people to undertake their operations, and as regional fisheries bodies share information about illegal activities, IUU fishing operations will be forced to go longer and longer distances looking for ports of convenience that will accept them," Swan explains. "As they have less and less access to port services -- and to the markets reached through ports -- profits will drop, and the incentive to perpetuate illegal activity starts to disappear. We need to hit IUU fishers in the pockets and this is one of the more effective means of doing that"
Information Officer, FAO
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A rising tide that lifts all boats
Both in the UN General Assembly and a recent high-level UN meeting on world fish stocks, the international community has endorsed the idea of establishing global standards for fishing port controls based on FAO's model scheme.
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