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FAO helps tighten the net around illegal fishing

Get the 101 on the international treaty on port regulations that recently entered into force


06 Jul 2016

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, also known as IUU, robs the world’s oceans of 26 million tonnes of seafood annually, bringing financial losses to a staggering US$ 23 billion a year. Illegal fishing severely affects the livelihoods of fishers and other fisher-sector stakeholders and exacerbates poverty and food insecurity. It undermines the accuracy of fisheries’ stock assessments and threatens the stability of coastal communities that rely on the legal trade.

FAO has been working to help fight IUU fishing activities for over a decade and a half.  Get the 101 on the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), FAO’s international treaty that has recently come into effect.  

What is the PSMA?

Almost all fish caught by foreign vessels in oceans and seas comes through a port on their way to the market. This means that port controls, when done correctly, can be very efficient in combating illegal fishing activities. The Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) is a treaty designed to stop illegal fishing by strengthening inspection protocols for foreign-flagged fishing vessels coming into ports. It is the first binding international agreement to specifically target IUU fishing.

Why is it important in a nutshell? 

  • #PortStateMeasures combat illegal fishing in a cost-effective and efficient manner
  • #PortStateMeasures protect the livelihoods of legitimate fishers
  • #PortStateMeasures enhance control of the state under whose laws a vessel is registered, aka a flag State, over its own fishing vessels
  • #PortStateMeasures promote effective cooperation and information exchange among coastal States, flag States and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations and Arrangements
  • #PortStateMeasures prevent the occurrence of “ports of non-compliance”
  • #PortStateMeasures contribute to strengthened fisheries management and governance at all levels
  • #PortStateMeasures provide for the requirements of developing countries

How does it work?

Step 1: Under the Port State Measures Agreement, foreign-flagged vessels must provide advance notice when they want to enter a port. 

Step 2:

  • No Suspected IUU: If officials have no reason to suspect illegal activities, the vessel is allowed to enter the port and may use the port, possibly subject to an inspection.
  • Suspected IUU: If officials have reasons to suspect illegal fishing activities, because, for example, of the vessel’s history or any discrepancies in its licensing, officials should order an inspection of the boat’s cargo and documentation, or deny the vessel entry into port.

Step 3: The results of the inspection for suspected illegal fishing determines whether the ship is cleared to offload its cargo, or for any port use, or whether further action is taken.  

Step 4: If a vessel suspected of illegal fishing is denied entry to or use of the port, officials will notify the flag State, other nearby ports, as well as other international organizations. This way, it is more likely that, even if a suspected vessel is allowed to leave with its catch, it will be less likely to gain entry into other ports. 

Not only does the PSMA present a great strategy to stop illegal fishing, it also gives processors and retailers another way to track their supplies and acquire fish that only comes through ports legally.

For consumers, the treaty ensures that we buy seafood that was legally caught. 

Help spread the word and contribute to the discussions around the uses and benefits derived from the treaty by tweeting on the topic using the hash tag #PortStateMeasures.

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