Former Director-General  José Graziano da Silva
An opinion article by FAO-Director General José Graziano da Silva
Port States step up in the fight against illegal fishing

By José Graziano da Silva and Árni M. Mathiesen

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving sustainable fisheries.

Such practices amount to as much as one of every five fish caught, and are a major reason why the fraction of fish stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels has risen more than threefold in recent decades.

There are vast areas of the oceans beyond national jurisdiction, and while regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) play a crucial role for the management of many key areas of the high seas, their coverage is not complete, making international cooperation crucial to stamping out this particular scourge.

The one thing that all vessels have in common is that, at some stage, they need to go into harbour for maintenance, refueling, supplies or to offload catches, providing an opportunity to inspect these vessels and take needed enforcement actions, should infringements be detected. In light of this, FAO Member Countries decided that the most cost-effective way to rein in IUU fishing is by establishing port State measures and that only a binding Agreement would be sufficient to address such a crucial problem. In this context, the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures was adopted in  2009. After a campaign to promote the benefits of becoming a Party to the PSMA led by FAO,  and a number of key partners, including Chile, the European Union (EU), Norway and the United States of America, the treaty entered into force in 2016, and currently has the adherence of more than half the world’s coastal countries, closing in on 90 adherents.

In a welcome sign of the consensus behind tackling the problem of IUU fishing, the PSMA’s uptake has been remarkable, as it has moved much faster than any similar maritime treaty in UN history.

Under this Agreement, any vessel engaged in fishing activities that comes to a port, must make a request to enter in advance and, be open to submit for inspection its logbook, licences, fishing gear and fish holds. Outcomes of inspections and information on violations are shared with relevant States and international organizations, thus making it harder for unlawful fishermen to shift their practices elsewhere. All coastal countries are urged to become Party in order to make sure there are no remaining ports globally into which these vessels can enter.  

Now comes the challenging part: Implementation.

The task is being carried out gradually by Parties to the Agreement and RFMOs, concurrently with an extensive FAO capacity development programme. FAO, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on the Oceans, RFMOs and various Non-Governmental Organizations are all actively engaged in supporting more than 100 countries to establish frameworks for compliance and enforcement. A lot of hands are on deck.

Implementation of the PSMA naturally entails cooperation and information exchange at both the regional level through organizations such as RFMOs, as well as globally through existing and planned information exchange mechanisms. FAO’s Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels (Global Record), launched in July 2018, seeks to enhance transparency and traceability by offering a rapidly-accessible single access point for certified data about the world’s fishing vessels. In the near future, a more elaborate information exchange system, linked to the Global Record, will be developed to facilitate exchange of information on any denials of entry into, or use, of port, vessels with a track record of poor compliance, and outcomes of any inspections conducted.

Right now, one fundamental step in the fight against IUU fishing must be to prepare for regional cooperation arrangements to bolster and expedite implementation of the PSMA. These need to include regular surveillance systems and information exchange among countries as well as the development of rapid reaction capacity of port States to analyze and respond to received information. At the present over 40 countries are receiving support from FAO’s capacity building programme with the financial support of the EU, Iceland, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America, to support them in meeting their responsibilities according to the Agreement.

All in all, implementation of the PSMA and broader work against IUU fishing is progressing quite well, even if it is far from finished and more needs to be done. Success in the current phase will help us look forward, in the not-so-distant future, to a sharp drop in the intensity of IUU fishing.

This will directly contribute to sustainable fisheries, which, in turn, contribute to critical nutritional needs of the global population - providing 17 percent of the world’s protein – and on which hundreds of millions of livelihoods depend.