UN FAO Port State Measures Agreement Goes Into Effect

UN FAO Port State Measures Agreement Goes Into Effect

Created on Monday, 11 December 2017

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons, Jacopo Werther

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently announced that the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) – one of most important international treaties to date for combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing – will enter into force on June 5. This means that vessels suspected of IUU activity will face a greater risk of detection and refusal at ports in 29 nations, plus those in the European Union.

The agreement was adopted by the FAO in 2009, but required the ratification of 25 nations before it could go into effect. This month, the minimum requirement of 25 nations was exceeded, as six additional nations – Dominica, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan, Thailand, Tonga, and Vanuatu – ratified the agreement, bringing the total to 30 participating nations. The nations that have joined together to support the PSMA range in terms of geographical size, economic strength, and level of development; demonstrating that IUU fishing is detrimental to all within the global seafood market.

IUU fishing is a global threat to ecosystems, stock management, coastal communities, and the economy, and it has been linked to organized crime and human rights abuses aboard vessels. It’s estimated that 11 – 26 million tons of seafood is illegally harvested or unreported worldwide every year, accounting for 1 in 5 wild-caught marine fish. This undermines the conservation and management efforts of fish stocks, and annually adds up to between $10 – 23.5 billion dollars that’s taken from legally operating government fleets and private fishermen.

The PSMA is aimed at strengthening and aligning port controls for foreign-flagged vessels, in an effort to prevent IUU product from passing through ports undetected and entering the legal seafood market. Participating nations commit to adopting strict regulations for overseeing vessels attempting to land catch in their ports, and they agree to refuse ships suspected of IUU activity. The idea is that if a vessel is held for fisheries violations or has to avoid certain ports it costs the captain time, fuel, product freshness, and fishing opportunities, making carrying IUU product less profitable. Further, at-sea enforcement is a costly and dangerous undertaking, and some governments lack the resources to properly monitor their waters and overseas fleets. By comparison, port controls are an effective but less resource intensive tool to combat IUU fishing, as those with the resources to monitor at-sea can track vessels suspected of IUU activity and alert the port states who apprehend and prosecute those responsible from the safety of land.

Some of the port controls that the PSMA grants ratifying nations are:

  • Captains must provide advance notice of their arrival in port
  • Captains must provide information such as the vessel registration details, fishing licenses, catch totals, catch origins, and what it intends to offload
  • Documentation is evaluated for validity, and port officials have the option to contact the vessel’s flag state for information verification and inspect the catch
  • If inspections lead port officials to suspect IUU catch, then the vessel can be refused entry into port, held for further inspection, or cargo can be seized
  • Port officials have the authority to detain and sanction captains suspected of IUU fishing
  • If a vessel suspected of IUU fishing is denied entry into port, officials can contact neighboring ports to warn them of their suspicions and the vessels potential entry into their port

To truly stop IUU fishing and prevent IUU product from simply being redirected to other nations, it’s necessary that all port countries ratify the PSMA. Additional nations have shown support for the PSMA by signing the treaty or have initiated ratification, indicating that the PSMA’s reach will soon be expanding. In addition to the PSMA, other collaborative efforts to fight IUU fishing are critical. Smaller regional efforts such as the Central America Fisheries and Aquaculture Organization (OSPESCA) and Fish-i Africa are successful demonstrations of poorer nations with rich fishing grounds cooperating and sharing resources to combat IUU fishing in their waters.

The PSMA benefits every member in seafood supply chains, from fishermen, processor, to consumer, as it helps deter criminal competition and ensure seafood purchasers that their products have been legally harvested. FishWise is proud that our partners Albertsons CompaniesHy-VeeSea Delight, and Santa Monica Seafood, and SeaPact members Ipswich Shellfish Group and Seattle Fish Co. showed foresight and leadership in seafood sustainability and urged the U.S. Senate to pass S. 1334: Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015 which helped lead to the U.S. ratification of the PSMA.

To learn more about ways to address IUU fishing, visit the FishWise Traceability & IUU Fishing Resources page.