UN-brokered talks lay groundwork for global treaty combating illegal fishing

Excessive fishing and the problem of illegal, unreported, underreported fishing are closely linked

3 February 2009 – Significant progress has been made towards reaching agreement on an international treaty aimed at shutting down illegal sea-fishing operations threatening the livelihoods and food security of those in the developing world as well as some endangered species, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) announced today.

Following five days of FAO-brokered talks at the agency’s Rome headquarters, representatives from more than 80 countries have drafted the outline of a treaty, which proposes closing ports to ships involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

“In the developing world, fishing plays a crucial role in reinforcing household food security, improving nutrition, and providing income,” FAO Assistant-Director General for Fisheries Ichiro Nomura told donor countries in June when the agency appealed for $1 million to fund a project designed to help developing countries deny port access to boats involved in IUU fishing.

“In light of rising world food prices and growing concern over the wellbeing of some wild fish stocks, we can afford less than ever to allow IUU fishing to impact these communities,” he added.

The most common IUU fishing offences include operating without proper authorization, catching protected species, using outlawed equipment or disregarding catch quotas.

Under the planned agreement, fishing boats have to request permission to dock from specially designated ports ahead of time, transmitting information on their activities and the fish they have on board.

“Strong oversight of fishing vessels at the ports where they land fish and refuel, take on supplies or make repairs will allow countries to cast a wider and more tightly woven anti-IUU net,” said FAO Senior Fishery Liaison David Doulman.

Developing countries, where limited funds and expertise often translate into lax oversight and port controls, are targeted by IUU fishers because they provide convenient entry points for illegal catches.

The international treaty on so-called “port State measures” will enable countries to share information and deny access to any vessel previously reported as involved in IUU fishing by other treaty signatories or by regional fisheries management organizations.

The designated landing ports will also be equipped to undertake inspections of boats in order to monitor for evidence of IUU fishing activities.

Port State measures are widely viewed as the most effective in fighting illegal fishing as attempts to catch pirate fisherman at sea are often expensive and can be difficult to implement, given the large ocean spaces that need to be covered and the costs of the required technology.

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