Issue Brief

Stopping Illegally Caught Fish at the Dock

How the Port State Measures Agreement will curb illegal fishing

Can one international treaty help reverse years of rampant and widespread disregard for fisheries laws and policies? We believe the answer is yes, but a treaty is only as good as the parties that ratify and enforce it.

The treaty in question is the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, commonly called the Port State Measures Agreement, or the PSMA.

Adopted in 2009 by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, the treaty requires parties to exert greater port controls on foreign-flagged vessels, and as a result to keep illegal, unreported, and unregulated, or IUU, fish out of the world's markets by removing the incentive for dishonest fishing operators to continue their illegal activities.

But the PSMA will take effect only after 25 parties have ratified it. (For a current list of port States that have ratified the treaty.)

Signatories to the PSMA should confirm their commitment to ending illegal fishing by ratifying, accepting, or approving the treaty now. Countries that did not sign the treaty can accede to it at anytime.

How port controls help combat IUU fishing

 IUU fishers rely on a range of tactics and loopholes in international law to get their product to the market, but ports known for lax law enforcement or limited inspection capacity are a prime pathway for unethical fishermen to get their catch from ship to shelf. By ratifying the PSMA, signatories send a clear message that their ports are no longer open for the landing of illegal catch. Port States enforcing the treaty will refuse port entry or access to port services, including landing and transshipment of fish, to foreign-flagged vessels known to have engaged in IUU fishing.

Such vessels, if entering into port, will be subject to immediate inspection under the agreement, and the results of the inspection will be communicated to other relevant States and organizations to facilitate cooperation in enforcement actions. As a result, IUU fishers will have fewer and fewer ports where they can offload their illegal catch.

The benefits of becoming a party to the Port State Measures Agreement

There are numerous benefits to becoming a party to the PSMA. Among them are:

  • Boosting fisheries sustainability: The treaty's principal objective is to support sustainable fisheries for the long term, which in turn ensures the sustainability of the marine environment. IUU fishing negatively affects fisheries management and increases damage caused to stock health from overfishing.
  • Cost-effectiveness: At-sea patrols and aerial surveillance are necessary but expensive ways to establish and maintain fisheries monitoring, control, and surveillance. Port controls are relatively inexpensive in comparison, and a particularly useful way of detecting illicit activity by monitoring foreign-flagged vessels that come to port to offload their catch.
  • Transparency and information sharing: The treaty establishes the need for the development of a global information-sharing mechanism to facilitate the exchange of information on port controls and IUU activity. Effective information sharing across national and regulatory boundaries is essential to successfully combat IUU fishing.
  • Capacity building: The PSMA acknowledges the special requirements of developing States and asserts that parties shall provide technical and financial assistance to those that become party to the treaty. In fact, the treaty call for creating a specialized body to manage such assistance. This will support the successful implementation of the treaty, enabling developing port States to boost capacity to more quickly recognize IUU fishing in their regions and take adequate enforcement action.

To learn more about the Port State Measures Agreement, including how to become a party to the treaty, download the full report.

Media Contact

John Briley

Officer, Communications

202.540.6394