New Tool Helps Evaluate Risk of Illegally-Caught Fish Passing Through Port

Pew interactive shows activity and patterns that could help authorities, seafood buyers, and others

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New Tool Helps Evaluate Risk of Illegally-Caught Fish Passing Through Port
Mincho Minchev/Getty Images

A new interactive tool from The Pew Charitable Trusts can help maritime and fisheries authorities and seafood buyers determine where in the world illegally-caught seafood is most likely to enter the market. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major issue worldwide, accounting for up to $23.5 billion worth of catch annually. This activity contributes to the continued overfishing of commercially valuable species and can take away jobs, food, and revenue from the people, companies, and countries obeying the law.

Based on a Pew-commissioned study, this tool utilizes data transmitted from fishing and fish carrier vessels’ automatic information systems (AIS) and focuses on the top 99 ports globally by number of visits from foreign-flagged vessels engaged in fishing operations. By launching the tool on World Maritime Day, Pew is hoping to draw attention to the need for sustainable seas and to the interconnectedness of fisheries.

IUU fishing could be greatly reduced through stronger controls at ports, and Pew’s new tool is designed to help in that regard by showing which ports—and which States—are most likely to receive visits from vessels carrying IUU-caught fish. The interactive also shows which ports and States are busiest and is a useful tool for anyone looking to better understand activity patterns of fishing vessels coming to ports around the world.

It takes a complex web of ports, port States, and flag States working in concert to ensure that fish coming into port were caught legally.

In 2016, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) entered into force, helping to combat illegal fishing by requiring parties to place tighter controls on foreign-flagged vessels seeking to enter and use their ports. Today, 66 countries and the European Union are party to the treaty.

That represents significant progress from even a few years ago but, as the tool shows, more governments need to implement the PSMA, and more need to join. Of the 25 riskiest port States identified by the study, only four (16%) had ratified the PSMA at the time of the study, leaving large loopholes for illegal operators to exploit.

The numbers also show a concentration of port activity—less than half of the more than 3,000 ports identified across 140 States were visited by foreign-flagged vessels—but don’t tell the whole story. Here are five ways the tool could help authorities, officials, and others.

  1. Compare activity within a port State.
    Most port States have a number of fishing ports, some of which are designated for use by foreign vessels. Port State authorities can use this tool to see activity by time period, estimated volume, or traffic origin and type—for example, foreign or domestic, refrigerated cargo vessel or fishing vessel, etc., to help make decisions on enforcement and resource allocation.
  2. Show which fleets visit which ports.
    Users can zero in on flag State fleets to see which ports and States its vessels are visiting. This vital data can help show which fleets are visiting higher-risk ports and which States might benefit most from increasing oversight of their vessels’ foreign port visits and from effective port State measures.
  3. Help seafood buyers gauge risk within their supply chains.
    Most seafood industry buyers conduct due diligence to ensure that the fish they’re purchasing was caught legally. These buyers can use Pew’s new interactive to evaluate the IUU risk of fish landed in a given port or State and inform seafood sourcing decisions.
  4. Help identify priority areas for PSMA implementation and capacity development.
    Although the PSMA has been in force for four years, implementation among States varies widely. Governments and non-governmental organizations can use this interactive to help determine which ports and States need technical assistance to improve performance. Knowing the number of fishing ports in a State and who visits them will help flag and port States target their efforts to meet their responsibilities under the PSMA and other international treaties.
  5. Provide new information to researchers and academics.
    This global-level dataset is the first of its kind to be publicly available online. It is a unique tool for researchers seeking to better understand fishing fleet behavior or conduct in-depth analysis on commercial fishing patterns or IUU activity.

The tool’s multiple views on port and vessel data offer a comprehensive overview of where, and by whom, fish is likely being brought to dock before it enters the marketplace, and is already drawing praise from experts. Matthew Camilleri, head of the Fisheries Operations and Technology Branch at the Food Agriculture Organization noted, “Pew’s new interactive provides access to a new set of data that will allow organizations such as FAO to understand the scale of activity in ports around the world, and help us target better our capacity development efforts for the implementation of port state measures.” Tom Pickerell from the Global Tuna Alliance noted, “Pew’s new interactive will really help seafood buyers conduct greater due diligence for ports where product is being landed.” The interactive should be an asset for those looking to better assess risk—and where to concentrate efforts to fight illegal fishing through strong and effective port State measures.

Peter Horn is a project director and Dawn Borg Costanzi is a senior officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ international fisheries project.

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Port Activity Study Reveals Illegal Fish to Enter Markets

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Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) catch continues to enter world markets, accounting for up to $23.5 billion worth of seafood each year. To combat this illicit activity, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) came into force in 2016 after it surpassed 25 ratifications.

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The Port State Measures Agreement

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The Port State Measures Agreement

When the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) entered into force in 2016, the United Nations hailed it as the beginning of a new era in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Over 25 governments had ratified or otherwise signed on to the treaty, surpassing the threshold needed to bring it into force. That number has more than doubled in the years since. But can a single treaty create a mechanism strong enough to combat widespread disregard for fisheries laws and policies? We believe the answer is yes, but the agreement is only as good as the parties that adhere to and enforce it.

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Countries’ Exposure to Illegal Catch

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Port State measures are a critical part of the potential solution to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, one of the biggest threats to ocean health. This illicit practice places pressure on the sustainability of the world’s fisheries and harms the economies of coastal nations that depend on healthy fish populations.

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