Pew Applauds Major Step Toward Advancing Legal—and Safer—Commercial Fishing

With 6 new ratifications promised, Cape Town Agreement may soon enter into force

Major Step Toward Advancing Safer Commercial Fishing

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2022—The Pew Charitable Trusts today applauded the announcement that six more governments will ratify a treaty that is vital to improving crew safety and stemming illegal fishing in the global commercial fishing industry.

The treaty, the Cape Town Agreement for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, includes the first mandatory global safety regulations for fishing vessels, with standards covering vessel construction and seaworthiness; machinery and electrical installations; lifesaving gear such as survival crafts; radiocommunications equipment; fire protection, and emergency procedures. These elements will make it easier for countries to deter illegal fishing, identify and investigate fishers who operate outside the law and help ensure that crews have safe and decent working conditions.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) adopted the Cape Town Agreement—which applies primarily to new vessels 24 metres or longer—in 2012. The IMO had named 2022 as the target year for the treaty to be fully ratified, which will happen when 22 states with a combined fleet of at least 3,600 eligible vessels, finalize their ratifications. In 2019, 48 governments signed the Torremolinos Declaration signalling their intention to ratify the Cape Town Agreement.

Before today, 16 states with a combined fishing fleet of around 1,900 eligible vessels had ratified the treaty. The announcement at the One Ocean Summit in Brest, France, that Kenya, Ghana, Ireland, Portugal, Japan and the Republic of Korea will ratify the Agreement would bring the number of parties to 22, if all of those governments follow through on that commitment; however, it is unclear whether these ratifications will add enough vessels for the agreement to enter into force. So although today’s news marks a major step forward, more countries need to follow suit to secure full ratification and better ensure the safety of fishers at sea.

Peter Horn, director of Pew’s ending illegal fishing project, issued the following statement:

“The Pew Charitable Trusts thanks Kenya, Ghana, Portugal, Ireland, Japan and the Republic of Korea for their commitments, and we encourage governments that haven’t yet ratified the Cape Town Agreement to do so by October—ensuring that legal fishing and safety at sea continue to be a high priority within the international community.

“Fishers have been waiting for 45 years for an international treaty to protect their lives at sea, so the full ratification of the Cape Town Agreement will be an historical moment. But although we greatly welcome this announcement of the intention to ratify the agreement from across the globe, there’s still more work to be done for the job to be complete. We hope that more countries will be inspired to follow these commitments by ratifying this critical treaty.”