The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has formally accepted Uruguay's ratification of the Port State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, a key international treaty to shore up port policies to prevent illegally caught fish from entering the market.
Once it takes effect, the PSMA will require countries that have ratified it to deny landing and services to vessels that have been involved in unlawful fishing. Uruguay is the latest nation to approve the pact to stop illegal fishing. The other entities that have done so include Chile, the European Union (representing its 27 member states), Myanmar (formerly Burma), Norway, and Sri Lanka. To take effect, the agreement needs 19 more countries to ratify it.
Since the pact was finalized in 2009 following multi-national negotiations, The Pew Charitable Trusts has been encouraging countries to ratify it. Tony Long, who leads Pew's global project to end illegal fishing, applauded Uruguay's decision.
"It is particularly important that Uruguay, a small country with strategic importance for regional fisheries, has decided to take the lead on this issue," Long says. "Illegal fishing is undermining social, environmental, and economic security around the world, especially for developing coastal states."
Uruguay had been the last country in the southern cone with an open port policy, although that would no longer be the case when the agreement takes effect. Previously, the country's capital city, Montevideo, was a popular port for foreign vessels operating in the Southwest Atlantic. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, fisheries crime experts regarded Montevideo as a "port of convenience"—one often used by illegal vessels to offload highly-valued Patagonian toothfish (Chilean sea bass) that had been caught illegally in the Southern Ocean.
The goal of the port state measures agreement is to keep illegal, unreported, and unregulated fish out of the world's markets by removing the incentive for dishonest fishing operators to continue their illegal activities.
"Pew congratulates Uruguay for its efforts to bring its ports to the highest international standards on fishing vessels control," adds Long. “We expect other countries will follow this example soon."
Closing ports to illegally caught fish is a critical component of Pew's global project to end illegal fishing. Other elements of the initiative include:
- Enabling law enforcement agencies from different nations to better cooperate on crime prevention and enforcement through Interpol's fisheries crime unit, Project SCALE.
- Working toward a global requirement for unique vessel identification numbers for every industrial fishing vessel, similar to the vehicle identification numbers required on every automobile. The gold standard in the maritime sector is the International Maritime Organization's ID system, which gives ships unique and permanent “IMO numbers.”