The fight against a global, multibillion-dollar-a-year illicit activity can be painstakingly slow. And for more than a decade that’s been the story with the effort to end illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing around the world. But the past year has brought successive victories in numerous critical fora and, while the battle rages on, there are signs that the global community could one day declare victory against IUU fishing. As countries convene this week in Santiago, Chile, for the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Port State Measures Agreement—the first international treaty aimed to curb IUU fishing—and in celebration of the second annual United Nations-declared International Day for the Fight Against IUU Fishing, here’s a look at key recent wins.
Fisheries managers step up engagement on IUU fishing
In the past year, regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) have adopted measures to improve monitoring, control, and surveillance of fisheries:
- The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), the North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC), the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO), and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) require that by 2020, all eligible vessels have unique vessel identification numbers, specifically International Maritime Organization numbers, which stay with vessels from construction to scrapping and ensure they can be accurately identified.
- The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and SPRFMO strengthened their port State measures, which aligns them more closely with the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) and helps keep illegally-caught fish out of the market.
- WCPFC set up a new working group to review at-sea transshipment measures, as the transfer of fish in remote areas from vessel to vessel can create loopholes for illegal operators.
Despite that progress, all RFMOs should institute rules to end IUU fishing and actively work towards science-based, precautionary management of stocks.
Fighting IUU fishing at sea and in the marketplace
Policies and regulations to combat IUU fishing are nothing without on-the-water support, and militaries around the world are getting on board. For example, in February, the U.S. African Command sponsored Exercise Cutlass Express 2019, with the objective of improving maritime law enforcement capacity and promoting national and regional security in East Africa. This year, navies and coast guards received training in detecting, tracking, and assessing suspect fishing vessels, along with boarding and inspection.
Early 2019 also brought good news for the fisheries authorities in Thailand, a huge exporter of seafood. In January, following years of work to improve fisheries oversight, the Thai government received word that the European Union was taking Thailand off of its list of countries that had been warned for poor performance against illegal fishing. Thai officials had gone to great lengths to address problems, especially with in-port controls of foreign vessels and cooperation with flag States. Later that month, Thailand ratified the International Labor Organization convention C188 to fight human trafficking and improve labor conditions on vessels, another key step for securing sustainable fisheries.
The seafood industry has also played an important role in fighting IUU. For example, the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS) initiative, which brings together 10 of the largest seafood companies in the world, held its third dialogue in September 2018 and committed to eliminate IUU fishing and modern slavery from its members’ supply chains. SeaBOS companies have pledged to share their experiences in that effort, and The Pew Charitable Trusts encourages other seafood businesses to follow their lead.
Successes on vessel safety measures should also help further reduce illegal fishing. In January, Spain acceded to the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) Cape Town Agreement, which calls for safeguarding the lives of fishers by setting minimum requirements on the design, construction, and equipment of fishing vessels 24 meters or longer that operate on the high seas, while providing more opportunities to target IUU operators through harmonized inspections with fisheries, transport, and labor agencies. As Spain signed on to the Agreement, its government and the IMO also announced that they will co-host a conference on fishing vessel safety and IUU fishing in October, immediately before the Joint FAO/ILO/IMO Working Group on IUU Fishing, which will meet to discuss cross-over between fisheries, transport, and—for the first time—labour, issues in fighting IUU fishing.
The advancements of the past year are worth celebrating even as governments, industry, and fisheries managers should be redoubling efforts to end IUU fishing. Communication and strategic coordination will be key in bringing about tangible change. By getting this right, the global community can protect fish, people, and our ocean far into the future.
Dawn Borg Costanzi supports the adoption and implementation of policies to end illegal fishing for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ international fisheries project.