To Help Stop Illegal Fishing, Governments Should Leverage Port State Measures Treaty Tools

Funding and related assistance programme could help developing nations improve fisheries sustainability

To Help Stop Illegal Fishing, Governments Should Leverage Port State Measures Treaty Tools
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Aerial view of Tripoli Harbour, Libya.
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The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) is the first legally binding international agreement targeting illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which accounts for billions of dollars’ worth of seafood each year. The treaty, which requires Parties to strengthen port controls to prevent IUU-caught fish from reaching the market, is also an effective tool for helping build capacity among developing States to deter and prevent illegal activities. At the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Agreement, which will be held (virtually) in Brussels from 31 May to 4 June, governments and other stakeholders will focus on how capacity building can further improve existing enforcement efforts and intergovernmental cooperation to keep illegally caught fish from supermarket shelves.

A key point for discussion at the meeting is the effectiveness of the existing PSMA Assistance Fund and the related global capacity development programme, which provide developing States with funding and support for continued implementation of already successful initiatives, such as port control procedures. Parties will consider if the fund and programme, as they are currently structured, meet the needs of developing States.

Parties should give careful thought to how donor and recipient States cooperate, and should work to ensure that funds are invested where they provide the most benefit to developing States’ efforts to curb illegal activity and enforce controls. It is imperative that the FAO ensure that the fund and programme are unconditionally focused on sustainable development of State interests and legitimate fisheries—not linked to third-party trade or fishing licensing arrangements that all too often have negative conditions for the beneficiaries, such as when governments offer aid in exchange for more fishing rights in the recipient’s waters. PSMA Parties should view this assistance as a long-term commitment to better support an enduring effect.

Considerations for the future of the PSMA Assistance Fund

Commercial and artisanal fishing supports livelihoods and security in many developing States, and foreign aid is often aimed at securing sustainable fisheries. The PSMA Assistance Fund and the global capacity development programme could, and should, be integral parts of using fisheries as a mechanism to alleviate food insecurity and help States build and develop better infrastructure and expertise—particularly at ports—with an eye toward long-lasting benefits. Stability in this aid would also promote greater employment, reduce volatility in government budgets, and ensure the long-term support for fisheries.

In addition, as scientific evidence of the vulnerability of fisheries to overfishing and climate change grows, analysis suggests that decision makers around the world must do more to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and secure ocean health. Improving oversight and inspections will play a key role in successful fisheries management and in enforcing science-based catch limits and practices. The PSMA Assistance Fund and programme could prove important tools in helping developing nations close management gaps and end IUU fishing.

As the Parties to the PSMA consider the future of assistance funds and take stock of their available mechanisms, they should work to ensure that governments commit capacity development aid for the long term, manage it more strategically than other funds have been managed in the past, and base it solely on sustainable and equitable management of fisheries. The PSMA Assistance Fund and the global capacity development programme—and foreign aid as a whole—can help States limit IUU activities in their waters and by their fleets, and keep illegally caught fish from ending up in their ports. To be most effective, these tools should be applied in an open and timely way to those countries that need them the most.

Peter Horn is the project director and Katherine Hanly is a manager with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ international fisheries project.

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