To Better Fight Illegal Fishing, Governments Advance Information Sharing and Capacity Development

Parties to the Port State Measures Agreement will use new platforms to coordinate efforts against illicit activity and strengthen fisheries health

To Better Fight Illegal Fishing, Governments Advance Information Sharing and Capacity Development
Fishermen at port prepare their vessel and gear for sea.
Fishermen at port prepare their vessel and gear for sea.
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Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major issue worldwide, accounting for up to 1 in 5 wild-caught ocean fish every year. Now, with more States joining a treaty intended to stop IUU fishing, effective coordination across regional, national and international boundaries to fight this illicit activity grows ever more important. The treaty, the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), requires parties to strengthen port controls to prevent IUU-caught fish from reaching the market and has far-reaching implications for fisheries health. So it is encouraging that the parties to the PSMA, when they met for the third time from 31 May to 4 June, reached some agreement on how to make treaty implementation even more effective.

Parties agreed to continue to review and monitor the impact of the treaty at each stage of implementation, develop a strategy to improve its effectiveness and help countries better meet their commitments to expand information sharing and increase global capacity development. 

Parties will continue to identify gaps in PSMA implementation to focus on areas for targeted action

Evaluation of the effectiveness of treaty implementation to date was conducted through a self-assessment questionnaire. This tool provides a way to identify gaps in implementation as well as highlights to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) where assistance should ultimately be targeted. Given its usefulness, parties agreed to refine the questionnaire so that the key data can be collated every four years. They will also develop a similar questionnaire to measure how regional fisheries bodies are adopting and implementing port State measures.

Crucially, PSMA parties established a strategy working group to enhance implementation of the treaty. The group will host discussions based on the results of the questionnaire and provide a forum for State representatives to share experiences and offer others support for implementation.

Data exchange across ports will help keep illegally caught fish from entering the market

In 2019, PSMA parties agreed that FAO would develop a PSMA Global Information Exchange System (GIES), an IT platform designed as an easy-to-use information system for governments to share information, including inspection reports for vessels suspected of IUU and denials of vessels to port entry. This year, parties agreed the GIES should enter a pilot phase, during which parties will test the system by sharing information with one another in near real time.

A recent study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research demonstrated that sharing fisheries data – including on previous port visits – can be enormously helpful, even in situations where only one government is prepared to share that information. Cooperation through systems like the GIES allows PSMA parties to meet their treaty obligations by facilitating the sharing of reports that could help countries carry out risk analysis and prevent IUU vessels from docking and offloading catch. For example, if one government detected illegal activity by a vessel, blocks port access for that ship and shares data on that action across the region, that vessel will have a very hard time accessing any other ports in the region.

It is critical that parties use the GIES during its pilot phase so that the FAO, which administers the PSMA, has sufficient feedback on the system to improve it before its eventual formal adoption at the next meeting of the parties.

Increased capacity assistance to help developing States implement stronger port controls

The PSMA is integral to the global effort to achieve sustainability of fish populations and should help ensure that countries receive the assistance necessary to develop the infrastructure and expertise at ports to discourage illegal fishing. This in turn will help secure the livelihoods of law-abiding fishers and protect food security in coastal communities and beyond.

Separate from the GIES, the FAO took another important step by formally launching the Capacity Development Portal Application, which parties and donors can use to share details of projects to improve capacity development, which will further assist States in fighting IUU. Now, there is a tool for donors and those engaged in capacity building to connect with one another, learn about ongoing activities and minimize duplication of effort, as well as for recipient countries to understand what assistance programs are underway in different States and regions. The FAO’s global Capacity Development Programme has so far assisted more than 40 countries, and this new app should make further cooperation – and the implementation of assistance programs across a variety of stakeholders – easier and more effective.

The parties to the PSMA meet every two years to discuss successes and where improvements can be made and will now have the opportunity for more frequent ad hoc discussions. Being a party to the agreement shows a strong commitment to fight IUU fishing, but countries must implement the treaty’s provisions to have a real impact. Tools such as the questionnaire, GIES, and Capacity Development Portal, guided by the development of a strategy to further the treaty’s success, are critical to these efforts. We look forward to strong uptake of these systems by parties and the continuation of other initiatives, including research and analysis of port activity and its impacts and the establishment of collaborative networks, to meet the potential of PSMA and make great strides in its implementation over the coming months and years.

Dawn Borg Costanzi is a senior officer and Elaine Young is an officer for Pew’s international fisheries program

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