International Cooperation Is Critical to Illegal Fishing Fight

Regional coordination, information exchange promote more sustainable fisheries, effective ocean governance

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International Cooperation Is Critical to Illegal Fishing Fight
Regional coordination, information exchange promote more sustainable fisheries, effective ocean governance
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Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing doesn’t take place in a vacuum. In international waters, when a fish is caught illegally or total catch is misreported, the responsibility for tracking down the perpetrators or preventing these actions from recurring falls to multiple entities. Individual governments—whether acting as flag, port, coastal or market States—and regional fisheries bodies and other multilateral cooperative bodies each have a role to play in supporting fisheries enforcement towards broader ocean governance—and they must play their parts together, through cooperation and communication. Although each government has its own specific plans and requirements, universal priorities include securing jobs and livelihoods as well as healthy fish populations for the future. Across the ocean, and at the national, regional and international level, customized approaches are needed to spur coordination, support States in fulfilling their international obligations and ensure healthy fisheries.

Inter-agency coordination, regional cooperation lead to stronger ocean governance

Although simple in theory, true coordination in fighting IUU is difficult to achieve and requires genuine commitment across departments and agencies in a multilayered approach. To start, governments need to encourage open dialogue among their own national agencies. For example, fisheries departments must be in touch with maritime authorities in order to ensure a mutual understanding of vessel tracking and inspection requirements, as well as coordinated actions for fishing operations considered risky. Ports are another place where cooperation is critical. Ideally, they should be run by multiple governance structures within a country, with port employees who are empowered and encouraged to communicate effectively across domestic agencies focused on a variety of issues, such as environmental protection, customs and imports, or national security. And when port agents process vessels arriving to offload catch or cargo, they should cooperate with their counterparts in other countries.

In Central America, bodies such as the Organization of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector of the Central American Isthmus, better known as OSPESCA, and the Central American Commission for Maritime Transportation, or COCATRAM, work together on joint inspection protocols and intelligence sharing in a multilayered approach that is often very helpful for their member States. By creating joint processes that follow the same general rules and procedures for ports, regardless of the country, the governments of Central America have created thorough, efficient and effective mechanisms for coordination and cooperation.

This regional-level approach works regardless of the ocean area. In the Indian Ocean, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and the Indian Ocean Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control (IOMOU), are working on a collaborative program to coordinate port State measures within IOTC boundaries with port State controls by IOMOU members. Because both groups are concerned with how ports deal with vessels, from initial requests to enter a port to inspections and departures, making sure that port protections are consistent from country to country is key. This collaborative agreement leads to more, and better, knowledge sharing and can promote further capacity development for port controls among the many governments involved in each agreement.

Information exchange is key

While inter-agency cooperation is important, it is difficult to achieve stronger, more successful management without information exchange between each entity. In fact, a Pew-supported study has shown that increased information sharing between neighboring States, even in cases in which one country has limited willingness or capacity for reciprocity, improves the overall ability to enforce fisheries laws in shared or adjacent areas. Even one-sided information sharing can help lead to improved health for fish stocks in each country. When joint sharing occurs, the outcomes are even stronger.

A multifaceted, multi-agency approach to improving compliance and strengthening enforcement of international fisheries laws and policy is complex, but quite possible to achieve. Although some existing domestic and regional arrangements are already in place, they are rarely collaborative enough. Ocean governance is best served through coalitions and joint initiatives that not only uphold the international obligations of those governments working together but also aid other countries’ efforts. By engaging the relevant communities and authorities across regional areas to help coordinate the fight against illegal fishing, governments and industry can be assured that everyone in the area is playing their role in the sustainable management of valuable fish stocks as well as effective, streamlined and successful ocean governance.

Dawn Borg Costanzi is a senior officer and Tahiana Fajardo Vargas is an officer working on Pew’s international fisheries project.

person walking by a fishing boat in a port
person walking by a fishing boat in a port
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