Healthy fisheries are critical to a fully functioning ocean, which in turn is vital to the health of our planet and all who live on it. The ocean covers over 70 percent of Earth’s surface, is home to more than half the world’s species, and provides food and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people—much of that through the multi-billion-dollar global fishing industry.
And yet many international fisheries are poorly managed, with rules and regulations that are not supported by scientific evidence. To counter the numerous threats facing marine life, fisheries require effective governance on all levels and policies that are informed by the best available science and strictly enforced.
To help achieve that, The Pew Charitable Trusts is recommending that members of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) commit to numerous improvements when the committee meets July 9-13 in Rome to review the status of the world’s fisheries and aquaculture and establish global agreements for effective fisheries management. COFI, which convenes every other year, is the only worldwide intergovernmental forum that examines international fisheries and aquaculture issues and makes recommendations to governments and regional fisheries bodies.
Specifically, as members gather for COFI’s 33rd session, they should:
- Reform the management and monitoring of fish transshipments: COFI members should recommend that FAO initiate steps to produce best-practice guidelines for managing the transshipment of fish at sea. Until those guidelines are in place, flag States, coastal States, port States, and members of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) should ban transshipment at sea until it can be proven legal and verifiable, and does not contribute to illegal fishing.
- Combat illegal fishing: Member States should take action to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by implementing a suite of tools, some of which are detailed below, and by exhibiting the strong political will needed to effectively implement change throughout national administrations and regional bodies. We encourage COFI members to recognize the broader security implications of illegal fishing and work together to gather and share data on fishing and the businesses that support it.
- Implement the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA): COFI members should implement the PSMA, a U.N. treaty to strengthen and harmonize port controls to prevent illegally caught fish from entering the market. States should follow their commitment to the agreement with effective action, including policy reform to carry out the PSMA’s requirements and establishing mechanisms for prosecuting IUU fishing offenders, training staff on port inspections, and ensuring cooperation and information sharing among port, flag, and coastal States.
- Mandate IMO numbers and widespread use of global vessel record: National licensing administrations should require that all flagged vessels over 12 meters long and authorized to operate outside their national waters have International Maritime Organization (IMO) numbers—unique identifiers that stay with a vessel until it is scrapped. Also, regional fisheries management organizations should ensure that their regulations match those length and authorization criteria. We also urge COFI members to upload data for those ships to the Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels, and support the strengthening of ship registries and real-time sharing of records among governments, regionally and globally.
- Implement harmonized catch documentation schemes (CDS): Members should implement the voluntary CDS guidelines, which help fisheries managers determine who is catching what, and where, and work toward harmonization to increase compatibility between existing and future CDS schemes.
- Assess flag State progress in countering IUU fishing: Governments should evaluate their performance as flag States, specifically related to the acceptance and implementation of international agreements aimed at curbing IUU fishing, as well as their enforcement of conservation and management measures for fisheries.
- Agree to measure for marking fishing gear: FAO members should adopt the Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear, which would support the development of an FAO global program to discourage the abandonment of nets, lines, buoys, and other equipment at sea by making them traceable directly to owners. The guidelines were endorsed by the FAO-facilitated Technical Consultation in February 2018.
- Protect the high seas: Governments should agree to new international treaty text that will address governance gaps in ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction by creating a global mechanism to identify and create high seas marine protected areas and establish minimum requirements for high seas environmental impact assessments.
- Become party to the Cape Town Agreement to improve safety at sea: States should become party to the 2012 Cape Town Agreement, which outlines design, construction, and equipment standards for commercial fishing vessels 24 meters or more in length operating on the high seas, to help improve safety for crew members on large, commercial fishing vessels worldwide.
By taking these steps, COFI member States would go a long way toward improving the health and stability of fisheries worldwide, and safeguarding the ocean for the many species—including ours—that depend on it.