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.
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.