International accord to fight illegal fishing

The Port States Measures Agreement will come into force on June 5

The Port States Measures Agreement (PSMA) will come into force on June 5. It is a new international accord to tackle illegal and under reported fishing. Governments will then be required to inspect foregn fishing vessels that dock in their ports. It was adopted by a FAO conference in 2009.

According to Matthew Camilleri, chief sheperd of the PSMA in the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) told IPS, "The vessels themselves have the obligation to prove that their condition and the catches that they have on board are in fact taken legitimately."

The law will partially solve the wider challenge of the decrease on fish stock, as government quotas are still above sustainable levels. One of the fish that has suffered the most is the Pacific Blue Fin Tuna. It is now at just 2.6% of its historical population size.

“They continue to manage it at levels higher than the scientific advice and so they just watch some of these species continue to decline – knowing what they need to do to turn it around – but unable to make those difficult decisions to do that.”

Once the agreement is put into force and the quotas are set, governments must ensure that they adhered to. However, Elizabeth Wilson, director of international ocean policy at Pew Charitable Trusts, says this is not happening. Governments can exceed quotas through illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. FAO says this accounts up to 26 million tons of fish worth about 23 billion dollars caught every day.

57 countries including the European Union have already signed the PSMA, which means, according to Camilleri, the vessels engaged in illegal fishing will have to travel further to land their fish or refuel. He adds it will be effective as long as many possible countries are on board.

More so, illegal fishing is more challenging in developing countries. They are also the most affected by overfishing. For example, the Pacific Islands Countries send fishing vessels to long distances to exploit the high seas of the Pacific ocean.

They lack the adequate resources or know how to combat and monitor the illegal unregulated and unmonitored activities. To solve this FAO plans to increase its work with developing countries but this depends on funding.

Also, fishing operations are becoming increasingly industrialized which endangers traditional fishers' livehoods. “There is definitely a risk to some of these small scale fishermen of these fish being gone and if we sustainably manage species it ensures that those fish will be there to catch for generations to come,” said Wilson.

Waste is also a big problem. Lots of fish are discarded because they are not very valuable, this could be tackle with better training to make use of almost all the fish caught. Marine debris are estimated to outweigh fish by 2050.

The PSMA will also help to detect other illegal activities on ships such as forced labour, drugs or arms smuggling and even human trafficking. 

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