International agreement reached to combat illegal fishing



Fishing inspector

A port inspector checks the mesh gauge of a net to make sure it is of legal size.

Credit: FAO/G.Bizzari

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More than 90 countries have agreed upon a new treaty designed to stop illegal fishing around the world.

The treaty, brokered by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and agreed upon at the start of the week, aims to close fishing ports to vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities.

It is the first global treaty to focus specifically on these problematic fishing activities, and is hoped to help block IUU-caught fish from entering international markets - thereby removing an important incentive for fishermen to engage in illicit fishing.

As well as contributing to the depletion of fish stocks and endangering non-target species that get caught up in the catch, 'pirate fishing' also disrupts legal and responsible fishing activities.

"By frustrating responsible management, IUU fishing damages the productivity of fisheries - or leads to their collapse. That's a serious problem for the people who depend on them for food and income," said Ichiro Nomura, Assistant-Director General for Fisheries and Aquaculture at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

"This treaty represents a real, palpable advance in the ongoing effort to stamp it out."

In the agreement, the 91 countries, including Australia, agree to take a number of steps to harden their ports against IUU fishers.

Foreign fishing vessels wishing to dock, for example, will be required to request permission ahead of time, transmitting information on their activities and the fish they have on board. This will give authorities an opportunity to spot red flags in advance.

There will also be regular inspections of ship papers, fishing gear and catches, which will often reveal if a vessel has engaged in IUU fishing.

Under the treaty, vessels denied access must be flagged publicly and their originating country's authorities must take follow-up actions. It also calls for the creation of
information-sharing networks to let countries share details on IUU-associated vessels.

Measures like these are widely considered as one of the most effective - and cost-effective - weapoms in the fight against illicit fishing.

"Of course, the effectiveness of [these] measures depends in large part on how well countries implement them," said the FAO's David Doulman.

"So the focus now is to make sure that countries and other involved parties have the means and know-how to enforce it and are living up to their commitments. Importantly, the agreement provides for assistance and support to developing countries to help them with implementation."

It is expected the agreement will be ratified and formally adopted in November.