131 Governments Set Their Nets for Illegal Fishers

ROME, Italy, March 12, 2007 (ENS) - Illegal fishers beware - 131 governments agreed Friday to create a legally binding accord establishing control measures in ports where fish is landed, transhipped or processed in order to combat illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing.

Fishing without permission, catching protected species, using outlawed types of gear or disregarding catch quotas are among the most common fishing offenses.

The decision came during the 27th meeting of the Committee on Fisheries of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, attended all last week in Rome by 131 governments and the European Commission.

"FAO can count on our full cooperation and support in this area," said EU Commissioner Joe Borg, responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs.

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Illegal fishing vessel off the coast of The Gambia, West Africa (Photo by Austin Jones, Director of the Surveillance Operations Coordinating Unit, Banjul, The Gambia courtesy FAO)
Additional consultations will be held in 2007 and 2008 to generate a draft version of the agreement, which will then be presented to the Committee on Fisheries for final approval at the body's next meeting in 2009.

The proposed agreement will be based on an existing voluntary FAO model outline of recommended "port state" control measures.

Port state controls include measures such as running background checks on boats prior to granting docking privileges and undertaking inspections in port to check documentation, cargos and equipment.

The control measures include training inspectors to increase their effectiveness and improving international information-sharing about vessels with a history of IUU activity in order to help authorities turn away repeat offenders.

"The proposals on port state control are critical to the fight against IUU, and something which the EU has been calling for since the adoption of its 2002 IUU Action Plan," said Commissioner Borg. "I am also pleased that we now have a timetable for action to limit the destructive impact of deep sea fisheries."

IUU fishing undermines good management of world fisheries and costs governments money due to lost fishing revenue and funds spent combating it.

It has negative impacts on fish populations, including those upon which poor fishers depend.

In addition to delegations from FAO members governments, 41 intergovernmental organizations and 29 nongovernmental organizations also participated in the FAO Fisheries Committee.

In tandem with the meeting, Greenpeace has launched the first public global database of blacklisted, illegal fishing vessels.

Greenpeace says the database is a bid to tackle the huge problem of IUU pirate fishing, "a $9 billion rogue industry" which is having a devastating effect on fish stocks and biodiversity in some of the most ecologically important areas of the world’s oceans.

Greenpeace estimates that sub-Saharan Africa loses US$1 billion dollars every year due to the activities of these IUU fleets.

“The measures necessary to eradicate the problem of the illegal fishing are known. They are necessary coordinated operations at all the levels, from the network in the water to the cases of the supermarkets," Sebastian Losada of Greenpeace Spain said in Rome.

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Greenpeace activists hand over an illegal gillnet to a Polish fisheries inspector and the owners of the net onboard the fishing Vessel Kol-79. (Photo © Greenpeace / Christian Aslund)
"The international cooperation, measures of forced fulfillment for the control in the ports, as well as a global registry of fishing ships and a regime of sanctions adapted, are between the tools that the governments need to start up. This way, we will be able to fight fleets that are literally robbing the food of some of the poorest communities in the planet and destroying our marine ecosystems."

Greenpeace compiled the database from existing official registries of IUU vessels and companies. Industrial fishing vessels and fishery support vessels, including motherships, refrigerated carriers and supply vessels, may be included on the database.

The database offers convenient search functions for national fisheries administrators to quickly check on the compliance status of foreign vessels trying to unload their catch in port, seeking services in port, seeking a fishing license or seeking to register or flag a vessel.

Retailers and suppliers can use the database to ensure the fish they source do not come from pirate fishing vessels or from companies involved in such activities.

An NGO umbrella group, the Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements, which includes Greenpeace Spain, the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development, and the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, issued a paper that identifies the "port of convenience," Las Palmas de Gran Canaria of Spain as a gateway for illegally caught fish to enter the EU market.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria also provides IUU vessels operating in the region with essential services and hosts a number of companies behind these operations, the Coalition alleges.

"The problems in Las Palmas are well known to relevant authorities but, so far, little has been done to take corrective action, despite the fact that both the Spanish authorities and the European Commission have repeatedly declared their commitment to fight IUU fishing, including through port control measures," the Coalition paper states.

Other issues discussed during last week's meeting included responsible fish trade; sustainable growth of the aquaculture sector; illness and poverty affecting fishing communities; the implementation of the ecosystem approach to fisheries; and the strengthening of regional fisheries management organizations and regional fishery bodies.

Over the next two years, the Committee on Fisheries asked the FAO to draft technical guidelines on recommended best practices in deep sea fisheries.

The FAO was also asked to produce guidelines on the use of marine protected areas for better fisheries management, conserving marine biodiversity and improving fisheries production.

The Committee on Fisheries asked also that the FAO conduct a comprehensive study on the probable impacts of climate change on fisheries in order to begin evaluating necessary management and policy responses.

Plans are in the works to convene an international conference focusing on problems and needs specific to small scale fisheries, which employ an estimated 34 million people in the developing world.