Implementing Port State Measures

It has been estimated that one in four fish caught in Africa is caught illegally. The tuna fisheries of the Western Indian Ocean and of West Africa in particular are a magnet for illegal fishing but the time, effort and resources needed for inspecting vessels at sea or conducting air patrols of this vast area is beyond the resources of most of its coastal states. But there is another way of tackling the problem – all fish eventually have to be landed and this provides a less costly opportunity to enforce fisheries regulations: Port State Measures.

The FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (the PSMA) was adopted by the UN FAO Conference in 2009 and came into force in June 2016. The PSMA is the first binding international agreement designed to prevent trade in illegally caught fish. It sets out the minimum controls a state should use when foreign fishing vessels enter, or apply to enter one of its ports, and to verify that all fish landed are legally caught. The ‘port State’ designates which of its ports can be used by foreign vessels and follows a set of standardised procedures to decide whether to allow the vessel to enter, to inspect the vessel and to report and share the results of the inspection with other port states. Follow-up actions to be taken, settlement of disputes, and the role of the vessel’s flag state are also included in the PMSA.

The PSMA enables port officials to deny foreign vessels access to a port and services such as refuelling and repairs if they are suspected of illegal activities. Vessels can be turned away or subjected to immediate inspection on arrival and prohibited from landing their fish if there is evidence that it was caught illegally. Cooperation between port States is crucial – other ports are informed so that they too can deny the vessel permission to enter – making it more difficult for illegal operators to market their catch, reducing their profit. By standardising the minimum legal requirements, it is simpler for officials – and harder for illegal fishers to exploit differences in the laws of port states.

However there are ways for illegal operators to circumvent these restrictions, for example by transhipping their catch at sea and receiving supplies from transport vessels. It’s therefore vital that any vessel identified as supporting illegal fishing vessels is also denied access to port.

African ports are critical to the global implementation of port State measures and the success of the PSMA as a global instrument to tackle illegal fishing. Stop Illegal Fishing is working closely with the FAO Global Capacity Development Programme for the PSMA to implement a capacity building project financed by the GIZ and commissioned by the Federal Republic of Germany over a period of four years, starting in early 2018.

Support through this work will focus on:

  • Reviewing national legislative frameworks for PSMA readiness
  • Supporting national interagency cooperation
  • Developing human and institutional capacity
  • Building awareness of the role and value of the PSMA
  • Developing tools and mechanisms to enable effective PSM

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The Issues

One in four fish in Africa is caught illegally, this threatens the sustainability of fish stocks, damages the ecosystem and deprives governments of income and people of livelihoods.

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Our Approach

Creating change by informing policy and practice, our hands on experience and investigative work means we are often the first to spot new trends and find ways to challenge these.

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Illegal fishing is a complex issue that requires multifaceted responses. Stop Illegal Fishing are working with a range of organisations to bring about change.

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