Port State Measures

It has been estimated that one in four fish caught in Africa is caught illegally. The Western Indian Ocean tuna fishery in particular is 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 Port State Measures Agreement (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.

Ideally Post State Measures should be adopted globally, but this is unlikely to happen soon. There are also many ‘ports of convenience’ as not all states have the capacity to carry out the PSMA requirements. Bribery and intimidation is also used to avoid inspections. However developing states can apply for funding to develop capacity.

So Port State Measures is an important step in the right direction, but in order to be effective many more countries must come onboard.

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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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