Global Agreement to End Illegal Fishing Now in Effect - Oceana USA
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June 9, 2016

Global Agreement to End Illegal Fishing Now in Effect

On June 5th, the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) went into effect after surpassing the requirement that a minimum of 25 countries ratify the treaty. This important agreement is part of a larger international effort to close the world’s ports to vessels that engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, thereby preventing black market seafood products from entering into the legal seafood trade.

The global problem of IUU fishing negatively impacts ocean health, fish populations, honest fishermen and seafood businesses alike. Recent estimates suggest that IUU fishing contributes to between $10 and $23 billion in economic losses annually and makes up about 20 to 32 percent of the global catch. It also threatens about 260 million jobs around the world that depend on marine fisheries. Since the PSMA is a significant step in the right direction towards addressing these issues, Oceana applauds the thirty participating nations that have pledged to combat IUU fishing by ratifying this treaty.

Significant Victories

The PSMA requires that parties designate specific ports for use by foreign vessels and mandates that those ships request permission ahead of time before entering. The treaty further improves the monitoring process by directing ships to provide local authorities with information on the fish they have on board and access to log books, licenses, fishing gear, and actual cargo. The agreement also calls on countries to take action against vessels that have been involved in IUU fishing, including denying entry or conducting thorough inspections. To support these efforts, the treaty obliges parties to share information, both regionally and globally, regarding IUU fishing vessels. Finally, since the PSMA applies to any use of a port, even vessels that are just refueling will have to comply with inspection requirements.

In the United States, the successful passage of the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 774), provided the federal government with the necessary implementing legislation to ratify the PSMA. It also granted additional tools to eliminate illegal fishing, including allowing the inspection and monitoring of illegal foreign vessels, expanding data-sharing with foreign governments, and increasing criminal penalties.

Currently, 30 countries have ratified the PSMA, including eight countries in which Oceana has offices: the U.S., Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Peru, Canada, and the European Union, which signed as one entity. In 2013, these signers accounted for more than 62 percent of worldwide fish imports and 49 percent of fish exports, contributing $133 billion and $139 billion respectively to the global fishing marketplace (Seafood News). With this kind of international support, the PSMA will be an invaluable tool in the fight to eliminate IUU fishing.

More Work Ahead

Despite these significant victories, it will be difficult to completely put an end to IUU fishing without addressing the problem of seafood fraud. The complex path that seafood travels from bait to plate presents many opportunities for illegally caught fish to enter into the U.S. market and for seafood fraud to occur. Seafood fraud includes any number of dishonest practices like species substitution, short-weighting (claiming a product weighs more than it does), and false labeling to avoid tariffs. It can also happen at any point along the seafood supply chain. Oceana research found that approximately one-third of the more than 1400 seafood samples tested in our studies were mislabeled.

One of the ways Oceana is working to improve seafood tracking is through the development of the Global Fishing Watch (GFW), which is the product of a technology partnership between SkyTruth, Oceana and Google. This tool is designed to enable anyone with an internet connection to see and understand apparent fishing efforts worldwide, in close to real time. Once operational later this year, the GFW system will help verify and reward responsible fishing practices and reveal illegal activity.

That said, in order for American consumers to have complete confidence in the fish they buy, the federal government needs to require full chain traceability, from the fishing vessel or farm to the end consumer, for all seafood products sold in the United States. In other words, the best way to put an end to illegal fishing and to ensure that our seafood is both safe and honestly labeled is for fish to be tracked from boat to dinner plate.

If you would like to learn about Oceana’s campaign to Stop Seafood Fraud, please visit