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Fisheries Governance Roundup


In this fisheries governance blog I highlight four upcoming events. I’ll also be talking about the key measures that should feature on the agendas of these events, in particular, measures supporting the fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU). Here is the list of the events.

  • UNGA – the General Assembly of the UN convenes on the 16th September 2014, where Oceans and Fisheries resolution negotiations formally engage.
  • US Presidential Memorandum — Comprehensive Framework to Combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud. A Task Force has been established which will take public evidence, and report in December 2014.
  • IMO Maritime Day – on 25th September 2014, is this year devoted to IMO Conventions: effective implementation.
  • 3rd Joint FAO/IMO Ad Hoc Working Group on IUU Fishing and Related Matters. This Meeting to set a forward IUU agenda for the next 5 years is planned to take place in the second half of 2015, but both the Meeting and its Agenda need to be approved this year by the two IMO parent Committees – MEPC and MSC.

And the measures are:

FAO Global Record of Fishing Vessels

The Global Record (GR) is intended to provide greater transparency in identifying vessels and their beneficial owners, what they are authorised to do and their operational history.  It is seen as a necessary part of a suite of arrangements needed to improve fisheries surveillance and enforcement and give concerned States and markets the means to know who they are dealing with and help keep illegal and unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fish products out of supply chains.

Development of the GR has remained vested at the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Current GR plans continue to emphasise the inclusion of only certified data provided by flag States. There was some opening up of this policy in a strategy paper debated at the COFI Meeting in June 2014, suggesting for the first time that external links to non-governmental data sources could also be included in the GR.

There is no guarantee that flag States will be willing or able to supply their vessel and authorisations data to the GR in a timely manner; or agree to reconcile, in a timely manner, inconsistencies in vessel data received from more than one flag register – such as multiple registration, which is illegal under UNCLOS – or other changes in vessel/flag details. Experience at FAO in relying on flag state data is not positive. The High Seas Vessel Authorisation Record or HSVAR, part of the Compliance Agreement, has largely failed due to the relatively small number of States that are party to this Agreement, the fact that access to the Record is limited and the poor record of regular updating by those that have engaged.

WWF has consistently argued for an alternative GR model that is a public domain system which exposes data inconsistencies by allowing comparison of the certified data received from flag registers and fisheries agencies with non-governmental data sources. Port States under the PSMA, and markets tracking vessels in their traceability systems, could then be a source of sanction on vessel owners and their flags which do not make information in the GR transparent or fail to explain and reconcile data discrepancies.

Fishing trawler Catharina © IHS FairplayFishing trawler Catharina © IHS Fairplay

This model is similar to Equasis, which is a successful public-access database of cargo ship safety information, set up independently by a group of quality minded countries in 2000.

Alternative independent sources of vessel and ownership details for the GR include: IHS Maritime (IHSM), which manages the IMO Numbering Scheme on behalf of the IMO, and is the source of vessel and ownership details in Equasis; and ISSF’s Proactive Vessel Register (PVR).

IHSM maintains one of the few independently researched fishing vessel databases, using both governmental and non-governmental sources. One of IHSM’s update procedures is a regular IMO-based vessel data exchange with flag States, which enables them to try to reconcile multiple flag registration, as well as validate IMO Numbers in flag State registries. The IHSM database is public domain, so any inconsistencies in flag registry data can be made visible.

The ISSF PVR is an audited database of tuna vessels, all of which have IMO Numbers and whose owners prove their legality as well as other steps they are taking above and beyond legal requirements to openly demonstrate their level of commitment to sustainable practices.

Spain has so far offered funding in support of the GR. It is hoped that through the Presidential Task Force the US will act as a champion State in both funding the GR and leading in a GR advisory group to the FAO Secretariat, and encouraging other flags States active in the fight against IUU to do the same.

FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA)

PSMA is a port inspection regime that aims to prevent illegally caught fish from entering international markets through ports of first landing. Port officials will also be able to prohibit foreign vessels that are suspected of illegal activity from receiving port services and access, and alert other ports.

The measure requires 25 countries to ratify the Agreement before it can enter into force. 11 countries have ratified – including the US and the European Union, two of the largest seafood markets – while it is believed 26 countries are in the process of becoming parties to the Agreement.

The FAO has co-ordinated a series of regional workshops on port state controls in Africa and South Pacific Sates during 2012-13, and plans to deliver three regional workshops in the Caribbean, South America and West Africa during 2014-15.

Implementation of PSMA, and supporting its take-up overseas, is expected to be a key part of the US Presidential Task Force agenda.

An item for the agenda of the 3rd Joint FAOIMO Ad Hoc Working Group on IUU Fishing should be the information needs of PSMA from the GR (see above) to inform the decisions of port authorities in letting foreign fishing vessels into port and what intensity of inspection regime to apply. The GR should also be the vehicle for making the results of port inspections under PSMA public, in the same way that port inspections on safety grounds of cargo ships are made public through the databases of the Port State Control MOUs, and in Equasis.

IMO Cape Town Agreement

The Cape Town Agreement (CTA) is a basic set of safety measures for larger high seas fishing vessels that mirror SOLAS – that body of international safety measures mandated by the IMO for cargo shipping, which has been responsible for significant improvements in cargo ship safety and the reduction in casualties and loss of life.

Fishing vessels continue to have one of the worst safety records of any industry. The Cape Town Agreement has been 35 years in its development, and will enter into force when 22 IMO Member States, with an aggregate fleet authorised to operate on the high seas of 3,600 vessels, have ratified it. So far, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands have ratified, while South Africa has signed subject to future ratification. The EU has encouraged its Members to ratify, and delegated the right to accede to the Agreement to Members. This would be a major contribution to the required number of states and fleet required to bring it into force.

Capsized fishing vessel © SINTEF Fisheries and AquacultureCapsized fishing vessel © SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture

The CTA is one of the Conventions to be highlighted on IMO Maritime Day for effective implementation. It will also be on the agenda at the 3rd Joint FAOIMO Ad Hoc Working Group on IUU Fishing. It is believed that bringing non-domestic fishing vessels under such an active international regulation of regular survey and port inspection on safety, as well as expected future amendment to the Agreement to introduce global monitoring of fishing vessels, will play a major role in the fight against IUU fishing.   There is also an agenda proposal at the 3rd Meeting on the practicalities of integrating port inspection regimes of fishing vessels under three prospective UN multilateral Measures: the IMO CT Agreement, the FAO PSMA and the ILO Work in Fishing Convention – the last dealing with conditions for the crew on board.

The safety of fishing vessels is a thematic priority for the IMO for the 2014-2015 biennium, and MSC 94 in November will consider extending this theme to the next biennium. The IMO is also sponsoring a number of regional training sessions on the CT Agreement, the first in Belize in October 2014.

Use of IMO Numbers in fishing vessel regulatory measures and within seafood traceability

The extension of the IMO Numbering Scheme to include fishing vessels of 100gt and above by the IMO in December 2013, has already paved the way for the use of IMO Numbers as a unique vessel identifier (UVI) within information sources. Four Regional Fisheries Bodies have recently mandated IMO Numbers for fishing vessels >=100 GT authorised to operate in their areas – Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

IMO Numbers should be integrated into regulatory information systems and certificates, such as vessel registers, fishing authorisations, and catch documentation to allow the easy interchange of vessel specific information within the information systems of PSMA and the GR. Use of IMO Numbers within commercial seafood traceability should also be promoted. When passed along the chain of custody it will allow vessels and fishing authorisations to be traced in addition to the product.

In both regulatory Catch Documentation Schemes and commercial traceability systems, vessel and licensing data could then be verified in relation to the catch data, in particular the position of the vessel at the time and in the area of the catch and the vessel’s authorisation including the species and quantity that can be taken. It would also allow verification of other relevant fishing vessel data, including previous history of IUU fishing and the performance of both the vessel and its flag in accordance with international agreements and measures, all of which will be of increasing interest to importing states and to seafood consumers.

WWF will work with partners at the 3rd Joint FAOIMO Ad Hoc Working Group on IUU Fishing to try to change the scope of the IMO Numbering Scheme to focus on all vessels operating in waters beyond the jurisdiction of the flag state, and those using foreign ports for landings. This would bring under the Scheme vessels in the RFMO databases that are not currently eligible for IMO Numbers – non steel hull vessels and vessels <100GT operating on the high seas.

Effective Regional Trade Policy against IUU

EU – all fishery products of wild origin imported into the EU must carry documentation testifying the legal origin of the catch. The catch documentation must be verified by the authority of the flag state and non-cooperating countries may be subject to import bans.
USA – Imports from country fleets involved in IUU countries may be denied entry to the US market while the vessels may be banned from US ports.

RFMOS – such as CCAMLR, are using electronic Catch Documentation Schemes (e-CDS) for some species in their Convention areas.
FAO-COFI-31 – endorsed a proposal originated by Norway that all import countries should be using e-CDS. Member states are aiming for adoption of CDS guidelines at COFI’s next Session.

In the absence of binding multilateral measures in force, such as many of those mentioned above, some importing countries or regions that already have standards equal to or exceeding the provisions of these measures, may broaden their bilateral trade agreements to enforce these standards on fish products sourced from exporting countries within these agreements.

Fishing Vessels within the Polar Code – Step II

The mandatory International Code of safety and environmental provisions for ships subject to SOLAS and MARPOL operating in polar waters (Polar Code) is moving towards adoption. Step II of the Polar Code is planned, particularly on environmental provisions under Marpol, which have not been developed in Step 1 as much as the safety provisions.

But non-Solas vessels, in particular fishing vessels, have been excluded from the safety provisions in Step 1. Work on fishing vessels safety provisions within the Polar Code has been postponed from IMO SDC2 in 2015 to SDC3 in 2016. It is important that this work is scheduled for this meeting, as noted above fishing vessel safety remains a thematic priority under the IMO’s biennium agenda.

This blog is written by Trevor Downing, Director of TJD Maritime Consultants and a Consultant to WWF.

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