International plan to tackle pirate fishing

Posted: 10 September 2002

More than 110 countries have adopted a new Plan of Action against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. The voluntary agreement, announced in March 2001, aims at preventing, deterring and eliminating illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.

In some important fisheries, such fishing accounts for up to 30 per cent of total catches, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

IUU fishing is blamed for overfishing of several high value fish stocks. In extreme cases, it can lead to the collapse of a fishery or seriously affect efforts to rebuild fish stocks that have been depleted.

Of particular concern are fishing vessels flying "flags of convenience" granted by countries that allow fishing vessels to operate under their flag without controlling their fishing activities.

"The Plan of Action will make it more difficult for fishing vessels to threaten the sustainability of the world's fisheries resources", said Ichiro Nomura, FAO's Assistant Director-General of the Fisheries Department.

Among the measures called for by the plan are the following:

  • No vessel should be allowed to fish unless authorized. States should co-operate to identify and punish operators or owners of pirate fishing vessels.
  • States should not give economic support or subsidies to companies, vessels or individuals involved in IUU fishing.
  • Countries should ensure, before they register a fishing vessel, that these vessels do not engage in or support IUU fishing.
  • Countries should discourage flag hopping - the practice of changing a vessel's flag to avoid conservation and management.
  • A flag state should ensure that each vessel flying its flag and fishing in waters outside its sovereignty is authorized to fish.
  • An international vessel monitoring system should be established to help countries cooperate and share data in the fight against pirate fishing.
  • Countries should strictly monitor fishing from catches, through the point of landing, to final destination.
  • Severe sanctions should be enforced against vessels involved in IUU fishing.

The plan calls on governments to make it illegal for banks, insurance companies, seafood buyers and suppliers to do business with pirate fishing companies.

The conservation pressure group Greenpeace wants countries to implement these measures and to introduce new ones.

"Governments must now get serious about tackling pirate fishing," said Matthew Gianni of Greenpeace. "This plan is only voluntary and weak in key areas such as closing ports to pirate fishing vessels.

"But if governments make it illegal to trade in pirate-caught fish and go after the real owners and operators of pirate fishing vessels, then we're on the way to ridding our oceans and seas of these lawless fleets."