US to ratify Port State Measures Agreement, proposes fish traceability rule

19 February 2016

A new multilateral agreement geared towards tackling illegal fish trade moved a step closer to entry into force in February. 

On 10 February, US President Barack Obama approved the ratification of the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), a key international accord designed to prevent catch from illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing from being landed and entering national and global markets.

Illegal and unreported fishing is estimated to be worth between US$10 billion and US$23.5 billion every year.  By ratifying and implementing the PSMA, governments aim to gradually reduce the number of “ports of convenience” available for illegal fishers to bring their catch to market, increasing the costs of illegal activity and making it less profitable.

The US action will bring the number of parties to the agreement to 20, with 25 required for its entry into force. The accord was adopted at a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Conference in late 2009.

The Port State Measures Agreement requires port authorities to restrict access to ports for foreign vessels that have engaged in IUU fishing, such as those that are listed as IUU vessels by Regional Fisheries Management Authorities.

These authorities will also be required to inspect foreign fishing vessels for illegal catch once they are in port. Because non-US-flagged fishing vessels are already prohibited from landing catch at most US ports, the direct impact of Washington’s ratification, according to authorities, will likely be to prevent IUU-listed transport and support vessels from entering US ports.

The move is one of a series of steps set out last year in an action plan of a US Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud, designed to prevent IUU catch from accessing the world’s third largest market for fish products.

Fish traceability rule proposal

Earlier this month, US authorities published a proposed rule establishing the basis of a traceability requirement for fish and fish product imports into the North American country.

Released on 4 February by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the proposed rule would require harvest, landing, and chain of custody information to be provided for species at risk of IUU fishing.  The proposal is now open for public comment through early April.

“This proposed rule is a critical first step in our efforts to create a comprehensive traceability programme designed to prevent products from illegal and fraudulent fishing entering US commerce,” said Catherine Novelli, under-secretary of state for economic growth, energy, and the environment.

“Starting with our discrete list of priority seafood species, we will create an effective programme to protect against practices that undermine the sustainability of our shared ocean resources,” she added.

A distinct EU fishery product catch certificate and sanctions scheme to combat IUU fishing has been in place since 2010. While the two systems appear to have very different designs, comments invited on the proposed US rule specifically include “how some of the elements inherent in the EU's IUU regulations may be adapted to this rule as a means of facilitating compliance and reducing burden for exporters, either through the design of the traceability process itself or as part of a trusted trader programme.”

ICTSD reporting

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