32 countries dinged for failure to advance Cape Town Agreement

Tuna workers at work in the hold of a vessel.

Two tuna-conservation organizations have accused 32 countries of hindering the fight against illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing (IUU).

The Global Tuna Alliance (GTA) and Tuna Protection Alliance (TUPA) have, in two joint letters, said the failure by 32 governments to ratify the 2012 Cape Town Agreement (CTA) is complicating efforts to battle illegal fishing. At least 18 nations have yet to sign the agreement, and another 14 have signed but have yet to complete its ratification and implement standards mandated by the agreement, they said.

GTA and TUPA represent retailers and tuna supply-chain companies that collectively buy in excess of USD 1.3 billion (EUR 1.1 billion) of tuna annually. The two organizations said the failure of those governments to join and comply with the agreement has contributed to the world's failure to end IUU fishing by 2020. 

“IUU fishing poses a massive threat to marine ecosystems, the legal seafood industry, as well as human safety and health,” GTA said.

The 2012 Cape Town Agreement, which has already been adopted by the International Maritime Organization, outlines fishing vessel standards and includes other regulations designed to protect the safety of crews and observers and provide a level playing field for all participants in the industry. It aims to include fishing vessels and their crews in international maritime regulations, such as safety certifications or working condition inspections. Without that ability, exploitative practices can go undetected, according to the two organizations.

“It provides a harmonized framework for global fishing safety management and outlines regulations that states must adopt in order to protect fishing crews and observers,” GTA said.

GTA and TUPA called on 22 holdouts - with a combined 3,600 eligible fishing vessels - to ratify or accede to the deal.

“Taking this step will bring fishing vessel operators into the same compliance as other maritime vessels and end practices that place crews at risk,” GTA said.

Countries that have failed to sign the agreement include Sri Lanka, the U.S., El Salvador, Malaysia, Solomon Islands, Vietnam, Cabo Verde, Greece, Mexico, Canada, Guatemala, Senegal, Thailand, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan, Micronesia, Mauritius, and Taiwan. As a result of the failure to sign, the countries have been listed under the red list under a GTA and TUPA classification.

Governments that have signed but delayed fully ratifying the agreement have been classified under the amber list. They include Brazil, Fiji, New Zealand, China, Ghana, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Ecuador, Panama, Maldives, Philippines, Seychelles, and the Republic of Korea.

“Operators who fish illegally or under report catch often cut corners with how they manage their vessels, further endangering workers in one of the world’s most-hazardous professions in an effort to maximize profits,” The Pew Charitable Trusts said.

The illegal fishers, “often lack sufficient on-board safety equipment or ignore regulations governing vessel modifications," Pew said.

“They may also operate for extended periods of time without undergoing safety inspections, are more apt to fish in dangerous weather, and are less likely to maintain decent working conditions,” it said.

The 2012 CTA entered nto force on 11 October, 2022, to coincide with the tenth anniversary since its introduction.

Currently, there are two international treaties in force to safeguard the safety of crews on board fishing vessels: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing, or the PSMA; and the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention (C188). But not all governments are fully implementing the treaties as effectively as envisaged when they were adopted, according to Pew.

Provisions in the two existing treaties are captured in the Cape Town Agreement – but for ease of implementation, legality, and safety of fishing operations, a proposal has been introduced to have the three instruments harmonized. That effort remains a work in progress, Pew said.

For now, both GTA and TUPA are urging their partners’ supply chains “to implement standards that align with the measures outlined in the CTA.”

Both NGOs and their partners are appealing to the 32 flag states “to make safety at sea a priority by taking the steps necessary to ratify and fulfil the requirements set out by the CTA – before it’s too late.”  

Photo courtesy of The Pew Charitable Trusts


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