Report finds gaps in RFMOs’ measures targeting eradication of tuna IUU

The global fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated tuna-fishing activities has been slowed by significant gaps in the implementation of proposed counter-measures by five tuna regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs), according to a new report by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.

The report found the implementation of key elements, such as the requirement for advance notice of port entry, denial of port entry or use, minimum inspections levels, and minimum standards for training of inspectors, has been inadequate.

It also outlines how tuna RFMOs have performed in the implementation of port state measures after being benchmarked against the core provisions of the 2016 Food and Agriculture Organization's  Ports State Measures Agreement (PSMA).

“In the case of tuna, one of the most highly-traded fisheries products that is caught in all oceans, the RFMOs responsible for tuna management have not incorporated those standards consistently or fully into their own measures – or, in the case of one RFMO, even adopted port state measures at all,” ISSF Vice President of Policy and Outreach Holly Koehler, who authored the report, said. “Our report prioritizes the changes each RFMO should make to strengthen its measure by more closely aligning it with the PSMA – thereby improving fisheries management, flag-state performance, and international efforts to combat IUU.”  

The PSMA, created nearly five years ago and now counting 67 signatories, is a binding international agreement under the auspices of the FAO in the fight against IUU fishing, with a focus on entry of fisheries and fish products into ports that have not yet been landed – even those for transshipment purposes.

Four global tuna RFMOs – Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WFPFC) – are the focus of the ISSF report. The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) has yet to adopt the port state measures.

The report identifies key areas that the RFMOs should give priority to strengthen port state measures in the war against IUU fishing.

Focusing on the role of tuna RFMOs in eradicating IUU becomes even more crucial as in some regions, flag states are unable to intervene effectively and responsibly in exercising mandated to control fishing vessels, the report stated.

ISSF is a proponent of the adoption of the PSMA framework in the drive to end IUU fishing by ensuring the port states, for example, seek specific information from foreign-flagged vessels entering the state’s jurisdiction, and giving priority to the inspection of the vessels. The port states should also decide which vessels enter or use ports, in addition to reporting and exchanging information with other countries, and tuna RFMOs. The PSMA’s standards, measures, and principles are intended to harmonize various tuna RFMOs anti-IUU strategies, especially concerning port entry or use and inspection.

The ISSF report – which benchmarks the performance of the tuna RFMOs against the core provisions of PSMA – says the WFPFC has delayed implementing measures that would curb illegal fishing activity, such as requiring advance note of port entry, and denial of use of the port by a vessel suspected of IUU fishing that has already docked.

WFPFC has also not aligned its port measures with those of PSMA, nor does the tuna RFMO have minimum inspection levels for fishing vessels, including foreign-flagged ones, according to the report.

ICCAT is also crticized in the report for not implementing minimum standards for inspection reports on fishing vessels, and for failing to create and implement procedures for reporting the outcomes of port inspections. Nor has CCSBT aligned its anti-IUU measures with those of PSMA, and its rules lack clarity regarding the denial of entry or use of fishing vessels. And although the IOTC has aligned most of its anti-IUU fishing measures with the PSMA framework, the RFMO needs to place more emphasis on vessel inspections, the ISSF report said.

In regard to the IATTC, which is yet to adopt any port state measures, the report recommends it join the other four tuna RFMOs in carrying out the PSMA provisions in the fight against IUU activities.

If RFMOs take the opportunity align themselves with the PSMA, they will then be able to draw from an updated database of the port state measures adopted by various parties to the PSMA, and governments within the jurisdiction of the RFMOs, policymakers, and civil society may also access the database to help work toward the eradication of IUU activities, the report said.

But even with the aligning of tuna RFMOs with the PSMA framework, the ISSF report observes that due to tuna fleets being global and highly mobile, coupled with gaps regarding transparency of the activities of such fleets, "the increasing use of poorly-monitored practices, such as at-sea transshipment, makes monitoring and enforcement on the water challenging to implement and costly.”

This challenge, according to ISSF, “requires trade-offs in terms of risks and priorities, particularly for developing countries.”  

Photo courtesy of IUU Watch


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