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Countries agree on UN-backed guidelines to curb illegal fishing

Fishermen unload their catch of mackerel at a fish market.
UN Photo/M Guthrie
Fishermen unload their catch of mackerel at a fish market.

Countries agree on UN-backed guidelines to curb illegal fishing

After years of negotiations, member countries of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today agreed on a set of voluntary guidelines that target illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).

The guidelines, developed through a consultative process led by FAO, aim to cut down on IUU fishing by improving the accountability of flag States – those countries which register fishing vessels and authorize them to fly their flags.

“The Voluntary Guidelines for Flag State Performance are a real breakthrough,” said FAO Assistant Director-General for Fisheries and Aquaculture Árni Mathiesen. “Ultimately, these guidelines can help to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of precious, living marine resources and ecosystems.”

The proposed guidelines include recommended approaches to urge, encourage and help countries comply with international obligations regarding the flagging and control of fishing vessels. They also look at ways to deter non-compliance and to assist developing States build capacity.

“We all face the challenge of sustainability, and these guidelines give countries a new way to work together to meet this challenge,” Ms. Mathiesen said.

The guidelines were agreed on after more than five years of consensus building among countries, and will be presented to the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) for endorsement in June 2014.

COFI is an inter-governmental forum where major international fisheries and aquaculture problems and issues are periodically examined and recommendations are addressed to governments, regional fishery bodies, civil society organizations, fish workers, FAO and the international community.

In a news release, FAO said it will monitor and report on the implementation of the guidelines to COFI, and will provide technical assistance to countries requiring support. This could entail helping developing countries develop adequate legal and regulatory frameworks, strengthening their infrastructure to ensure adequate vessel control, and improving surveillance of fishing vessels.

“Some flag States may need more support than others, especially developing countries,” said Matthew Camilleri, Fishery Liaison Officer within the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Economics Division.

“In certain cases, they may lack the institutional setup and technical know-how. They may be short on human and financial resources, or they may lack the drive to direct their efforts and to invest their available resources in the effective implementation of their duties under international laws relevant to fishing, in which case there is a greater need to build awareness of the long-term benefits of compliance,” he said.