International guidelines released to combat illegal fishing

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A set of international guidelines was released on Wednesday as a means to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Flag State Performance is a set of international guidelines that will hold countries accountable for all activities that happen on fishing vessels flying their flags.

The organisation believes that Illegal fishing has risen over the past 20 years, and is estimated to be around 11 to 26 million tonnes of fish illegally harvested every year, worth between 10 billion US dollars and 23 billion US dollars. IUU fishing therefore remains one of the greatest threats to sustainable fisheries and livelihoods.

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“Today’s decision represents a massive breakthrough in combating IUU fishing, which not only puts marine ecosystems at risk but undermines any effort undertaken at the national, regional or international level to manage fisheries in a sustainable manner,” said Arni Mathiesen, FAO assistant director-general for Fisheries and Aquaculture.

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The guidelines although voluntary lists several actions that countries can take in order to ensure that their flag registered fishing ships are not involved in IUU fishing. The guidelines have already received major international support.   

“Taken together with FAO’s 2009 Agreement on Port State Measures, which works to prevent entry into ports by IUU fishing vessels and therefore block the flow of IUU-caught fish into national and international markets, these guidelines will provide a potent tool to combat IUU fishing in the coming decades,” added Mathiesen.

The guidelines also aim to crackdown on flag hopping, illegal fishing vessels that are repeatedly registered under new flag states in order to go unnoticed, by promoting greater cooperation and information exchange between countries.

This means that flag states can refuse to register ships that have previously been reported for IUU fishing or that are already registered with another flag state.

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The Voluntary Guidelines aim to crack down on this practice, among other things, by promoting greater cooperation and information exchange between countries, so that flag states are in a position to refuse to register vessels that have previously been reported for IUU fishing, or that are already registered with another flag state.

Other recommendations in the guidelines include encouraging compliance among countries, actions to be taken against offenders as well as how to enhance international cooperation, especially to assist developing countries to fulfil their flag state responsibilities.