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Implementing the Port State Measures Agreement

On June 5, 2016, the Port State Measures Agreement entered into international force, marking a major milestone in the effort to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing as called for by the Presidential Task Force. Below, NOAA Fisheries examines the Agreement, its anticipated impacts, and steps for implementation.  

What is the Port State Measures Agreement?

The Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing is an agreement that seeks to prevent IUU fishing through the adoption and implementation of effective port state measures as a means of ensuring the long-term conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources. The intention is that the Agreement will be applied widely and effectively by countries, in their capacities as port States, to vessels not entitled to fly their flags that are seeking entry to, or are in, a country’s ports.

How does the Agreement help combat IUU fishing?

IUU fishing is a global problem that threatens ocean ecosystems and sustainable fisheries. IUU fishing includes violations of conservation and management measures, such as those establishing quotas or bycatch limits, established under the domestic laws of coastal nations and international agreements related to high seas and shared fish stocks. Since all fish must come to port to enter into trade, preventing vessels carrying illegally harvested fish from accessing ports around the world is an effective way to prevent and deter IUU fishing. Denying port entry and access to port services, and consequently preventing illegal seafood from entering trade, increases the costs associated with IUU fishing operations and removes the financial incentives for engaging in these activities.

This Agreement does not solely focus on IUU fishing vessels. It also requires action against vessels that engage in supportive activities such as refueling or transshipping fish from IUU fishing vessels at sea.

With the Agreement in force, will there be better data available on IUU fishing?

One of the major provisions of the Agreement is increased information sharing and communications among participating nations, relevant enforcement agencies, and relevant international organizations such as regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). The increased information sharing called for by the Agreement, combined with other international initiatives to combat IUU fishing, will increase the data available on vessels engaged in IUU fishing or IUU fishing related activities. By expanding communications globally among relevant entities, the ability to detect infractions and interdict IUU product before it enters into commerce is amplified. Additionally, the broad reporting of inspection results to flag States, combined with the Agreement requirements on flag States to take appropriate actions against its flagged vessels to combat IUU fishing, will further enhance the ability to reduce IUU fishing and also identify those engaged in IUU fishing. The United States is committed to ensuring effective implementation of the Agreement to help ensure that we and our global partners can use the available data to better combat IUU fishing globally.

Why is the Agreement important to the United States?

As a major market State and importer of seafood, U.S. fishermen, seafood buyers, and consumers will benefit from broad, global implementation of the Agreement, which effectively closes the world’s ports to IUU vessels and prevents illegal catch from entering international commerce. As a global leader in sustainable fishing practices, the United States has a responsibility to ensure imported fish are caught legally. Likewise, the United States has a responsibility to protect our domestic fishermen from unfair competition and ensure consumer confidence in the seafood supply by keeping illegal product out of the market.

What are the major implications of the Agreement to the United States?

In general terms the Agreement applies to foreign flagged fishing vessels carrying fish that have not been previously landed in a port. Under other U.S. law (Nicholson Act), foreign flagged vessels cannot land these fish/fish products in U.S. ports, with the exception of ports within U.S. territories. Because of this, the most significant impact will be seen in the Pacific Island territories of American Samoa and Guam. With the implementation of the Agreement, enhanced communications and information sharing among U.S. agencies will allow for advanced screening of vessels entering port with fish onboard.

For NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), which is tasked with protecting marine wildlife and habitat by enforcing domestic laws and international treaties, this shared information will significantly enhance the ability to prioritize vessel inspections based on available information related to the vessel and catch onboard. Expanded, thorough inspections (rather than focused “spot checks”) will become more routine.

What is the international impact of the Agreement on IUU fishing?

A lack of training, knowledge, or experience has hindered the ability to establish global procedural standards for fishing vessel inspections. Numerous countries have had historically weak governance of fish and fish products entering into global commerce. The Port State Measures Agreement sets the global standard by which inspections will be conducted and documented, therefore reducing the opportunity for the products of IUU fishing activities to enter international commerce and increasing the international community’s ability to detect IUU fish and fish products.

Is the United States ready to implement the Agreement?

Yes. Many of the requirements of the Agreement are already general practice for the United States, with only modest adjustments needed to existing procedures. For example, NOAA is working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to enhance existing communications and information sharing mechanisms related to foreign vessels arriving into the United States.  NOAA OLE is prepared to effectively implement the additional features of the Agreement, such as enhanced sharing of information, increased communication flow, standardized documentation of inspections, and reporting of violations/infractions.

Photo Credit: FEMA

What are the operational implications of the Agreement on the United States?

The standards for vessel inspections outlined in the Agreement have long been the standard operating procedures for NOAA OLE when conducting thorough vessel inspections. The primary adjustments for NOAA OLE exist in the screening and administration of landings.

Under existing U.S. law, a foreign vessel must provide advance notice of arrival to a U.S. port to the U.S. Coast Guard. Under the Agreement, the existing USCG advance notice of arrival will also be sent to NOAA OLE to conduct the necessary screening for fishing vessels to grant or deny access to U.S. ports. The screening process will also allow OLE to review, in advance of the vessels’ arrival, basic vessel information such as flag State, catch onboard, fishing authorizations/permits, recent fishing activity and other pertinent information. Using the same information, OLE will use this process simultaneously to prioritize and identify cause for inspections.

Currently, OLE boards nearly 60 percent of foreign flagged fishing vessels and fishing support vessels that land in U.S. ports. OLE will continue to board and inspect a significant level of vessels; however, for Agreement compliance, the inspections will be recorded differently using documentation that comprehensively captures data required by the Agreement. In addition, inspection results will now be shared with the vessel’s flag State for appropriate follow-up actions (if any is required) and, when appropriate, to coastal States, RFMOs, and other organizations to report infractions of conservation measures or other evidence of IUU fishing.  This information sharing will enhance the United States’ ability to combat IUU fishing in cooperation with our global partners.

Does NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement have the resources needed to effectively implement the Agreement?

Through state and federal partnerships, targeted pulse operations, and a new staffing plan, OLE is equipped to meet the global requirements of the Agreement. OLE currently enlists the mission support of 28 state enforcement agencies. These Joint Enforcement Agreements serve as a force multiplier for OLE and strengthens the ability to effectively respond to numerous enforcement responsibilities. Additionally, the Presidential Task Force to Combat IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud has enhanced information sharing and collaboration with federal partners, furthering OLE’s support network.

Will there be changes in training for NOAA’s enforcement personnel?

Minor modifications will be needed to NOAA OLE’s training to ensure that all sworn law enforcement personnel are well versed in the requirements of and authorities provided in the Agreement, as well as relevant RFMO conservation measures/requirements. Otherwise, the existing NOAA OLE training program for sworn personnel provides the knowledge and skills that exceeds the guidelines for inspector training outlined in the Agreement.  

As OLE enlists mission support services from state and territorial law enforcement partners, through Joint Enforcement Agreements, a new training program is being finalized. The new training program ensures state enforcement officers operating under NOAA authority are fully trained and meet Agreement requirements. Among the highest priority for JEA training is the emphasis on RFMO familiarization. Other areas of concentration are training on thorough vessel inspections, offload monitoring, gear checking, and verification of permits.

Will U.S. implementation of the Agreement affect all fish caught by foreign vessels?

The Agreement will not affect fish caught by foreign vessels, landed outside of the U.S. and then legally imported into the United States.