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United Nations: Pirate Fishing Agreement Drafted

(Sept. 9, 2009) The “Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing,” sponsored by the United Nations, has now been worked out and 91 countries have agreed to the text. It is the first such agreement designed to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The talks were conducted under the leadership of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). (More Than 90 Countries Agree to UN-Backed Treaty to Stamp Out Pirate Fishing, UN NEWS CENTRE, Sept. 1 2009, available at

The next step for the document is two sets of reviews, one by the FAO Committee on Constitutional and Legal Matters, when that committee meets in September 2009, and the other by the FAO Conference in November 2009, where it will be eligible for formal adoption. The Agreement will then have to be ratified by each signatory. Since it falls under article XIV of the FAO Constitution, the FAO will be the legal depository for those ratifications. The Agreement will enter into effect 30 days after the 25th ratification is received. (NewTreaty Will Leave Fish Pirates Without Safe Haven, FAO MEDIA CENTRE, Sept. 1, 2009, available at

The violations the Agreement is designed to combat include fishing without a license, using illegal equipment, fishing out of season, catching prohibited fish (either by species or size), and fishing in closed areas. According to U.N. FAO Assistant-Director General for Fisheries and Aquaculture Ichiro Nomura, “IUU fishing damages the productivity of fisheries, or leads to their collapse.” As he explains, this is a danger for people who depend on fishing for food and income and the agreement “represents a real, palpable advance in the ongoing effort to stamp it out.” (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)

The Agreement requires foreign fishing boats to request permission to dock in certain designated ports and to transmit information on their activities and the cargo of fish they carry. In addition, there will be regular inspections against a set of standards, involving checking ship papers, records, catches, and fishing gear. The treaty outlines a plan to develop information-sharing networks among national authorities, so that data on boats that have been banned for ports can be transmitted. Other provisions cover assistance to developing countries that may be short of resources to meet their treaty obligations. (Id.)

The obligations of signatory states include ensuring that ports are well equipped and inspectors are adequately trained, as well as conveying information on vessels denied entry to a port to the public. The flag country of such vessels must follow up on the violations. (FAO MEDIA CENTRE, supra.) Commenting on the agreement and the reason for the inclusion of assistance to some nations, David Doulman of the FAO said, “[o]f course, the effectiveness of port state measures depends in large part on how well countries implement them.” (Id.)