Frequent Questions: 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. Learn more below about the Agreement, its anticipated impacts, and implementation activities.
What is the Port State Measures Agreement?
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing is an international treaty. It 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 marine life. The goal is for the Agreement to be applied widely and effectively by countries, in their capacities as port states, to foreign-flagged vessels seeking entry to, or already in, a country’s ports.
Why is the Agreement important to the United States?
The United States is both a major market state and importer of seafood. U.S. fishermen, seafood buyers, and consumers benefit from broad, global implementation of PSMA. It 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 and sustainably. 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 IUU-caught products out of the market.
How does the Agreement help combat IUU fishing?
IUU fishing is a global problem that threatens ocean ecosystems and sustainable fisheries. It 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 and using ports around the world is an effective way to prevent and deter IUU fishing. It increases the costs associated with IUU fishing operations and removes the financial incentives for engaging in these activities.
The 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.
What is the international impact of the Agreement on IUU fishing?
The Agreement increases the international community’s ability to detect IUU fish and fish products. 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 Agreement sets the global standard by which vessel inspections will be conducted and documented. This reduces the opportunity for the products of IUU fishing activities to enter international commerce.
Will the Agreement improve data available on IUU fishing?
One of the major provisions of the Agreement is increased information sharing and communications among participating states, enforcement agencies, and international organizations such as regional fisheries management organizations. This increased information sharing, 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.
Expanding communications globally among relevant entities amplifies our ability to detect infractions and stop IUU-caught products from entering into commerce. Additionally, the broad reporting of inspection results to flag states, combined with the Agreement’s requirement for flag states to take appropriate actions against its flagged vessels to combat IUU fishing, will further enhance the ability to identify those engaged in IUU fishing and reduce such activities. 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.
Does 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 United States and then legally imported into the United States. This is why working together to ensure all states are implementing robust port state measures is important. Effective implementation by all is crucial to ensuring that fish caught and landed outside of their home country and then legally imported into the United States has also been subjected to comparable inspection measures and scrutiny.
How does the United States implement the Agreement?
Many of the operational requirements of the Agreement have been general practice for the United States, with only modest adjustments needed to existing procedures. For example, under other existing U.S. law, all foreign-flagged vessels must provide an advance notice of arrival to the U.S. Coast Guard prior to entering a U.S. port. NOAA has worked closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to enhance existing communications and information-sharing mechanisms. This allows us to screen foreign-flagged fishing or fishing-related vessels for port entry or denial in accordance with both the Agreement and the U.S. Port State Measures Act. This screening process allows us to review, in advance of arrival, basic vessel information such as:
- Flag state
- Catch on board
- Fishing authorizations/permits
- Recent fishing activity
- Other pertinent information
Using the same information, we will use this process simultaneously to prioritize and identify a cause for inspections.
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement conducts all PSMA inspections for the United States. The standards for vessel inspections outlined in the Agreement have long been the standard operating procedures for OLE when conducting thorough vessel inspections. Through state and federal partnerships as well as targeted pulse operations, we currently enlist the support of 28 state enforcement agencies as a force multiplier. These cooperative enforcement agreements strengthen the ability to effectively respond to numerous enforcement responsibilities, including PSMA implementation. We have implemented the use of the Agreement’s required inspection form. Inspection results are shared with the vessel’s flag state for appropriate follow-up actions (if required). When appropriate, they are also shared with coastal states, regional fishery management organizations, and other organizations to report infractions of conservation measures or other evidence of IUU fishing. This information sharing enhances the United States’ ability to combat IUU fishing in cooperation with our global partners.
Illegal fishers count on poor communication among all of the relevant authorities. They seek to take advantage of gaps in inter-agency coordination and rely on global enforcement entities to not share information with one another in order for them to continue to carry out their lucrative behavior. The U.S. Interagency Working Group on IUU Fishing continues to enhance information sharing and collaboration with federal partners, furthering our support network and our mutual efforts to close these gaps.
How has NOAA trained its enforcement personnel on Agreement implementation?
Prior to the Agreement entering force, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement developed a domestic Port State Measures Inspector Training Program. This ensures that our sworn law enforcement personnel and cooperative enforcement partners are well versed in the requirements of the PSMA Act—the U.S. implementing legislation of the agreement, the agreement itself, and relevant regional fishery management organizations’ conservation and management measures. This training program ensured that both NOAA and state enforcement officers operating under NOAA’s authority are fully trained and meet agreement requirements. Our highest training priority when the Agreement entered force was familiarizing personnel with relevant regional fishery management organization measures. Other areas of concentration included screening vessels of suspicion of IUU fishing prior to port entry, training on thorough vessel inspections, offload monitoring, gear checking, and verification of permits. Otherwise, our previously existing training program for sworn personnel provided knowledge and skills that exceeded the guidelines for inspector training outlined in the Agreement.
How does the United States support global implementation of the Agreement?
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement developed an international training program to provide technical assistance to its global partners. It focuses on operational requirements, such as:
- Examination of pre-arrival information to screen arriving vessels for indications of IUU fishing activity
- Requirements of conducting a thorough port State measures inspection
- Steps to be taken after the inspection
The training modules also cover all items listed in Annex E: Guidelines for the Training of Inspectors. These include:
- Relevant regional fisheries management organizations’ conservation and management measure
- Investigative tools
- Information analysis
- Vessel monitoring systems
- Vessel, gear, and fish identification
Through these efforts, we not only provide training but are able to learn from our partners and exchange best fisheries enforcement practices.
We also provide holistic technical assistance to partner nations to assist them in strengthening national policy and legislative frameworks and enhancing operational capacities for coordinated monitoring, control, and surveillance operations. We also deliver training workshops to combat IUU fishing through Agreement implementation and complementary instruments. With this support, partners have successfully acceded to the Agreement and updated their implementing regulations to implement the operational requirements. They have developed or enhanced inspector training curriculum and strengthened existing or adopted new fisheries legislation to combat IUU fishing more effectively. Helping more countries strengthen their port state measures promotes global fisheries enforcement cooperation and prevents fish caught from IUU fishing and related activities from reaching international markets. It contributes to fisheries conservation and management globally.
We also work within regional fisheries management organizations, which play a fundamental role in our global collaborative efforts to combat IUU fishing. We continue to promote the adoption and implementation of effective and enforceable port state measures.
No one country can fight IUU fishing alone. Communication, collaboration, and strategic coordination are key in bringing about tangible results. The challenges posed by IUU fishing requires international cooperation among governments, across agencies, and through international and regional organizations.