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 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 foreign-flagged vessels 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. 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 prohibit IUU product before it enters into commerce is amplified. 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 reduce IUU fishing and 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 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 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.

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 United States and then legally imported into the United States.

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, NOAA Fisheries' Office of Law Enforcement is equipped to meet the global requirements of the agreement. The office currently enlists the mission support of 28 state enforcement agencies. These Joint Enforcement Agreements serve as a force multiplier for the office and strengthens the ability to effectively respond to numerous enforcement responsibilities. Additionally, the National Ocean Council Committee on IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud continues to enhance information sharing and collaboration with federal partners, furthering our support network.

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

NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement developed a domestic Port State Measures Inspector Training Program to ensure that our sworn law enforcement personnel and Joint Enforcement Agreement partners are well versed in the requirements of the implementing legislation of the Agreement, the Agreement itself, as well as relevant regional fishery management council conservation and management measures. 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 regional fishery management council familiarization. Other areas of concentration are training on thorough vessel inspections, offload monitoring, gear checking, and verification of permits. Otherwise, the existing training program for sworn personnel provides the knowledge and skills that exceed the guidelines for inspector training outlined in the agreement.

How is the United States implementing 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 Coast Guard to enhance existing communications and information-sharing mechanisms that allow NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement to screen foreign-flagged fishing or fishing-related vessels for port entry or denial in accordance with both the Port State Measures Agreement and the agreement. 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, and other pertinent information. Using the same information, we will use this process simultaneously to prioritize and identify a cause for inspections.

The standards for vessel inspections outlined in the Agreement have long been the standard operating procedures for the Office of Law Enforcement when conducting thorough vessel inspections. The primary adjustments exist in the screening and administration of landings. Currently, we board approximately 60 percent of foreign flagged fishing vessels and fishing support vessels that land in U.S. ports. We continue to board and inspect a significant level of foreign-vessels and have implemented the use of the agreement’s required inspection form. In addition, inspection results are now shared with the vessel’s flag state for appropriate follow-up actions (if any are required) and, when appropriate, to coastal states, regional fishery management councils, as well as other organizations to report infractions of conservation measures or other evidence of illegal, unreported, or unregulated fishing. This information sharing enhances the United States’ ability to combat IUU fishing in cooperation with our global partners.

The United States supports the successful international implementation of the agreement, and in response, we developed an international training program for providing technical assistance to its global partners. This training focuses on the operational requirements of the Port State Measures Agreement, such as the examination of pre-arrival information to screen arriving vessels for indications of IUU fishing activity, the requirements of conducting a thorough port State measures inspection, and steps to be taken after the inspection. The training modules also cover all items listed in Annex E of the Agreement-Guidelines for the Training of Inspectors (e.g., relevant regional fisheries management organizations’ conservation and management measures, evidence, investigative tools, information analysis, VMS, and vessel, gear, and fish identification).