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Canada Is Joining an International Agreement to Close Ports to Illegal Fishers. It's a Big Deal for Global Food Security

Canada announced today that they are the latest country to ratify the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Agreement on Port State Measures, officially closing their ports to illegal fishers.

Canada has the world's longest coastline and is responsible for 2.76 million square kilometers of ocean. Approximately 72,000 Canadians make their living directly from fishing and fishing-related activities. Canada's action benefits fishermen, seafood buyers and consumers – both domestic and abroad – by protecting against unfair and illegal competition and ensures consumer confidence in seafood.

Canada joins 61 States and one Member Organization (EU) which have ratified PSMA – a powerful tool to combat illegal fishing, and a protection for the marine resources that the world depends on for livelihood and nutrition.

The Problem of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing

Globally, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a threat to food security, jeopardizing the food supply of billions of people.

More than a third of the global population relies on fish for one-fifth of their animal protein intake—but fish populations are declining worldwide, putting the food security of billions at risk. An estimated 33% of all monitored fish populations are overfished. IUU fishing undermines sustainability measures aimed at helping vulnerable fish populations recover.

IUU fishing is responsible for an estimated economic loss of up to $23 billion a year. It undercuts millions of fishers who play by the rules and is fueling poverty. Coastal communities suffer the results of dwindling fish stocks, food shortages and lack of livelihoods, particularly in developing countries.

IUU fishing isn't just a small percentage of the overall reported catch. Researchers have estimated that nearly a fifth of all fish on the market is caught illegally.

Solution: The Port State Measures Agreement

Emerging from recognition of this global threat to people, economies and ecosystems, we now have a powerful tool to end it. The Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) is an international treaty that prevents vessels engaged in IUU fishing from using ports and landing their catches, blocking IUU fish from reaching markets.

IUU fishers traditionally exploited ports known for lax law enforcement as well as other tactics to skirt law and management enforcement. While arresting illegal fishing vessels on the high seas is a near-impossible challenge, the PSMA is an immediate and cost-effective deterrent. It is part of the international community's push to close the world's ocean to illegal fishing by 2020.

And there's evidence that PSMA is having positive impact. Strict implementation of the PSMA is helping curb Thailand's notoriety as a hub for IUU fishing, according to the Thai Department of Fisheries. Thailand recently detained five foreign fishing vessels and rejected some 400 metric tons of marine catch over suspicions of IUU fishing. Indonesia has succeeded in increasing fish stocks after its crackdown on IUU fishing in its waters.

Explore ocean-related datasets like port locations, boat detections and fishing hours via Resource Watch.

Effectiveness Depends on Broad Participation

At their 28–29 June summit in Osaka, G20 leaders cited IUU fishing as one of the world's key economic and environmental threats, calling on governments to act together to combat IUU fishing.

Indeed, the PSMA's effectiveness depends upon broad participation and cooperation. IUU vessels must be blocked from all ports, not just some.

Canada is a member of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy – a group of world leaders dedicated to improving the way we treat the ocean. The High Level Panel is working to encourage wide ratification and the coordinated implementation of the PSMA, and other relevant tools, with a view to urgently advancing and enhancing action to combat IUU fishing.

In the near-term, the High Level Panel recognizes the importance of the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Chile – also a High Level Panel member. The Summit will be a key moment for the APEC economies to close the Pacific to IUU fishing through the ratification of the PSMA by Pacific flag and port countries, as well as through commitments for joint action on IUU fishing defined by transparency, collaboration and active, real-time information sharing.

As more states ratify and implement the PSMA, the nearer we come to closing the net on this illegal enterprise across the region. Canada's announcement puts us one important step closer to achieving this vital objective.

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