FAO Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture: A big but not perfect stride in the fight against IUU fishing

FAO Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture: A big but not perfect stride in the fight against IUU fishing

FAO Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture: A big but not perfect stride in the fight against IUU fishing


The fight against illegal fishing was a key topic of conversation at the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) last week, with FAO's Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (COFI) celebrating the entry into force of the FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) at its meeting in Rome on 11-15 July.

The Committee also took important decisions in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, but stopped short of adopting guidelines on catch document schemes, much to the regret of the EU. The EU nevertheless welcomes progress made on sustainable small-scale fisheries, gear marking and tackling ghost gear. The EU also called on FAO to improve cooperation and coordination with other international bodies.

The highlight of the COFI session was the high-level event to celebrate the entry into force on 5 June of the landmark FAO Port State Measures Agreement to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing. More than 30 entities, including the EU in 2011, have ratified this agreement so far. Mr Joao Aguiar Machado, Director General of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, took the opportunity to call on all states to join the EU in its fight against IUU fishing and prevent IUU products from entering the market.

COFI expressed its support to further tackle IUU fishing through a global record of fishing vessels, by developing ways to estimate the scale of IUU fishing, and by organising an International Day on IUU fishing. The EU welcomes these decisions. Disappointingly however, delegates could not agree to adopt voluntary guidelines on catch documentation schemes. The EU considers such guidelines essential to prevent illegally caught fish from entering the market, and regrets this lack of agreement.

The EU welcomed FAO’s 2016 Report on the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA). According to the report, global per capita fish consumption has for the first time risen to above 20 kilogrammes a year, thanks to stronger aquaculture supply, record hauls for some key species and reduced wastage. However, almost a third of commercial fish stocks are now fished at biologically unsustainable levels, triple the level of 1974. The EU itself has committed to sustainable fisheries by 2020, and called on all states to step up their efforts to improve this situation.

A horizontal theme arising in the discussions, and one strongly promoted by the EU, was the need for FAO to improve cooperation with other relevant bodies and processes. This includes the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UN process on conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As a strong promoter of better international ocean governance, the EU believes that the many international organisations dealing with oceans need to step up their coordination and cooperation to ensure that our oceans and seas are managed sustainably.

In addition to participating in the discussions, the European Commission organised two side events to explain two cornerstones of the EU fisheries policy's external dimension: the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements and the EU's IUU policy.


FAO-COFI sessions take place every other year. This 32nd session was attended by 108 members and more than 20 regional fisheries bodies and NGOs. FAO has 194 members and one member organisation: the European Union. The EU and its Member States are its biggest donors and have a strong voice in steering FAO action to defeat hunger, the organisation's key objective. The European Commission also provides funding for specific projects, such as the development of a global record on fishing vessels. More than 54 million people work in the fisheries and aquaculture sector worldwide. Fish is part of the diet of more than 3 billion people around the world.