To improve global fisheries monitoring, governments should agree on international transshipment guidelines

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Starting May 30, representatives from around the world will meet in Rome for five days to review and adopt the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Draft Voluntary Guidelines on Transshipment. Transshipment, or the transfer of fish from one vessel to another, plays an important role in the global fishing industry; although legal, if not managed effectively it can lead to illegally caught fish entering the supply chain. Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) and other regional bodies currently manage transshipment, but there are no global guidelines to help fisheries managers monitor and control the practice.

This could change if countries agree to adopt a global framework of rules to help flag, coastal and port states, and RFMOs, to better manage transhipment and improve key aspects of its monitoring. The May 30-June 3 FAO meeting is called a technical consultation, which is part of the formal process that will culminate in the presentation of the guidelines to the FAO Committee on Fisheries at its September meeting. There, the committee should quickly approve the guidelines if delegates at the May 30-June 3 session adopt the strong and comprehensive text.

The new guidelines would make it easier to track and share data, supporting cooperative efforts to make transhipment more transparent. As best practices from The Pew Charitable Trusts outline, the new guidelines should emphasize the following:

  • Transhipment authorization procedures: the flag States of the vessel must provide the competent authorities with an authorization verification, which are documents that show that the vessels on both sides of the transshipment interact – the fishing vessels that unload the fish as well that carrier vessels which take on fish are authorized to tranship. This verification should be limited to fishing and transport vessels flying the flag of the members of the RFMOs where the transhipment takes place.
  • Notification prior to transhipment: vessels should be required to notify the competent authorities in advance of the intention, place and time of transhipment. Prior to granting transhipment permission, flag states must confirm that vessels are complying with monitoring system reports and other requirements that help track and report what is caught by a vessel, such as electronic monitoring or observer coverage.
  • Post-transhipment reports: Observers must submit key details of the transhipment, such as species and quantities of fish, to all relevant authorities.
  • Information sharing: RFMOs should adopt minimum standards for transhipment and landing declarations to enable consistent information sharing and data verification between RFMOs and flag, port and coastal States.

The guidelines are designed to establish a global framework for monitoring transshipment while better aligning regulations at national and regional levels. In addition, FAO will pay particular attention to developing States that may need assistance in implementing these guidelines.

Governments should adopt guidelines in the next consultation

The technical consultation from May 30 to June 3 includes a broad and inclusive negotiation process designed to give all countries a chance to ensure that the guidelines align with the specific requirements of their States and the operational particularities of their regions. .

With its multiple consultations and opportunities for input, the formal adoption process offers the global fishing community the opportunity to take a major step towards improving the overall transparency and stability of the fisheries it manages, with transhipment guidelines designed to help safeguard the many species that fishers and communities depend on. The adoption of these guidelines will be a major milestone for global cooperation in protecting the world’s shared marine resources.

Alyson Kauffman is Senior Associate and Esther Wozniak is Senior Associate of The Pew Charitable Trusts International Fisheries Project.

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