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An Important Step Toward Global Seafood Sustainability

Environment

An Important Step Toward Global Seafood Sustainability

Teresa Ish

Environment Program Officer

Eight years ago, more than 90 nations signed a landmark treaty aimed at eliminating the global scourge of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The Port State Measures Agreement has, in the time since, been steadily gaining momentum. 

Since the agreement came into force last year, 47 of the signatory countries have ratified the deal, which requires fishing vessels to seek permission before docking in a nation’s ports and demonstrate they have not engaged in illicit activities at sea. 

But the treaty received a major boost last month with its ratification by Japan. The consensus decision by Japan’s Parliament represented one of the biggest victories in the fight to protect global seafood stocks. Japan is the world’s third largest market for seafood – behind only the United States and the European Union – and it is the largest consumer of blue fin tuna, a species whose populations have decimated by overfishing. 

The Port State Measures Agreement allows nations to deny docking privileges if a boat fails to meet a set of standards request permission to dock at a port and inform the port of the details if it is found to be engaged in illegal or unregulated fishing. 

It requires countries to regularly inspect fishing vessels, including checking gear and catches and reviewing ship records. By preventing vessels with illegal catches to dock, those unscrupulous operators lose income – and incentive – to break the rules. 

Japan’s announcement demonstrates how far the idea of sustainable seafood has spread in just two decades. 

It signals that sustainable fishing is not simply an idea pushed by Western countries, but truly a global movement. Countries around the world – from Indonesia and now Japan – are beginning to see sustainable seafood as critically important, not only to ensure healthy seas but also reliable food supplies and vibrant economies. 

Japan’s ratification of the Port State Measures Agreement has symbolic impact as well, coming as the global sustainable seafood movement celebrates its 20th anniversary. Optimism about the movement’s future was palpable at the 2017 Seafood Summit in Seattle. Delegates were energized by the strides already made by the movement and the mounting evidence that the future can be even brighter.  

Make no mistake: Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing represents a dire threat to the health of oceans and millions of people who rely on health fish stocks for their sustenance and income. As many as one in five fish caught in the wild are harvested illegally, with a value of more than $23 billion. 

Countries around the world are prioritizing sustainable seafood for a variety of reasons. By embracing sustainable practices, the seafood industry protects the jobs that local communities depend on and promotes economic stability. Sustainable fishing reduces criminal activity. It preserves the unique cultural heritage and the ocean ecosystems that sustain so many coastal communities. 

And regardless of the reason why industries or nations adopt or encourage sustainability, each new effort and new partnership brings renewed hope and urgency to keep pushing for a viable, healthy global seafood industry over the long term.

Japan’s announcement, its commitment to work closely and collaboratively to ensure the treaty’s effective implementation, and its leadership in hosting important conversations such as the International Conference on Seafood Transparency and Sustainability marks another important step toward making sustainable seafood a global reality.

The recent Seafood Summit brought together local fishermen, communities, business owners, members up and down the seafood supply chain, governments across the globe and funders, all dedicated to promoting healthier oceans. Together, we’re finding new solutions to preserve and restore fisheries’ health while supporting the people who depend on them. Japan’s formal adoption of the Port State Measures Agreement provided yet more evidence we’re on the right path.

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