PMSA the most cost-effective way of curbing this trend

Alex Rose-Innes

New initiatives are gaining momentum to save Africa’s rich coastal waters. Indigenous African people who rely on fishing as their only means of survival and limited income, had been at the receiving end of the continued destruction of its coastal resources by countries such as China.

In many instances, the continent’s fishing resources are its only source of wealth and food provision and if this trend should continue, the ecological systems would be damaged to such an extent that certain peoples of Africa could literally, die of hunger.

Annually, one in every five fish caught around the world is part of an illegal fishing enterprise. The value of this industry is through to be as much as USD 23 billion per year. Implementing the PSMA is one of the most cost-effective means to curb IUU fishing.

Currently there are no proper management systems in place, but this is changing as the world had taken notice, thanks to the work of the World Economic Forum (WEF). In West Africa, only the ruling castes and elite are benefitting from ocean incomes which are also dwindling due to continued harm done to the marine environment. This had substantially destroyed the income of local populations who relied on the sea for their livelihood.

Two international initiatives could in future put paid to these destructive practices. One is the international treaty, the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), which 30 countries had signed. It had been realised that for a treaty to work, global compliance was needed. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) had also thrown its weight behind the PSMA and had assisted Cambodia and various African coastal governments in with implementation of the treaty.

The Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) is the first binding international agreement to targeting illegal and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Its objective is to prevent and eliminate illegal fishing by preventing unauthorised ships from using ports and landing their catches. The PMSA would additionally block fishery products from illegal fishing from reaching national and international markets. The effective implementation of the PSMA would ultimately contribute to the long-term conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources and marine ecosystems, not only in Africa, but world-wide.

The PMSA had become law in 2016 and during its first year after implementation, more than a third of countries had signed the treaty. The provisions of the treaty are applicable to fishing vessels seeking entry into a designated port of a state which is different to their flag state.

Another international drive against IUU fishing is the Fisheries Transparency Initiative, launched by Mauritania, aiming to increase political will and global cooperation for improved management of the world’s fisheries. Indonesia, the Seychelles and Senegal had joined right at the outset, but many more countries needed to join in order to reinforce current multilateral efforts towards putting an end to illegal fishing.

In recent years, the Africa Progress Panel had advocated for sustainable fisheries in Africa. International organisations such as the FAO and the WEF assisted in raising awareness and obtaining political and legal action necessary to prevent illegal fishing off African coasts and beyond. In the WEF 2014 report – Grain, Fish, Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolution, the organisation had called  on governments to ratify and implement the PMSA.

Africa has 35 coastal nations and is one of the world’s regions worst affected by illegal fishing. The continent’s role is critical in applying this important global agreement. At regional level, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) had issued a policy handbook to guide efforts by African governments to make fisheries management an integral part of their national development strategies. African governments should increase fines on vessels fishing illegally, support artisanal fishing, increase transparency and provide full disclosure of the terms on which commercial fishing permits are issued.

Too often African nations lack the capacity to monitor and enforce compliance. They are weakened by inaction of states unwilling or unable to carry out their regulatory responsibilities. A registry of fishing vessels sailing under a flag of convenience should urgently be established. This would avoid unnecessary agreements with such vessels.

Some countries in Africa and beyond, including Mozambique, Senegal, the Seychelles, Indonesia and Argentina, are taking decisive action to monitor fishing in their waters. Many more need to follow their lead. As demand for fish increases worldwide, African waters are becoming a magnet for more and more fleets from around the world.