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The Fight Against Illegal Fishing Can Be Won

The world suffers an annual loss of USD 83 billion to overfishing, illegal fishing and a lack of sustainable fish stocks management. Illegal and criminal activities in fisheries must be combated, and this must be done globally.

The internationally binding agreement on illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU fishing), which entered into force in 2016, is crucial in the effort to preserve the world's fish stocks. As a fishing nation, Norway will help make the agreement as effective as possible. This week, Norway is hosting the first meeting of the countries participating in the agreement.

How should we produce food for a growing world population and provide the necessary resources that humanity will need in the coming decades? An increasing number of countries look to the oceans for answers. At the same time, there is great concern for manmade environmental problems such as plastic contamination, loss of biodiversity and climate change. A particularly serious challenge is IIU fishing. While it is illegal fishing that is most likely to receive the most attention, unregulated and unreported fishing are also barriers to sustainable harvesting.

Fish stocks are getting smaller

The true extent remains unknown, but there is reason to believe that IUU fishing is extensive and therefore an significant contributor to the severe decline we have seen in many important fish stocks in recent decades. According to the United Nations Organization for Nutrition and Agriculture (FAO), the share of fish stocks harvested at a biologically sustainable level has decreased from 90 percent in 1974 to 69 percent in 2013. This means that about 31 per cent of today's stocks are harvested to an unsustainable extent – they are being overfished. Not all this is due to illegal activity, but IUU fishing undoubtedly plays a role.

Here it is appropriate to emphasize that the situation for Norwegian fish populations and populations that we share with our neighboring countries is largely good. However, one does not need to go back further than a few decades to find examples of inadequate management in our waters as well. Fortunately, we have learned from the mistakes of the past, and Norwegian research and fisheries management are now at a high international level.

Large financial losses

The decline in sustainable fishing also means major economic losses. According to a report released earlier this year by the World Bank, the world's fisheries sector loses up to USD 83 billion each year. The sector could have been earning these revenues if sustained fishing based on long-term utilization of resources were fully implemented.

The increase in earnings through lower pressures on stocks would, among other things, come from larger total biomass; that is, fish would be allowed to grow bigger before being caught. In addition, better prices could be offered by increasing important stocks of high-value species. According to the report, economic potential is particularly high in Asia, but many African and European countries could also increase the dividend from the sector.

Norway is pushing for international agreement

In the fight against illegal fishing, years of laborious work have borne fruit. Norwegian experts are playing a crucial role in clarifying the need for an international agreement. Based partly on Norwegian experiences with combating illegal fishing in the Barents Sea in the 1990s, it is now widely recognized that the international focus should be shifted toward the ports. That’s where illegally caught fish are brought in and enter the value chain. By introducing binding international rules, including requirements for catch documentation, inspections and cooperation with the state in which the fishing vessel is registered (flag state), bringing illegally caught fish to the ports would become significantly more difficult. In turn, this would make illegal fishing less attractive.

In the mid-2000s, work on these issues picked up the pace, and in 2009, the International Agreement on Port State Control was adopted. This is the first globally binding agreement that directly addresses illegal fishing. Norway ratified the agreement in 2011, and an important milestone was reached in June 2016, when the number of ratifications reached 25 and the agreement formally entered into force. The purpose of the Oslo meeting this week, which brings together states that have ratified the agreement, is to reach an agreement on regulations for the follow-up, implementation and reporting of IUU fishing.

Assisting developing countries

A total of 47 countries have signed the agreement – a large proportion are developing countries. Many of these will need training, aid with the transferring of competence and other forms of support. This is where Norway can play a decisive role. The Norwegian government has recently decided to allocate up to 10 million Norwegian kroner (USD 1.1 million) to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) cooperation with countries that have signed the agreement, with particular emphasis on implementing it in developing countries.

In order to strengthen the sea's role as a food source, we need to take good care of it. As more and more countries now refuse vessels to deliver illegally caught fish, the world has taken an important step toward a more sustainable use of the oceans.