Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) is a major international problem with a direct impact on Canada. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 2000, estimated that some 30% of the global catch was the result of IUU fishing. Such activity undermines conservation and enforcement efforts, ignores labour and safety standards and distorts trade in export markets. About 85% of fish caught by commercial fishers in Canadian waters (worth some $3 billion a year) is exported. IUU fishing results in an unpredictable supply of fish on foreign markets, thus causing price fluctuations that threaten to make Canadian fish harvesting unprofitable. The operation of these “fish pirates” has already been addressed in some countries by national legislation. Canada, for example, implemented a Port Access Policy in 2003 under the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act and its Regulations, granting the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans the discretion to grant licences to foreign fishing vessels to enter Canadian waters and ports and imposing an obligation to close ports to vessels of any flag state having unsatisfactory fisheries relations with Canada. Canada also denies entry IUU vessels identified on the lists of regional fisheries management organizations (rFMOs) to which Canada belongs, such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. Arrangements have made among several rFMOs to share their lists, in order to combat IUU fishing more effectively.

Another major step to the same end has now been taken with the adoption, on November 22, 2009, of the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. This “PSMA”, which was already signed by the U.S., the E.U., Australia, Brazil, Norway and Iceland, was signed by Canada on November 19, 2010. The PSMA contains provisions reflecting existing measures taken by some RFMOs, notably:

  • Prohibiting entry to port or use of port services for known or suspected IUU fishing vessels and vessels that supply them;  
  • Standardizing requirements for information from vessels seeking entry to port;  
  • Improving the sharing of information, including verifications of fishing authorizations, between the flag State and the port State;  
  • Designating ports that permit landings;  
  • Standardizing vessel inspections and the training of inspectors; and  
  • Recognizing the need for assistance to developing countries for their implementation of the instrument.  

The PSMA also applies to container vessels that carry previously unlanded fish or are identified on a list of vessels known to carry such fish. The intent is to prevent IUU fishing vessels from transferring their cargoes at sea to other types of vessels, although it is generally understood that only rarely are fish carried or transshipped at sea aboard container ships. In order to address worries voiced in the marine industry that container vessels might be denied port entry or port services under the PSMA, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has proposed amending the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act. The definition of “fishing vessel” in the statute would be expanded, so as to include vessels “used” to transship fish at sea, and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans would be empowered to deny port entry and port services to such vessels. Such denial would therefore require an actual act of fish transshipment at sea, and would not be permitted simply where the vessel was equipped to undertake such an operation. It is hoped that the concerns of the shipping industry will thus be met, while allowing Canada to ratify the PSMA in good faith.  

DFO will now develop an operational/ implementation plan in conjunction with Transport Canada, the Canadian Border Services Agency and interested members of industry, in order to prevent any undue impact on maritime trade to or from Canada. The new measures will enter into force when the instrument is ratified by 25 States. If it achieves its purpose, “fish pirates” will have few safe havens left anywhere in the world.