Countries facing pressure on their fisheries by foreign vessels have been thrown a lifeline, with an international tribunal ruling that "countries can be held liable for not taking necessary measures to prevent illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing operations by their vessels in the waters of other countries"... This is quite massive actually!
The ruling is included in an Advisory Opinion issued today by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on the application of the West African Sub Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC) – comprised of Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
“This is a very welcome ruling that could be a real game changer,” said WWF International Marine Programme Director John Tanzer. “No longer will we have to try to combat illegal fishing and the ransacking of coastal fisheries globally on a boat by boat basis.”
The Advisory Opinion stated that countries have a duty of due diligence to ensure that their fishing vessels do not engage in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the waters of other countries and can be held liable for breach of this duty.
The Advisory also holds that the European Union can have the same due diligence duty as a flag State, when they are the party to fisheries access agreements with other states.
West African waters are believed to have the highest levels of IUU fishing in the world, representing up to 37% of the region’s catch.
The due diligence obligation means that flag States will have to take enforcement actions to ensure their vessels comply with the laws of SRFC member states and take measures necessary to ensure that their vessels comply with protection and preservation measures adopted by the SRFC member States.
The Tribunal also strengthened the obligations of neighbouring coastal states to each other, stating that ‘The conservation and development of shared stocks in the exclusive economic zone of an SRFC Member State require from that State effective measures aimed at preventing over-exploitation of such stocks that could undermine their sustainable exploitation and the interests of neighbouring Member States.’
WWF will hold a workshop in Dakar, Senegal in June to explore what the rulings can offer to coastal states in protecting fisheries and livelihoods.