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New Treaty Would Cast Net Over Illegal Fishing

Over 90 countries, including more than 30 from Africa, have agreed on the language of a new treaty to crack down on illegal and unregulated fishing.

The treaty would toughen port security and make it much harder for vessels to unload illegal catches. Its official name is the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.

David Doulman, an official with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department in Rome, says, "It's an attempt to block the entry of illegally caught fish into international markets, so that the perpetrators of this type of fishing will not be able to benefit…or it will be more difficult for them to benefit."

A fishy catch?

Doulman says the treaty contains straightforward procedures.

"Each country…will designate ports where vessels can enter and vessels will be aware of what's called designated ports. Then each vessel will have to make an application to enter the port, say 24, 48 hours in advance of their arrival," he says.

It's up to port officials to decide whether to allow a vessel to dock or send it away.

"If they deny the vessel access, they will have to explain why, provide information to the flag state, etc., and send the vessel away," he says.

If a vessel is allowed entry, it faces close scrutiny.

"It will then be subject to inspection and if there is any evidence that the vessel has been engaged in illegal fishing, then it will also be sent away. And it will be denied access to port services…refueling, taking on food, water, things like that," he says.

Cooperation is a must

"Let's say we're talking about West Africa. We need to have all the West African countries on board this agreement in order to make sure that vessels, if they're denied from entering in one country, just can't then sail into the next country," he says.

Illegal fishing includes not having a license or not reporting what types of fish have been caught when required to do so.

The fishing treaty could be ready for signing by November. Then 25 countries need to ratify it before it can take effect.