IMO Legal Framework in the Fishing Sector


The IMO legal framework concerns  the safety and security of fishing vessels and fishing vessel personnel as well as environment protection.  

Cape Town Agreement  

The Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977 and its subsequent Protocol of 1993 were adopted, as mandatory instruments, to create international standards for fishing vessel safety, but neither of them had entered into force, despite a lot of effort made by the Organization over the past decades. To overcome difficulties in the ratification of the instruments and to secure an internationally binding regulatory safety regime for fishing vessels, after five years of intensive discussion and preparation at IMO, the Cape Town Agreement of 2012 on the implementation of the provisions of the Torremolinos Protocol of 1993 relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977 (Cape Town Agreement) was adopted in 2012.  

The loss of life on fishing vessels remains unacceptably high and the ratification and entry into force of the Cape Town Agreement could have a significant positive impact, saving lives at sea. In a  nutshell, ocean governance and urgency demand for bringing the Cape Town Agreement into force as early as possible. 

In a Ministerial Conference held in October 2019, IMO and its Member States returned to Torremolinos to give the final push, to bring a binding international regulatory regime for fishing vessels into force, with countries signing the declaration pledged to take action so that the entry-into-force criteria of the Cape Town Agreement are met by the target date of 11 October 2022, the tenth anniversary of its adoption; and to promote the Agreement, recognizing that the ultimate effectiveness of the instrument depends upon the widespread support of States, in their capacities as flag States, port States and coastal States. To date, 51 countries signed the declaration. 

Measures to support the entry into force and implementation of the Cape Town Agreement, which is recognized as a pillar of the fight against IUU fishing, are also considered in the context of JWG. 

Relevant resolutions to promote the entry into force of the Cape Town Agreement: 

  1. resolution MSC.364(92) on the Procedure for calculating the number of fishing vessels of each contracting State to the Cape Town Agreement of 2012 on the implementation of the provisions of the Torremolinos Protocol of 1993 relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977, by the depositary; 
  2. resolution A.1086(28) on Entry into force and implementation of the 2012 Cape Town Agreement; and 
  3. resolution A.1107(29) on Entry into force and implementation of the 2012 Cape Town Agreement. 

 STCW-F Convention of 1995  

The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel, 1995 (STCW-F 1995), which entered into force on 29 September 2012, sets the certification and minimum training requirements for crews of seagoing fishing vessels of 24 metres in length and above. Fishing vessels, while in the port of another Party, are subject to port State control to verify that persons serving on board are certified. 

MARPOL Annex V and London Convention and Protocol (LC/LP) 

The revised MARPOL Annex V prohibits the discharge of all types of garbage into the sea from ships (regulation 3.1), except as provided otherwise. The discharge of plastics, including but not limited to synthetic ropes, synthetic fishing nets, plastic garbage bags and incinerator ashes from plastic products, is prohibited at all times, except in case of regulations 3.2 and 7.1 of the MARPOL Annex V. 

The 1972 London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (‘London Convention’ or ‘LC’), and its 1996 Protocol (‘London Protocol’ or ‘LP’), regulate the dumping of wastes at sea. The disposal of plastics at sea is in effect prohibited under both the Convention and Protocol (although the regime is stricter under the more recently adopted Protocol). Under the Protocol all dumping is prohibited, except for the eight waste types, as described in the Protocol, which may be considered for dumping at sea provided a permit is granted by the competent authorities following an environmental assessment process.  

The London Convention and Protocol are also addressing the issue of the disposal of fibreglass vessels, which are often used as fishing vessels, following concerns raised by delegations, in particular, from the Pacific Islands region. 

Under the London Convention and Protocol, the issue of abandoned or drifting fish aggregating devices (FADs), as well as polystyrene and Styrofoam buoys used in aquaculture, as sources of marine litter, have also been discussed, noting that source control and best practices are important elements to reduce these problems. To that purpose, Parties to the treaties have been invited to provide information on their possible source control options to reduce discarded FADs. 

IMO’s action plan to address marine plastic litter from ships  

In recognizing the ongoing problem of marine plastic pollution, and as part of its commitment to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in particular the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 (not least target SDG 14.1, addressing marine litter/plastics), IMO adopted on 26 October 2018 its Action Plan to address marine plastic litter from ships (resolution MEPC.310(73)), thereby contributing to the global solution for preventing marine plastic litter from entering the oceans through ship-based activities. 

Voluntary instruments developed jointly by FAO, ILO and IMO  

FAO, ILO and IMO have collaborated in developing a number of voluntary instruments, such as those listed below, whose purpose is to provide information on the design, construction, and equipment of fishing vessels and, training and protection of the crews of fishing vessels with a view to promoting the safety of the vessel and safety and health of the crews.  

  1. The FAO/ILO/IMO Document for Guidance on Training and Certification of Fishing Vessel Personnel takes account of the conventions and recommendations;

  2. Code of Safety for Fishermen and Fishing Vessels, 2005, parts A and B; 

  3. Voluntary Guidelines for the Design, Construction and Equipment of Small Fishing Vessels, 2005; 

  4. Safety Recommendations for Decked Fishing Vessels of Less than 12 Metres in Length and Undecked Fishing Vessels; and 

  5. Implementation Guidelines on Part B of the Code, the Voluntary Guidelines and the Safety Recommendations. 

IMO ship identification number scheme 

The Organization adopted aIMO Ship identification Number Scheme (resolutions A.1078(28) and, the latest version, A.1117 (30)), as co-sponsored by FAO, together with a number of IMO Member States and NGOs to extend the application of the IMO Ship Identification Number Scheme to fishing vessels – thereby enabling the IMO Number to be used as the Unique Vessel identifier in FAO’s Global Record for fishing vessels. For more information about IMO ship identification number scheme, please click here.