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General Conclusions and Proposals for Action

126.   One of the reasons for calling for a thorough re-examination of the Law of the Sea a decade or more ago was the concern with the depletion of many fish stocks, and with the difficulties in dealing with this under the current international regime. The new Convention provides countries with the opportunities, and also the responsibilities, to manage fisheries, especially within national EEZs. Without management, resources can be threatened, the amount and stability of fish supplies reduced, and countries can fail to achieve the considerable economic and social benefits that can come from healthy fishing industries and fishing communities. At the same time, all management, in the sense of one form or another of government intervention, has some costs, which tend to increase with the amount and complexity of the intervention. There must, therefore, be a favourable balance between the costs and benefits of any proposed management. This balance will vary with the state of development of the country and of the specific fishery. There may even be some cases where conditions (e.g., small size of the fishery, and difficulties of intervention) may mean that a management decision by the Government not to attempt to regulate fishing effort would be justifiable.

127.   Participants in the Consultation had been chosen on the basis of their experience in successful and unsuccessful regulation of fishing effort. These experiences had inevitably been predominantly in the developed countries in the North Atlantic and the North Pacific where over-capacity has been a crucial problem for the last twenty years or so. It was recognized that having identified the factors of success and failure in developed countries further studies and consultations were necessary to evaluate the possibility of transfer of these experiences into the terms of specific advice to individual developing countries. There was, however, a considerable range of conditions within countries, and it was believed that these subsequent discussions would be best handled at the regional (e.g., south-east Asia, Latin America) level as already planned, for instance, in the Committee for the Development of Fisheries in the Central-Eastern Atlantic (CECAF) in 1983.


128.   The Consultation reviewed the general objectives of fishery management and the criteria that might be used in evaluating different systems. It was emphasized that there must be an understanding of the objectives before starting to manage but this need not require explicit and detailed specification of the objectives. Indeed there might be advantages initially in leaving the statement of objectives in general terms. There are a variety of objectives that might be considered. These cannot always be achieved simultaneously and it may be desirable for the decisions between objectives to be taken over time as part of the regular management process.

129.   It was agreed that objectives could be placed in three groups - maintaining the resources, economic performance, and equity (or social needs). These could be used as criteria in judging the performance of different management schemes, but in addition the transaction costs (the costs of research, administration and enforcement) should also be taken into account. That is, the cost of achieving the mix of objectives (cost/benefit) is an integral part of the iterative process of setting and refining objectives. It is recognized that quantification of benefits is sometimes difficult. But it is essential to the decisions on amount, methods and complexity of regulation.

130.   The Consultation recognized that attaining maximum economic rent is not normally the main objective for fishery management. Even when accepting this, it should however be stressed that objectives concerning economic efficiency should not be omitted. If they are ignored the long-term effect would be that the fishery sector develops into a burden for society rather than the source of secure employment and food supply. The criteria used to determine economic efficiency will obviously vary from country to country owing to employment needs, scarcity of fuel and other special conditions.

131.   Some of the conflicts/trade-offs between objectives, e.g., between high employment and high income per man, are well recognized. Less widely discussed is that attempts to have a high annual yield increase the risk of a stock collapse. There is, therefore, a trade-off between risk and size of catch and also of administration and other costs. Costs of necessary research are also likely to be less if some reduction in yield from the theoretical maximum is acceptable, and a conservative level of yield is taken.

132.   A commonly stated class of objectives is the attainment of some form of stability, e.g., in fishermen's income or supplies to the producer or consumer. However, all fish stocks fluctuate naturally, some greatly. Management cannot be expected to eliminate these fluctuations and their subsequent effect on catches. A more reasonable objective is to reduce them, but it should be emphasized that this will be particularly difficult if a high level of average yield is also required. Some reduction in the harmful impact of these fluctuations can be obtained by the use of ‘insurance’ funds which in some countries may become an integrated part of the fisheries management system.

133.   Most objectives are concerned with fishermen, and nearly all management measures affect fishermen. They are most unlikely to be successful unless fishermen participate closely at all stages and understand and support the measures proposed.

Choice of management tools

134.   The manager has an array of tools available to him - catch quotas, closed areas, gear restrictions, etc. The Consultation felt strongly that in most cases an appropriate mix of these tools would be needed. One tool - e.g., a catch quota - can only achieve a limited amount. The Consultation had the opportunity to explore the use of the various tools through the experience of the various participants. It noted that each type of measure was likely to have broadly similar effects wherever it was applied, although there could be some variation between high and low latitude fisheries. The actual choice must be made to meet the special circumstances of each fishery.

135.   Flexibility in management is important. The manager should be able to adjust the regulations quickly in response to new information, e.g. to close an area for a time when the proportion of juvenile fish in that area is particularly high. The legal and administrative framework for management should be such as to allow such flexibility.

136.   Historically, indirect methods such as closed areas and mesh controls have often been the first to be applied to a fishery. In some circumstances, especially when they can ensure protection of the fish until they have spawned at least once, they can by themselves achieve adequate protection of the resource. Additional measures may be needed for economic or social reasons, though some indirect measures (e.g., closure of coastal belts, mesh size of trawls) can also be of assistance. In other circumstances (e.g., single-species trawl fisheries) mesh regulation or closed areas can make major contributions to improved management. Although there are some fisheries where these measures may be of less help, where applicable, they can be generally understood and accepted by the fishermen; therefore, they are valuable and can be enforced relatively easily.

137.   Multi-national fisheries present special problems. Indirect methods such as a minimum mesh can be applied to all participants, but application of direct methods requires some decision on allocation between countries. It was believed that this would have to be done in terms of catch, e.g., allocation of national shares in a TAC. However, countries still have a wide choice of methods (catch quotas, effort limitation) to ensure that their catches stay within their national allocation.

138.   Partly because of their historical importance in international fisheries, control by catch limits (TACs) have received particular attention. With some exceptions (e.g., short-lived highly variable species), TACs can in principle solve the conservation problem for single species. However, the fishery fleets may still possess capacity far in excess of that needed to harvest the sustainable yield. The resultant political and social pressures can put the conservation objectives at risk. Good statistics are essential for applying TACs - this limits their value in developing countries. Enforcement, and the necessary regular scientific monitoring involved in TACs, can be expensive. They are also of limited value in multi-species fisheries.

139.   Economic and social problems may be reduced if national TACs (or shares in the multi-national TACs) are allocated to groups of fishermen within the country, though considerable control problems will remain. This allocation, which may be considered a form of property right, might, for example, follow the practices used in several countries represented at the Consultation - subsistence (fishermen who only fish for their own consumption) artisanal fishermen, fixed gears, semi-mobile gears and mobile gears last.

140.   Direct control over the number of fishing vessels through limited entry or licensing appears to offer the best chance of solving the problems of over-capacity. In principle, this approach should also solve the conservation problems. In the long run, however, the true impact on the stock can reach excessive levels through improvements in the size and efficiency of the individual vessels. This effect is also economically undesirable because of the large capital expenses that may be involved. Licence limitation should always include controls on the effective fishing capacity of the individual licensed vessel (e.g., on tonnage or horsepower). Even so, there will usually be some technological improvements. To deal with this, the management authority needs, in the long run, to be able to reduce the number of licensed vessels (or their combined tonnage). For some stocks, e.g., shoaling pelagic species, there can be a more serious short-to-medium-term threat through the ability of the fleet to concentrate on the remaining schools of a dwindling resource.

141.   Licence limitation or limited entry may be easier and involve less disruption if they are introduced when a fishery is still growing, rather than when over-capacity and over-exploitation is already a problem. It is difficult to achieve an immediate reduction in the amount of fishing by these measures, and the immediate effect of introducing or threatening to introduce these measures may actually be to increase effort. Introduced early, however, they can put a lid on expansion - though without care this can easily be over shot. There are also practical objections to early measures; for example, governments do not like spending money to solve problems that will not arise for some years yet. The greatest value of licence limitation, at least in developed fisheries, may be as an adjunct to catch quotas.

142.   Money measures - financial support, including subsidies, direct taxes, or tax structures (e.g., depreciation rates) can be useful strategic tools to guide the decisions (by fishermen, fishing companies or investors) in desired ways. They can be misused - financial supports usually are being kept on too long. They are also slow in having an effect, so are no use as tactical weapons; also they can often not be used when management is most needed. Few politicians will increase taxes on an industry that is deep in trouble, even if that trouble comes from over-capacity. Subsidies should be avoided where possible. Where forms of financial support can make useful contributions, e.g., in stimulating the growth of fishing on an under-utilized stock, they should be kept on only for a strictly limited period. Taxes would be most useful in the final phases of successul management to funnel off “excessive” profits, and should mainly be used to cover management costs.

143.   In some developing countries there can be financial pressures from bilateral agencies, international development banks and other agencies to increase the size and capacity of their fleets. These pressures, in the form of cheap loans, etc. can be extremely welcome when carefully applied. However, applied indiscriminately they can result in the importation of inappropriate methods of fishing, too many vessels chasing too few fish, damage to the resource, or losses to existing fishermen and to the country.

144.   In this connection it was emphasized that the use of advanced technology does not necessarily mean that a vessel is economic. Large factory stern-trawlers rarely catch fish as cheaply as small locally-based fuel-efficient vessels.

145.   Property rights can take many forms - individual catch quotas, “TURFs”, etc. They have a number of advantages. When fishermen consider the fish stocks as their property, they will adopt a more positive attitute to conservation and management measures. Enforcement is usually easier and cheaper. The product can often be brought ashore in better condition, and over a longer season, to the benefit of the consumer. In general, the Consultation felt that property rights, in one form or another, are among the more promising approaches to fishery management, especially in developing countries densely inhabited by artisanal fishermen.

146.   In summary, the main general conclusions of the Consultation were as follows:

  1. Fishery management is essential. Without adequate management fisheries cannot produce the large benefits they are capable of. These include a high and reasonable supply of food, employment in coastal communities (particularly in remote regions) and a high contribution to economic welfare.

  2. Developed countries have made many mistakes in managing their fisheries. There have been several reasons for these failures, including lack of ability to control the fisheries off their coasts, as a result of the previous international ocean regime. Developing countries, especially those with developing fisheries, may find it more valuable to learn from these mistakes than to attempt to use current practices in developed countries as examples.

  3. Fishery management can be costly, depending on the desired level of development, especially for research and enforcement. Decisions on management must take into account the balance between costs involved, and the benefits to be expected.

  4. Fishermen and others (merchants, shore workers, processors, etc.) who are engaged in the industry should be involved in fishery management. They should have the opportunity to participate in all stages from the design and choice of management measures to their implementation and enforcement. Self-enforcement, where feasible, is cheap and efficient, but needs monitoring.

  5. There is no single simple way of regulating fishing. Successful regulation involves using the correct mix of regulatory and other tools available. This mix will differ from fishery to fishery and from country to country. The mix of tools employed must be matched to the specific conditions of each fishery.

  6. Management cannot be separated from development. Often indiscriminate actions taken to encourage the growth of a fishery (e.g., introduction of subsidies) can have serious impacts on the later success of management. Administration of fishery “development” and “management” functions, whether within a country or an international agency, should be closely integrated.

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