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The conclusion that many marine fish stocks within and outside EEZs are currently subject to ineffective management measures, applies not just to the little known resources off developing countries, or the difficult to assess highly migratory species of the high seas, but also to well-studied demersal resources of northern continental shelves where recent dramatic stock declines have been registered for some important species (FAO 1994). Several highly migratory resources (notably the depleted bluefin tuna stocks) also offer dramatic histories of stock decline, despite an international management history of several decades.

Due to dramatic improvements in fishing and communications technology, fleet fishing power can be exerted ever more rapidly and moved from one fishery to another within short time periods. Good statistics for the early years of the fishery when effort is low may later be extremely valuable in obtaining reliable estimates of the current status, and may even be essential (Hilborn 1979). Unfortunately, a fishing effort level for a stock, which in the 1950s could have taken half a decade to reach, can now be achieved in the first year of a new fishery.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UN 1983) is a key reference point for discussion on national and international fisheries management. The logical points of entry for this discussion are Articles 61–64, which provide criteria for managing a stock within a single exclusive economic zone (Hayashi 1993). In Article 61, this responsibility is given to the coastal State, which is directed to take account of the best scientific evidence available, to ensure that the living resources within the EEZ are not endangered by over-exploitation, and “to maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield, as qualified by relevant environmental and economic factors”. Among the qualifying factors mentioned is the interdependence of different stocks on the same fishing ground, with its implicit reference to multi-species considerations. A primary responsibility is given for protecting stocks from overexploitation, and a secondary one, referred to as ‘optimal utilisation’, which simply requires that the stock is large enough that when harvested, it can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Although initially intended to encourage management for MSY, it should be noted that, from a population dynamics perspective, this includes all fishing effort levels below that which provides the MSY.

The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea

Under Article 63, shared and straddling stocks are treated together. In both cases, the States concerned, whether coastal or distant water fishing nations, should seek: “either directly or through appropriate regional or subregional organizations”, to agree upon the measures necessary for their conservation and development. Article 64 deals with highly migratory species, where again, “the coastal State and other States whose nationals fish in the region” are urged to “cooperate directly or through appropriate international organizations with a view to ensuring conservation and promoting the objective of optimal utilization of such species…both within and beyond the exclusive economic zone”. Under both of these last mentioned articles, the overall objective of conserving for optimal utilization remains by implication that specified under Article 63.

There has recently been a recent trend in fisheries management towards the inclusion of all users in the management process. Broadly defined, users in developed fishery regimes includes fishermen, the fishing industry, all those who rely on fishery habitats for a living, and those interested in conservation of fishery resources and habitats. Formal mechanisms for the input of users are now included in the management process in many countries, e.g. the Fishery Management Councils of the USA, the newly established Fisheries Resources Conservation Commission (FRCC) of Atlantic Canada, and Fisheries Advisory Committees required by legislation in Caribbean Community States. In many instances this trend extends to the point of vesting the responsibility for management in the users (community based management). The continued successful evolution of these trends requires that the process of assessing fisheries and providing management advice based on management reference points be made more understandable to non-technical users, so that they can participate meaningfully in the decision-making process.

More recently there has been a global movement towards integrated management of marine ecosystems. This has resulted largely from the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) which produced Agenda 21, the manifesto of follow-on actions adopted by a majority of coastal nations. Specifically, Chapter 17 on the oceans, recommended that nations:

-   Reduce and control degradation of the marine environment so as to maintain and improve its life support and productive capacities;

-   Develop and increase the potential of marine living resources to meet human nutritional needs, as well as social economic and development goals; and

-   Promote the integrated management and sustainable development of coastal areas and the marine environment.

There have been several fishery specific and fishing-related follow-up activities since UNCED. Issues of concern to small island developing States (SIDS) were recently addressed at the Global Conference for Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (Barbados, 1994). Among coastal States, SIDS have a particularly high stake in marine management, as their ratio of EEZ to land area or population is significantly higher than for mainland States. Two areas of focus for FAO became the development of a Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO Technical Consultation on the Code of Conduct on Responsible Fishing, Rome, 1994), and the development of criteria for the management of straddling stocks and highly migratory stocks (United Nations Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, New York, 1993/1994 and still under way); both of which envisage adoption of the precautionary approach to fisheries (Garcia 1994).

As discussed at the FAO Technical Consultation on High Seas Fisheries (FAO 1992c), a more effective approach to setting and enforcing management targets is needed. The approach must be respected by all fishery participants, and this is an important component of the International Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing currently being developed by FAO (COFI 1993). While discussing the various reference points that have been proposed for management of fisheries in national and international waters, our paper also tries to place them in a management context.

Norse 1993

The unsatisfactory performance of fishery science and management procedures to date calls for a significant change in the management of fisheries. The newly ratified United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides the framework for change, and the trends described above indicate an increased receptivity by the political directorate to new ideas about fisheries management. In this light we review the use of reference points in fisheries management, recommend that limit or threshold reference points be incorporated into management wherever possible and suggest ways in which they may be applied.

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