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Options for future management of large pelagics

Robin Mahon and Patrick A. McConney

Institutional arrangements for the management of shared resources are very much evolving. Countries are negotiating terms based on interpretations of the various international agreements that attempt to define how cooperation in management should be structured (Thebaud, 1997; Aqorau, 2001; Sydnes, 2001a; 2001b).

Options for development and management of fisheries for large pelagic species by CARICOM countries are summarized in Figure 21. In considering these options, it must be recognized that the Fish Stocks and Compliance Agreements provide considerable guidance on how management of shared resources should be approached. The implications of these agreements for countries that seek to take part in fisheries for shared resources have been briefly reviewed in the “Background” section of the first chapter.

Consideration of the most appropriate arrangements for CARICOM countries to take part in fisheries for shared resources must include two aspects:


Option of not participating in collaborative management: the “do nothing”option

As indicated above, state parties to the Fish Stocks and Compliance Agreements that opt out of collaborative management will still be bound by the terms of the agreements. With regard to species that are actively managed by ICCAT, various management measures will be agreed in that forum and will come into force. Countries that do not abide by these agreed measures may face punitive trade sanctions from ICCAT member countries. As these include most of the major export destinations for CARICOM countries, sanctions pertaining to trade in fishery products can be expected to severely affect efforts to develop export-oriented fisheries. The impact of broader trade sanctions is obvious.

Even for states that are not signatories to the agreements, failure to participate in management activities or to observe agreed management measures while still accessing the resource will be perceived as undermining the efforts of other states that are collaborating and/or complying. Trade sanctions may also be applied in this situation. The 1999 Recommendation by ICCAT Regarding Belize and Honduras Pursuant to the 1995 Swordfish Action Plan Resolution (99-8)[28] illustrates this point. It highlights the problems faced by small countries that are not members of ICCAT but harvest stocks managed by it. In the ICCAT recommendation, contracting parties to ICCAT are obligated to prohibit the importation of Atlantic swordfish and its products in any form from Belize and Honduras. It should be pointed out that these are not sanctions imposed because of non-compliance with obligations pursuant to binding international instruments. These are trade-related measures imposed by states that are ICCAT members. According to the resolution concerning the Atlantic swordfish action plan (95-13), the measures taken should be “non-discriminatory trade restrictive measures” and “consistent with international obligations”. Recognizing that these measures constitute a powerful weapon in the struggle to combat the free-rider/fisher problem, the issue at stake is the lack of measures taken by the flag state to ensure that vessels entitled to fly its flag do not engage in any activity that undermines the effectiveness of international conservation and management measures.

Another, equally important aspect of opting out of collaborative management is the inability to affect the criteria and process by which available yields from resources are allocated to countries (Singh-Renton, Mahon and McConney, 2003). Countries are familiar with the issues surrounding the allocation process. An electronic discussion of them took place as CARICOM countries developed their common position for submission to the meetings of the ICCAT Ad Hoc Working Group on Allocation Criteria over the past two years.

With regard to species not actively managed by ICCAT, primarily coastal species contained within the EEZs of the Caribbean region, there are two possible outcomes of opting out of collaborative management. The first is that other Caribbean countries will take the lead in establishing a competent organization for management of these species. CARICOM countries will then be obliged to abide by the measures developed by that organization. The other possibility is that pressure from conservation interests and/or shifting fishery interests by the main ICCAT players will force ICCAT to become more active in managing these species (e.g. the recent shift in US focus towards dolphinfish). If so, then the situation described for species presently managed by ICCAT will apply to all large pelagic species.

In summary, not becoming involved in management means accepting a reactive rather than proactive role regarding the benefits to be derived from large pelagic fisheries. It may also lead to punitive measures imposed by countries actively involved in management of the resource.

Institutional arrangements for the management of large pelagic fisheries of interest to CARICOM countries

Choice between separate organizations for ocean-wide and regional species or one organization for all species

One of the primary considerations in choosing between separate organizations or a single one is the cost of participating in ICCAT. However, if there is a commitment by CARICOM countries to establishing a separate organization for the Caribbean, or enhancing an existing one to play the role of competent organization, this cost must also be considered.

At issue here are the legal implications of setting up a separate regional mechanism for regional pelagics. Will ICCAT accept or challenge it, and how will non-CARICOM ICCAT members in the region view such an initiative?

Advantages of an autonomous organization for regional species

Advantages of one organization for all species

If the advantages of a single organization are considered to be substantive, a compromise approach could be considered. This approach could have the technical component of the ICCAT process carried out in the Caribbean through to the provision of advice to the commission. If this were done prior to the SCRS meeting, linkages of the regional species with the ocean-wide ones could be considered at that meeting.

Participation in ICCAT

ICCAT is established and presently has the mandate for all large pelagic species. Whichever choice is made regarding separate organizations or a single one, collaboration in management will require participation in ICCAT. How this might be approached will be discussed below in the section “CARICOM participation in the management of fisheries for large pelagics”. Details of the structure and function of ICCAT are available at

Competent organization for regional species


As previously discussed, FAO’s WECAFC is best placed with regard to mission, membership and past activities to facilitate management of regional stocks. Its membership extends to most countries of the wider Caribbean, and thus it can provide a forum that brings all these countries together. If CARICOM countries take the view that the CRFM is there to promote their interests, and that its facilitating of the competent organization would weaken its capacity to do so, then CARICOM could focus on the interests of its member states and promote WECAFC as the facilitator of the competent organization. This would require reconsideration at some point of how WECAFC is constituted under FAO.

As presently structured, and operating according to the emerging network model, WECAFC could provide a forum for technical discussion and the provision of advice for large pelagics as it does for other groups. However, for management to be performed, and to be seen to be performed, according to the Fish Stocks Agreement, a body will be needed that considers and makes decisions regarding the advice provided by WECAFC working groups.

Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism

An issue for clarification among CARICOM member states regards the role of the CRFM in the management of shared resources at the regional level. Could it become the competent organization for resources that are shared with non-CARICOM countries, and at the same time represent its member states at that organization? Its role in establishing competence would be to promote and facilitate the interests of all countries equally and neutrally. One option would be for the CRFM to continue to serve the interests of CARICOM member states and to allow some other organization to provide the umbrella of competence. Even then, given that it represents about half the countries in the Caribbean region, the role of the CRFM would be substantial, particularly for a resource shared primarily among CARICOM countries.

CFRAMP (2000) provides a discussion of how the CRFM might play a role either as a regional competent organization for management of large pelagic fisheries or in facilitating the functions of that organization, as indicated in Figure 22. This would require that it dedicate staff and facilities to carry out these functions, i.e. establish an appropriate secretariat. Non-CARICOM countries would then contribute to the costs according to some agreed formula.

Other regional organizations

There are few other regional organizations that could reasonably be expected to undertake the function of competent organization for the management of large pelagics in the wider Caribbean region (Mahon, 1995). Several international, regional and national organizations have roles to play in the management of shared resources, either in facilitating the participation of subsets of states, or as collaborators in the research and capacity-building initiatives that will be required. Some of these include: the Association of Caribbean States, IOCARIBE, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Regional Coordinating Unit for the Caribbean Environment Programme, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council and the Latin American Organization for Fisheries Development (Organización Latinoamericana de Desarrollo Pesquero - OLDEPESCA). In another example, the Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem Project, presently under development by IOCARIBE, could play a major role in establishing regional capacity for the management of shared resources.

New organization

A further option would be to establish a new organization for the management of shared stocks in the Caribbean. This would require a substantial commitment of resources from participating countries.

ICCAT-affiliated secretariat

An ICCAT-affiliated regional secretariat was suggested above as one possibility for an organization for regional large pelagics. This would have many of the advantages of a regional organization as well as of linkages with broader ICCAT activities. It could be a stand-alone subsecretariat, or located within a regional organization in order to take advantage of services provided by the host organization. The cost of this subsecretariat would have to be borne by the countries participating in the fisheries.

CARICOM participation in the management of fisheries for large pelagics

Full participation in the management of shared stocks as prescribed by the Fish Stocks Agreement involves a suite of activities that encompass both the national level and the international forum afforded by the competent organizations (Figure 22).

Key activities and roles in the management of shared stocks

Each CARICOM country must determine:

(i) whether it intends to become a member of ICCAT and/or any other competent organization established for the management of large pelagics in the Caribbean region;

(ii) if it becomes a member, how it will participate in the activities of the organization, whether directly or through a collaborative effort to be coordinated by the CRFM.

By supporting the establishment of the CRFM, which has management of shared resources as its top priority, most countries have already indicated that they support a collaborative effort among CARICOM states. Participation may be collaborative for some functions and direct for others.

Countries may prefer to collaborate only for the development of technical inputs, but participate directly in decision-making. Other countries may choose collective representation, either by an individual from the CRFM or a representative from another CARICOM (or any other) country (Table 76).

The roles that the CRFM could play in facilitating participation of its member countries in the activities of a competent organization for the management of large pelagics have been outlined in the report of the working group that developed the CRFM (CFRAMP, 2000).The following section is adapted from that report.

If the competent organization did not exist (in the case that a separate organization is considered to be needed for regional species), the CRFM would first:

If the competent organization did exist, or after it had been formed, the role of the CRFM would be to:

Ultimately, decision-making power would lie jointly with the participating countries. However, by adopting a common position where possible, CARICOM countries could increase their influence over the way in which the resource is used.

Costs of shared management

The question of how the costs of operation of the competent organization should be met is not quantitatively addressed in this report. However, cost is a major issue that must be considered.

As pointed out by Berkes et al. (2001), the literature provides little or no guidance on the appropriate government expenditure for managing a fishery resource. Clearly, this expenditure must be related in some way to the revenues that the country derives


Possible scenario for participation in management of shared large pelagic stocks



Regional organization


One or two countries with experts, but mostly CRFM

Several countries with important large pelagic fisheries and CRFM

Management recommendations

Several countries with important large pelagic fisheries and CRFM

All countries with substantial large pelagic fisheries and CRFM


Several countries with important large pelagic fisheries, supported by CRFM

All countries with large pelagic fisheries

In most CARICOM countries, fisheries are perceived by managers and by the industry, itself, as being of low national priority. In many cases, the Fisheries Department is in a Ministry of Agriculture that focuses mainly on agriculture. Often the contribution of fisheries to gross domestic product (GDP) is rolled up in the statistics for agriculture. Moreover, a clear view is often lacking of how the national budgetary allocation to fisheries compares to agriculture and other productive sectors in relation to their contributions to GDP.

This information is essential to developing a picture of where fisheries management stands in CARICOM countries. Furthermore, if, as appears, fisheries are undersupported, these data are needed to make the case for more appropriate levels of support. As CARICOM countries are faced with the choice of being active participants or affected bystanders in the management of shared large pelagic resources, answers to these questions are of the utmost urgency.

At the national level, there is a need to put international collaboration in the management of shared resources in a broader context. To optimize returns from ocean space in general, there is a need to develop national oceans policies that are linked to national development planning (Miles, 1999). The decision to follow this path must be made at the highest levels. It must be coordinated across all relevant agencies and must involve all stakeholders.

This idea can also be extended to the regional level and calls for intensified activity by CARICOM on an integrated oceans policy and action plan.


CARICOM countries are faced with a variety of options for participation in collaborative management of the shared fishery resources they exploit. These options must be evaluated in the context of existing arrangements, through ICCAT, for management of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic. They must also be evaluated in the context of the need for more geographically specific collaboration among the countries of the western central Atlantic for stocks that occur primarily within that region and presently receive little attention from ICCAT.

Two parallel and interlinked sets of questions must be addressed and resolved in order for countries to meet their obligations under the agreements that most have signed. The first question regards the most appropriate institutional arrangement for management of shared large pelagics. Should regional and ocean-wide species be managed by the same organization? If so, it must be ICCAT. If not, what should be the structure and affiliation, if any, of the regional organization? What changes would be required in existing or planned institutions to accommodate the role of competency for regional species?

The second question is more CARICOM-specific. It concerns the arrangements that these countries would make to take part in whatever institutional arrangement is considered most appropriate. That there should be a CARICOM regional approach is already agreed in principle, but the details of what this means remain to be elaborated. Will there be different approaches for ocean-wide and regional species? Will the lead be taken by designated countries or by the CARICOM Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism?

[28] ICCAT. Resolution index number 95-13 and Recommendation 99-8 (available at

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