Countries debate strategies for managing fleet capacities and combating illegal fishing
Some improvement in capacity management, illegal fishing a growing problem, and high-seas operations not adequately controlled
1 July 2004, Rome -- Eighty-four FAO Members have concluded a meeting on how to strengthen international cooperation on managing fishing capacity and combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
At the close of a technical consultation which ended 29 June, the group of countries and the European Union recommended that governments increase the severity of penalties for IUU fishing, cooperate more to suppress trade in illegally caught fish, and establish better international controls on exports of fishing boats from one region to another.
Noting in particular an ongoing build-up of capacity in tuna fisheries in the western and central Pacific Ocean, the group suggested that governments in the region should lend priority attention to addressing the situation, including halting introductions of additional large-scale fishing vessels.
The group also tasked FAO with creating a central repository of information on IUU fishing activities worldwide and with developing a common set of benchmarks for measuring fishing capacity.
Additionally, the Organization was asked to conduct a global review of fishing capacity and to intensify the technical support it provides to resource-strapped developing countries struggling with the problems of capacity management and illicit fishing.
According to FAO reports presented during the meeting, the problem of IUU fishing continues to worsen, while global fishing capacity has started to level off, at least in terms of the number of vessels in the world fishing fleet and their combined tonnage.
Some improvement, more to do
Out of 80 countries that responded to an FAO survey conducted for this week's consultation, 40 report having national programmes for monitoring fishing capacity in place, but fewer countries (26) have established target capacity levels for their commercial fishery fleets.
About 53 of responding countries have developed, or are in the process of doing so, national plans of action on capacity management.
Overall, the size of the global fishing fleet appears to be stabilizing, at around 4.1 million decked and undecked vessels, according to FAO. For Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, fleet sizes have not merely stabilized, they are declining.
The number of new ships weighing over 100 gross tonnes being built each year is now 300, down from more than 2 500 in the 1980s.
However, noted the Organization, it is difficult to measure the extent to which new technologies and other improvements in vessels' ability to catch fish have offset these trends.
Indeed, despite aggregate global trends, a fishery-by-fishery analysis would likely reveal that overcapacity is still present in a large number of fleets exploiting major commercial fish stocks.
Illegal fishing: a growing problem
One problem often associated with overcapacity in fishing fleets is illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
According to FAO, IUU fishing is increasing in both intensity and scope, and is seriously undermining national and regional efforts to sustainably manage fisheries.
The most common IUU violations, according to an FAO report, involve the use of illegal gear, followed by disregard for established fishing seasons, fishing in closed areas, and catches of illegal or undersized species.
The study, based on information provided by 82 FAO member countries, highlighted gaps in information on vessel catches and activities as a major barrier to better control of IUU fishing.
Around 63% of countries responding to the FAO survey indicated that they know the positions of most of the fishing vessels operating in their waters and can determine catch levels using vessel-provided information.
But of those countries which grant permission to foreign ships to fish in their national waters, just 60% indicated that they actually verify that those ships are properly authorized to do so by their port states, the survey also revealed.
In terms of fishing on the high seas, the survey concluded that while some controls are in place, fewer than 50% of countries are exerting effective control over high-seas fishing vessels flying their flags.
Promising trends in international cooperation
Importantly, regional fishery bodies -- intergovernmental organizations that manage shared fisheries resources in a given area -- reported in a separate FAO study that they are adopting an increasing range of measures against IUU fishing. Five of these bodies reported that their measures are helping reduce species-specific IUU fishing.
In some cases, fisheries bodies are working to cooperatively manage capacity, also. For example, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, composed of 14 different countries, informed FAO that it is finalizing a region-wide plan for managing fishing capacity for its area of jurisdiction in the eastern Pacific Ocean. At this week's meeting, countries recommended that other fisheries management bodies develop capacity plans as well.
Information Officer, FAO
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