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Most countries, whether they be traditional fishing powers or countries rich in resources, have now accepted a new common law redefining the main principles of access to exploitation of ocean fishery resources. This basic change in the legal framework of world fisheries has already had, or could have, three major consequences for the future of world fisheries:

  1. in the short term, the new conditions of participation in fisheries, now based on geographic criteria, have led to transfers of output involving a considerable part of the world catch;

  2. in the long term, the individual authority acquired by the coastal countries gives them the possibility to gradually reduce the waste of economic and social benefits which was practically inevitable under the previous regime of free access to resources and the resulting fierce competition;

  3. lastly, the decline of long range fleet fisheries should accelerate the revision of the development models which have predominated in the past: greater attention should be paid to the adoption of exploitation patterns more suited to specific national contexts and interests, especially in the developing countries.

Up to now we have mostly been aware of the immediate effects. There has, for example, been much discussion on the topic of who were the main beneficiaries and losers under the new regime. F. Christy (FAO, 1981c) has analysed these consequences starting from an estimate of the economic value of the catch taken by the long range fleets, before the effects of the new regime began to make themselves felt (Table 1). These catches then represented more than a quarter of world production. The concentration of the fishing fleets in the rich fishing areas (found mainly, but not only, in the cold temperate seas), meant that, taken overall, the developed countries (Canada, United States, Iceland, Norway, etc.) benefitted directly much more than the developing countries (except for those countries situated on the North and South Western coasts of Africa, Argentina and Uruguay, etc.) from the change of regime. But, the dominance of the developed countries (Japan, USSR and East European countries) in the operation of long range fleets has meant that it is they who have absorbed almost all the negative impact, as the foreign catch of developing countries (Korea, Cuba, Ghana, Thailand) represents only a very small portion of the total value of the catch of long range fleets.

This comparison is based on the 1972 statistics, the last year before the effects of the new regime began to be felt. It is hard to imagine what might have been the subsequent evolution of the role of long-range fleets. Certainly the increased cost of energy would have hindered the expansion of their activity in the ocean regions where fish are less abundant. On the other hand it does not seem that this would have halted the geographic spread, in other forms, of fishing by the traditional fishing powers. The transition might have been made through the creation by these countries of local fleets. Their higher efficiency would probably have represented a considerable advantage in the competition for resources which were still mostly freely acessible.

Table 1
Estimated value of catches, excluding tunaa/, made in 1972 by long range fishing fleets before the effects of the change in the law of the sea were felt (estimate taken from FAO, 1981c
 Million Dollars USAPercentage of world catch
Value of catches by long distance fleets5 56025
- taken in front of the developed countries3 70017
- taken in front of the developing countries1 8608
- by the developed countries5 46025
- by the developing countries100-

a We should add the unknown, but substantial, catches (1.2 million dollars) made by thelong distance tuna fleets in the EEZs of other countries

However, these transfers of output do not accurately reflect the economic gains or losses already or potentially made or suffered by the countries concerned. On one hand, because of the management shortcomings brought about by particularly intense competition in international fisheries, the net profits from fishery have so far been only marginally positive at best. On the other hand, several countries which have acquired control over resources larger than their own consumption are already deriving considerable advantages from the new regime, either as cash in the form of royalties or in kind in that of investments, equipment, aid, etc., or of a political character.

Yet if the immediate effects of the new law of the sea on the activities of deep sea fleets have not been felt equally, most coastal countries1 now have the possibility of deriving higher social and economic benefits from the fisheries over which they have control. The extension of national jurisdictions can make it possible, through exercise of this new authority, to control access to resources that are naturally limited. Therefore, the tendency to dissipation of net benefits and to biological over-exploitation caused by free competition should gradually be reversed.

At the same time, the decline of international fisheries whose characteristics and prospectus had dominated development and management practices during recent decades should encourage recourse to development and exploitation models more suited to the needs, advantages, and interests of each country. In fact, a study of past strategies shows that the expansion model of industrial fisheries in the advanced countries has generally been transposed in the Third World countries without taking sufficient account of the species features of the latter (abundant labour, scarce capital, undeveloped markets, etc.), or the constraints which have come to influence the prospects for expansion of fisheries (increased cost of energy, growing scarcity of resources which are easy to develop) (Troadec, in preparation).

In order for fisheries to contribute better to national economic development it is necessary to appreciate the particular aspects of fishing and the conditions which the nature of fishery resources itself imposes on their full development. Ocean fishery is concerned mainly with stocks which are a part of natural ecosystems whose output man cannot improve except in highly specialized and geographically limited (extensive aquaculture) cases. At best he can fish the net surplus of the output, whose limit can only be approached if he manages to attain and keep the tonnages captured and, to a lesser extent, the structure (age and species) of the catch within certain limits. Secondly, the mobility of many fishery resources makes it impossible in practice to turn their exploitation over to the private sector, assigning pre-established shares of the resource to each operator. This feature places the operators in a position of open and permanent competition to acquire the net economic yield derived from their activity. If this competition cannot be controlled it leads, first of all, to overinvestment and thereby to the gradual dissipation of net benefits and then, eventually, to biological overexploitation of the resources.

1 Independently of the reconversion problems raised by the reduction of long distance fleets among the major world fishing powers (countries of Eastern Europe, Korea, Japan, Thailand, etc.)

This document proposes to review this internal dynamic of fisheries, analyse the conditions that might lead to coherent exploitation, i.e., one adapted to the objectives set for the development of the resource, and to see, within the new legal context, what types of regulations would be best suited to build up and maintain fisheries in conditions corresponding to those objectives.

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