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After decades in which fishing has contributed to the development of the economy of many countries and to the welfare of consumers, fishery resources in some areas of the world have been seriously reduced and even jeopardised. Significant environmental, economic, social and cultural costs are involved, and States individually and collectively must assume the responsibility for mitigating the consequences of fisheries degradation, preventing further degradation, and, wherever possible, fostering recovery from conditions of degradation. From a biological perspective, the duty of governments is to control the stocks of living resources that need to be maintained at a certain point in time. However, there is also an economic dimension. In order to achieve sustainable development, each fishery has to be accorded a reasonable fishing capacity through such measures as gear type specification, limitations on number of vessels and fishers, restriction on fishing hours per year, etc.

In the Mediterranean, as in most other fishery areas, management authorities face a growing array of difficulties. To begin with, globalisation of fisheries results in a world market that reduces sale prices and encourages a greater production rate to maintain income levels. Technological developments help to accelerate this process, since they make it possible to increase production while reducing fishing costs. Further pressure on already limited resources exacerbates conflict between fishers, which in turn requires public intervention to ensure fair allocation of resource exploitation rights. At the same time, growing awareness in the general public of progressive degradation of the environment drives greater demand for more sustainable balance between conservation and production.

Problems become more acute in fishing regions like in the Mediterranean where it is seldom practicable to control fish landings, given such factors as the wide variety of species being exploited, the vast number of potential landing sites, and the huge market demand. As a result, control of fishing effort becomes the preferred primary management tool. As long as authorities in Mediterranean fisheries are primarily concerned with controlling fishing effort rather than production rates, the vessel will likely be the main focus of management decisions. These decisions -- authorising one gear type or not; for example, or allowing only a particular number of fishing hours per year, or granting only a certain number of licences in one area, etc., will furthermore need to be based on objective arguments.

In such a context, the use of `indicators' may be critical. An indicator has been described (FAO, 1999) as : `a variable, pointer, or index related to a criterion. Its fluctuation reveals variations in key elements of sustainability in the ecosystem, the fishery resource or the sector and social and economic well-being. The position and trend of an indicator in relation to reference points indicate the present state and dynamics of the system. Indicators provide a bridge between objectives and actions.'

The purpose of indicators is therefore to help make clear assessments of and comparison between fisheries through time. Socio-economic indicators should allow the description in simple terms of the extent to which the objectives set for sustainable development are being achieved. Their basic function, in other words, is to facilitate the process of fisheries policy and management performance assessment. Together with other indicators (especially biological indicators), they should be useful as objective guides for the analysis of management proposals made or measures taken for Mediterranean fisheries.

They should furthermore provide a basis for developing systemic knowledge of the socio-economic realities of the fishing sector in every country concerned. This knowledge can be used mainly for analysing the impact of ongoing fisheries changes in fleets, areas and countries, including changes in production, prices, costs, economic yields, employment, technology, and the state of resources.

This report presents results of a pilot study on the construction of socio-economic indicators for the Mediterranean. Taking into consideration the conclusions reached at the last meeting of the former Working Party on Fishery Statistics and Economics of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), the newly established Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) of the GFCM invited its Sub-Committee on Social Science (SCESS) to initiate work on a database for socio-economic indicators. The study was carried out by a team of scientists working in collaboration with the Fisheries Policy and Planning Division of the FAO Fisheries Department. The team's Terms of Reference are provided in Annex1.

1 Working Party on Fisheries Economics and Statistics of the GFCM, WP/98/3 Les indicateurs socio-économiques dans l'aménagement des pêches en Méditerranée: éléments de réflexion, March 1998.

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