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World marine capture fisheries are now close to the forecasted catch ceiling of conventional resources - about 100 million tonnes per annum. Major resources are already overexploited and there are widespread concerns about collapsing stocks, over-capacity in fishing fleets, unsustainable fishing practices and environmental degradation.

Worldwide concern about the state of fishery resources and about some of their non-sustainable uses has led to questioning the performance of present production and management systems. Despite the fact that a potential still exists for further development in some fisheries, many fisheries are perceived as ill-managed. Whilst the international legal framework for fisheries management has been substantially improved by a series of new agreements, the web of intersecting provisions that they contain substantially complicates their simultaneous implementation and greatly increases the need for a better understanding of the factors leading to overexploitation and unsustainable fisheries.

Overexploitation and fisheries unsustainability have been a major concern of fisheries managers and policy makers for at least half a century. This phenomenon occurs in most parts of the world. A wide range of factors could be at the origin of this problem, e.g. the widespread tendency of private and public over-investment, the prevalence of relatively open-access conditions not only in the high seas but in many other fisheries, the lack of political will to bring fisheries under effective control, international competition, the degradation of the marine environment, and the imbalanced state of many marine ecosystems.

To address these concerns, the international community has made several attempts to develop and enhance policy instruments. Such international fisheries instruments[1] include: the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries; the Compliance Agreement; the UN Fish Stocks Agreement; and the Cancun, Kyoto, United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and Rome Declarations. Recently the International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity and the International Plan of Action to Combat Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing were also adopted.

These instruments impose specific duties or responsibility upon the States and regional fishery bodies on a mandatory or voluntary basis. They address issues such as: unregulated fishing; overfishing; bycatch and discards; unreliable data and statistics; use of precautionary approach; management of high-sea fish stocks; Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) and enforcement by Flag and Port States; marine pollution; data gathering and management advice; and assistance to developing states.

Although there has been considerable progress by some States and regional fishery bodies on the implementation of these instruments, difficulties still exist with respect to ensuring a wider international commitment to their implementation and a more efficient application of their provisions in practical terms. Effective implementation raises complex scientific, managerial and political considerations that cannot be resolved quickly. A time-lag is therefore observed between: the global endorsement of any particular instrument; a national or regional policy decision to act on this instrument; and its effective implementation. Delay of the implementation often aggravates fisheries unsustainability.

Another difficulty is that factors contributing to fisheries overexploitation and unsustainability are still not widely understood. Active mechanisms at work and impacts are yet to be assessed. Methodologies to be used in the analysis of such factors and the assessment of their complex interaction are still lacking.

With financial support from Japan, an FAO project was initiated in 2001 to address some of these issues: Project GCP/INT/788/JPN: Factors of Unsustainability and Overexploitation in Fisheries. The aim of this project is to develop ways and means to better address major factors of overexploitation and unsustainability, with special consideration being given to providing guidance on actions that could be taken towards improving sustainability and food security in general and, in particular, towards the implementation of major international fisheries instruments.

The Workshop on Factors Contributing to Unsustainability and Overexploitation in Fisheries was organized in the context of this project. The workshop was attended by 24 experts from a wide range of countries, attending in their personal capacity and representing various disciplines and experiences relevant to fisheries management. It was held from 4 to 8 February, 2002 in Bangkok, Thailand.

The workshop addressed the following questions:

Preliminary consideration was also given to related issues such as:

Two discussion papers were prepared by FAO to serve as reference documents for the workshop and as a basis for group work on these issues.

The present document contains the report of the workshop, the aforementioned discussion papers as well as notes submitted to the workshop by participants. No attempt was made at this stage to analyze findings and revise the documentation - which is presented in this document as working material. This document and, in particular, the conclusions and recommendations adopted by workshop participants will serve as a basis for further work aimed at improved fisheries management and a more effective implementation of major international fisheries instruments.

[1] These instruments are presented in Discussion Document 2, infra.

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