Previous Page Table of Contents



The meaning of sustainability

As clearly stated in the Discussion Paper I (Cunningham and Maguire, infra), fish stocks fluctuate for environmental reasons beyond human control. This makes it somewhat difficult to give meaning to the concept of sustainability. Stock levels and yields will not remain constant from year to year despite a constant rate of exploitation. The popular models which convey this must be regarded as pedagogical devices to aid understanding of fundamental principles and, at the best of times, useful for illuminating long-term issues. Long time fluctuations in ocean climate may, however, invalidate even that.

Hence, sustainability of fish stocks is best understood as avoiding irreversible changes in stock abundance. This is the position taken in the Discussion Paper I where it is also pointed out that irreversible changes may be the result of environmental factors and not human exploitation. Substantial year to year fluctuations are therefore reconcilable with sustainability, and for some stocks a top to bottom transition might take several years.

If world fisheries are on an unsustainable track this should sooner or later show up as falling catches. In a separate note this question is discussed in greater detail, from an overall perspective, for groups of fish stocks, and for selected, individual stocks. The picture that emerges from this is one of stagnation for world fisheries as a whole, but not (or not yet) a clear decline. For groups of stocks a mixed picture emerges; the catches from some stock groups have stagnated or declined while others are still on the rise. For individual stocks the picture is likewise mixed. Catches from some stocks, like the Atlanto-Scandian herring and the Peruvian anchoveta, have collapsed and remained low for long periods, only to bounce back. Some of these fluctuations are related to climatic phenomena (the El Nino), but the collapses were most likely precipitated, or prolonged, by overexploitation.

Some stocks, like the Icelandic and the Arcto-Norwegian cod stocks, seem to be in a long term decline. This is all the more interesting, and alarming, as these stocks have for more than twenty years been controlled by a single coastal state (Iceland) or by a consortium of two states (Norway and the Soviet Union/Russia). For the Icelandic stock in particular this is particularly surprising, as the stock is fully controlled by Iceland, which prides itself of a wealth-maximizing management policy looking to the long-term. For neither one of these stocks did the 200-mile limit reverse a long-term (since the mid-1950s) decline. It is possible, however, that climatic factors and not management failures are behind this decline.

The collapse of the Northern cod of Newfoundland is one of the most widely publicized and spectacular examples of a non-sustainable fishery. The collapse was undoubtedly aided by a management failure. The stock was for a number of years overestimated, and the total catch quota was cut too little and too late. Some experts leave some of the blame on changes in ocean climate, but without the management failure it is doubtful that the cooling that occurred in the ocean off Newfoundland would have resulted in a total collapse.

The cod stocks at the Faeroe Islands provide a counterexample. These stocks were at an all time low in the early 1990s, and biologists recommended a total moratorium. That advice was not heeded, but the catch quotas were cut. Recently the catches have bounced back to the same level as in the mid-1980s.

Economic Sustainability

Fluctuations in fish stock abundance will give rise to similar fluctuations in the economic returns in the fishing industry. This will manifest itself as fluctuations in catches and cost per unit of fish caught. Some fishermen will go broke in bad times but in better times investments will occur. Hence we will see fishing capacity and effort wax and wane, irrespective of whether or not the fishery is managed. In analogy with fish stocks, an economically sustainable industry will be one where the capacity of fishing fleets fluctuates around a long term average.

In an economically sustainable fishery investors will, in the long-term, get sufficient return on their capital to keep the amount of capital at the long-term average (the invested capital might even increase if there is an ongoing substitution of capital for labour). That notwithstanding, companies may go broke in hard times, but they will be replaced in better times or refinanced in the expectation of better times. But it is important to realize that an economically sustainable industry could be far from realizing the maximum economic potential of the fishery. In fact the classical result is that fisheries under open access will stabilize at a level where the return on capital is sufficient but where fish stocks have been depleted way below the level which would give maximum economic yield in any meaningful sense.

I think, therefore, that setting the focus on the unsustainability of fisheries misses most of the important issues in fisheries management. The absence of biological and economic sustainability is likely to be an exception and a worst possible scenario in what is otherwise not a terribly bright picture. But it is perfectly possible to have a fishery which is economically sustainable but where no rents are realized and where capital and labour are wasted on a grand scale. Fortunately, the Discussion Paper deals at length with these issues and does so very well. No purpose is served, however, to confuse the issues of realizing the maximum economic potential of a fishery and economic unsustainability.

Some further perspectives on economic overexploitation

Fishing is but one way of satisfying our material needs. That is why we need to see the amount of labour and capital devoted to this activity in relation to what we can otherwise obtain from these resources. The material benefits which we forego by having people invest in and devote their labour to fisheries to a greater extent than needed is the reason why there is something wrong with an overcapitalized but economically sustainable fishery. This raises a number of questions, which are dealt with in the Discussion Paper. What about subsistence fisheries where those who fish have no other opportunities? In economic terms the cost of their labour (but hardly of their capital) would be zero. This is the trickiest situation to deal with, I think. But if this is the case, no good purpose can be served by getting less fish than maximum with more effort; the challenge then becomes one of dividing the catch among those who depend on it. The most threatening situation from the point of view of economic sustainability probably is the one where more and more desperately poor people compete for eking out a subsistence from a limited resource and destroy their own livelihood in the process. This could happen as a result of a “costless” technology where the usual protection for fish stocks provided by a necessary minimum catch per unit of effort is absent. But are there examples of this? Is it likely to happen?

To break the vicious circle of poverty by which people are trapped in the fishery there must be other employment or entrepreneurial opportunities. The Discussion Paper contains many interesting thoughts on how, e.g., rents in the fishery could be used for creating such opportunities. But is it necessary that such opportunities exist before we try to rationalize an overcapitalized fishery? Do we not need both push and pull factors? Often people do not seek out alternative opportunities until they are forced to do so. One may envisage a scenario by which limited entry, individual transferable quotas, or whatever that bars new entrants from the fishery and provides incentives for some to leave leads to a development of new employment opportunities by directing entrepreneurs elsewhere. There is ample reason not to underestimate the entrepreneurship and employability of fishermen who otherwise one might be tempted to write off as human capital with stranded skills. In the exercise of their trade, fishermen often show themselves both inventive and adaptable. Those skills are quite likely to be portable to other settings.

Finally, a comment on community sustainability. This leaves open the definition of a community. Is it a fishing village, a region, or what? Is it at all desirable, or even meaningful, to preserve narrowly defined communities? Growing economies with rapid technological progress are characterized by structural changes which are necessary for achieving economic growth and to accommodate technological changes. We have seen whole industries disappear as a result of such changes, and in other cases the number of people employed in a particular industry has drastically fallen as a result of new and more efficient methods of production. Is there any reason to expect the fishing industry to be any different? Furthermore, would it make any sense to try to prevent or roll back changes in technology that save labour and make traditional fishing and fish processing methods obsolete? The canning industry has drastically declined, due to better transportation and other methods for preserving food. Large and powerful boats have made it possible for fishermen to live in places which are often far away from where they fish but at the same time destroyed the comparative advantage of locations that are closer to the fishing banks. Does it make any sense to halt or reverse such changes? One must be very careful to distinguish between the vested interests of those who might owe the profitability of their investment or their careers to the continued existence of such places and rural romanticism praising the innate value of what often are unattractive and exposed areas.


The overall development in world fisheries

Figure 1 shows the world catches from capture fisheries 1950 - 1999 (until 1970 there are no separate data on aquaculture, but aquaculture was rather unimportant prior to 1970, as Figure 1 shows). Up to 1970 the total production of fish grew at a rather steady rate of about six percent per year. In the early 1970s there was an abrupt fall in the catches, associated primarily with a collapse of the anchovy fishery in Peru. From 1970 to the mid-1980s the growth in fish catches was much slower than earlier. Then it picked up again, and for about five years (1983-88) the catches grew at about 4 percent per year, but since the late 1980s the world captures of fish are most appropriately characterized as stagnating. The total has varied between 85 and 95 million tonnes and does not seem likely to exceed 100 million tonnes any time soon.

Despite the stagnation in world capture fisheries the total production of fish has continued to increase. Since 1970 the increase has mainly come from aquaculture. In 1999 the total production of fish was just below 140 million tonnes.

The aggregate picture does not indicate general overexploitation in the sense of falling catches, but stagnation. What picture does emerge if we look at individual groups of fish species? Figure 2 shows the catches of the eight most important groups of fish species, where “importance” relates to total captures in 1999. The “groups” are defined in the FAO database for world fish catches.

Stagnating or declining catches

These eight groups of fish species, which together account for two-thirds of the world captures of fish in 1999, fall neatly into two groups. The first group shows stagnation or decline in the total catch but with substantial fluctuations over time. The most important group of fish (in terms of quantity) is herring, sardines and anchovies. The captures of these fish rose rapidly to exceed 20 million tonnes in the late 1960s and then fell abruptly to about half of that in the early 1970s. The catches started rising again around 1980 and reached a new and higher peak of 25 million tonnes in the late 1980s, then fell, only to rise again in the late 1990s.

The stocks of herring and other small pelagic fish (fish that live close to the surface of the ocean) are notorious for their fluctuations. These fluctuations are caused by natural variations in environmental conditions, which are still poorly understood. The picture that emerges from considering these fish stocks is hardly one of overexploitation but rather full utilization with natural variations. It is possible, however, that the decline in the 1970s was caused by overexploitation. We will return to that point below in our discussion of the Peruvian anchovy and the Atlanto-Scandian herring.

The second most important group of fish, cods, hakes and haddocks, is also characterized by substantial variations in catches. The total catch may be characterized as stagnating since the 1970s; it reached a preliminary peak in 1976, then dipped and rose to a new and slightly higher peak in 1987 but has since fallen. It gives some cause for concern that for more than ten years the catches of these fish have fallen substantially and almost without interruption. These fish are among the most valuable food fishes and hence the ones where the forces causing overexploitation under inadequate management are likely to be strong.

The catches of jacks, mullets and sauries rose, albeit with some interruptions, until 1996, but the rise has been much slower than earlier after 1977. The three most recent years of uninterrupted decline are a little too short a time period to make strong statements about overexploitation, but the slow growth since the late 1970s warrants characterizing these stocks as fully utilized.

The last group in this category is mackerels, snoeks and cutlassfishes. The catches peaked in 1978 and have since stagnated, with substantial year to year fluctuations. This indicates that the exploitation of these fish has reached its potential but there are few clear signs of overexploitation.

Increasing catches

The other four groups are the following: (i) redfishes, basses and congers; (ii) tunas, bonitos and billfishes; (iii) squids, cuttlefishes and octopuses; and (iv) shrimps and prawns. The catches of all these fish are still increasing, albeit with some year to year variations, and the rate of increase for some of them has not slowed down much over time. Some of these fish are highly priced food fish (shrimp, tuna, bass, squid) for which the incentive for overexploitation in the absence of good management will be strong, Yet we see, at the macro level at any rate, few signs of overexploitation. Judging from the development in catches in the recent past there might even still be some room for further expansion.

Some individual stocks

Even if there are few signs of overexploitation for aggregate groups of fish there could still be overexploitation of individual stocks. In general, one can expect the following development scenario for fisheries: First, the most valuable fish stocks will be exploited. Then, as these stocks become depleted, the fishing fleets are diverted to less valuable stocks. For a time it would be possible to maintain the aggregate level of catches, or even increase it, by exploiting successively less and less valuable stocks, but ultimately this avenue will run into a wall.

To get an idea of whether this might indeed be the case, we shall look at the catches from a few important fish stocks. Which stocks have been selected for this purpose depends on our previous knowledge of different fisheries and the availability of data on different stocks. This is not a global inventory of fish stocks but a selective review which we nevertheless believe sheds an important and interesting light on the question of overexploitation. In addition it illustrates the importance of natural fluctuations.

The Peruvian anchovy

This is one of the most important fish stocks in the world and also the one most notorious for its fluctuations, which are associated with the El Niño phenomenon.

Figure 3 shows the catches of Peruvian anchovy (anchoveta). The catches reached a peak of 13 million tonnes in 1970 but fell abruptly in 1972 and remained below two million tonnes from 1977 to 1985. The catches recovered again in the late 1990s and reached their previous peak, fell again abruptly in 1998 (El Niño again), but recovered quickly. It is possible that the long trough of the 1970s and early 1980s was caused by bad management, but the fishery did ultimately recover, and the recovery was rapid after the latest El Niño disaster.

The Atlanto-Scandian herring

The Atlanto-Scandian herring, alias Norwegian spring-spawning herring, is another stock notorious for its variability. Explaining this variability has long been a challenge for fisheries biologists and oceanographers. Figure 4 shows the development of catches from this stock since 1950. The catch fell abruptly in the late 1960s and did not recover on a significant scale until very recently (after 1990). The abrupt fall in the catch was associated with a steep decline in the stock, which is generally believed to have been caused by overexploitation. The figure shows a very steep rise in the catches in the 1960s. This rise was caused by a leap in fishing technology. A device called the “power block” made it possible to haul purse seines mechanically instead of by hand, which in turn made it possible to use much larger boats and seines. Over just a few years the fishing capacity of the fleet was increased many times over and by more than the herring stock could sustain. This was well before the 200-mile economic zone and before any serious joint management of fish stocks was initiated; there was no control whatsoever over fishing capacity, effort, or the total catch.

The Atlanto-Scandian herring is a stock that migrates between the 200-mile zones of a number of countries (Norway, the Faeroe Islands, and Iceland) and is also accessible on the high seas outside 200 miles. Since the late 1990s the countries concerned (Norway, Russia, the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, and the European Union) have managed to agree on limiting the total catch of this fish. This does not automatically imply that they have succeeded in setting the catch at the level which would be appropriate from a long term perspective, but there is reason to believe that the agreed catch limits may not be far above this; the quota agreement for 2001 implied a fishing mortality of 0.14 instead of 0.125 recommended by fisheries biologists.[6]

Pilchard and anchovy

Pilchard and anchovy are two pelagic fish species also notorious for their variability. What is also interesting is that they seem to vary against one another, so that one stock replaces the other over time. Whether these shifts are caused by exploitation or natural forces can be argued over, but it is well known that such shifts have taken place for natural reasons in various places and at various times (sardine and anchovy off California is one example). Figure 5 shows the catches of pilchard and anchovy in three areas; off Japan, Southern Africa, and Chile and Peru. The catches of these species are seen to vary inversely with one another. This points to climatic conditions, such as the El Niño, as the source of these variations and in such a way that the carrying capacity of nature is alternatively utilized by either of these species. To the extent these variations are caused by variations in natural conditions it would clearly be inappropriate to take declining catches as a sign of overexploitation, but an interesting and intriguing question is whether overexploitation of one species rather than natural forces might cause such shifts in stock abundance.

Icelandic cod

The Icelandic cod stock is one of the most important fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic and one that has been exploited for a long time. Figure 6 shows the catches of Icelandic cod since the early 20th century. The effect of the two world wars is clearly visible; both wars brought a major reduction in fishing pressure due the disappearance of foreign fleets. After both wars the fishery expanded greatly. Since 1955 the trend in the total catch has been downwards, albeit with substantial year to year variations. It is not possible to see any positive long-term effect on the catch of the 200-mile zone; in the year immediately following its establishment in 1975 the total catch increased, and particularly the catches taken by the Icelanders themselves, as they replaced the foreign fleets in the area. This is all the more serious as the Icelanders have total control over the stock and make repeated claims of managing it successfully. To some extent adverse environmental conditions could be to blame; the sea temperature around Iceland has been lower since 1960 than in previous periods.

The Arcto-Norwegian cod

The Arcto-Norwegian cod is also one of the largest and most important stocks of demersal fish in the world. The stock has been exploited since time immemorial, but the catches which it was possible to wrest from rough seas and in bad weather were severely limited by the primitive technology of the past. For a long time the catches were limited to the feeding and spawning migrations to the Norwegian coast from the Barents Sea and the seas around Spitzbergen. This all changed with the development of deep sea trawlers in the last century.

Figure 7 shows the catches from the stock since World War Two. As for the Icelandic cod, World War Two provided a temporary reduction in fishing pressure. The catches peaked in the mid-1950s, just as for the Icelandic cod, and the trend has been downwards ever since. Also similarly to the Icelandic cod it is not possible to see any positive long-term effect of the 200 mile zone on the catches. Some would argue, however, that the 200-mile zone made it possible to avoid a total collapse of the fishery around 1990. The stock was then at an all time low, and the catches were cut back severely, through a joint effort by Norway and the Soviet Union. The stock recovered and catches increased, but lately the catches have started to decline again.

The Northern cod of Newfoundland

The bleakest story is told by the fishery for Northern cod off Newfoundland. This used to be one of the richest fisheries in the world, and European nations (the British, the French, and the Spanish) fought over the access to this fishery in the past. Figure 8 shows the catches from this stock from 1850 and until this fishery collapsed in the early 1990s. There was an enormous increase in the catch in the 1960s, due to the development of deep sea factory trawlers, mainly from the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe. This was probably not sustainable, although the collapse of the stock came many years later and well after most of the stock had come under the jurisdiction of Canada (part of the stock was still accessible in the open sea on the so-called nose and tail of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland).

The collapse of the stock has by many fisheries biologists been attributed to faulty management by the Canadian authorities. The biologists responsible for giving advice on the management of the stock did not discover the stock decline early enough, and the Canadian government was slow in cutting back the total permitted quota, because of the adverse effects this would have on job opportunities in Newfoundland. Cooling off of the ocean off Eastern Canada may, however, have been a contributing factor, and some would argue that this was the decisive factor. Increased herds of seals feeding on cod, due to the near halt of the seal hunt, has also been mentioned as a possible reason for the collapse, and for the fact that few signs of recovery have been detected over the nearly ten years that have passed since the fishery was closed down.

The Faeroe cod

A more optimistic story is told by the cod stocks at the Faeroe Islands (Figure 9). These catches are taken from two apparently separate stocks within Faeroese waters. Both of these were at their all time low in the early 1990s, and fisheries biologists recommended that no catch at all be taken from one of them while the catch should be severely curtailed for the other. The advice was not fully heeded, although the catches were severely reduced. The stocks nevertheless recovered, and a few years later the total catch had recovered to a level similar to the mid-1980s. Fortunately the debacle of the Grand Banks was not repeated at the Faeroes.

Figure 1: World fish production 1950 - 1999

Source: FAO fisheries database

Figure 2: World production from capture fisheries: eight most important species groups (1950 - 1999)

Source: FAO fisheries database

Figure 3: Catches of Peruvian anchovy (anchoveta) 1950 - 1999

Source: FAO fisheries database.

Figure 4: Catches of Atlanto-Scandian herring 1950 - 2000

Source: International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), Cooperative Research Report No. 210, Copenhagen 1995, and Fisken og havet, No. 1, 2001, Institute of Marine Research, Bergen.

Figure 5: Catches of pilchard and anchovy in selected areas 1950 - 1999

Source: FAO fisheries database

Figure 6: Catches of Icelandic cod 1905 - 1999

Source: Útvegur (Fisheries Statistics). Statistics Iceland, Reykjavik.

Figure 7: Catches of Arcto-Norwegian cod 1946 - 2000

Source: International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), Cooperative Research Report No. 210, Copenhagen 1995, and ICES, Arctic Fisheries Working Group Report 2001.

Figure 8: Catches of Northern cod of Newfoundland 1850 - 1993

Source: Dr. Ram Meyers, Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Figure 9: Faeroese catches of cod on Faeroese grounds 1985 - 2000

Source: ICES, Northwest Working Group Report 2001




Factors of unsustainability are sensitive to the geographical “units” chosen for the analyses. These units should reflect the geographic scale of ecological processes that reasonably define fishery resources and ecosystems, fishing activity (the pressure), and political jurisdictions (the response). They are also sensitive to the functional unit selected (ecosystem or area, one fishery, the fishery sector, etc.).

Reference frameworks

Factors of unsustainability can be organized from different angles depending on the objective of the organization: according to the Pressure-State-Response framework, the Sustainable development framework of FAO, the ESD framework.

Fisheries will be unsustainable unless all its interdependent components are stable, e.g:

Unsustainability in these elements will come from, inter alia:

Unsustainability needs to be defined concretely in terms of relation between the state, and/or rate of change and functioning of elements in the system in relation to reference values. The latter are defined by the management mechanism (in terms of objectives), Nature (in terms of constraints) and society (who decides the system of values).

Unsustainability issues in marine capture fisheries

The concept of unsustainability

The concept of unsustainable development has never formally been defined and must therefore be taken as the antonym of sustainable development. To a large extent, looking at the factors of unsustainability is looking at lacking or poor factors of sustainability.

In is not clear, at this stage, whether the factors of unsustainability are exactly symmetrical to the factors of sustainability. Referring to the definitions of sustainable development, unsustainable development could be simply defined as “development that cannot meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (derived from WCED, 1987). Unsustainable development, in this sense relates to the loss of quality of life and probability to maintain such quality in the future and should not be narrowly limited to economic bust. In FAO definition terms, factors of unsustainability include the non-conservation of the resource base and ill-orientation of technological and institutional change. They lead to degradation of the resource base (including genetic resources) and other changes that are technologically inappropriate, economically non-viable and socially unacceptable, resulting in the non-satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations, (based on FAO Council, 1988).

While the definition exercise above may not be very heuristic, it points towards using the past work on sustainability indicators to deal with unsustainability just as a compass, made to indicate the North, can be used to go South. As a consequence, the following is largely based on the FAO guidelines for the development of sustainability indicators for fisheries.

Aspects of unsustainability in fisheries

When looking at the fisheries landscape, the following problems reflect unsustainability:

Factors fueling the problem include:

Factors responsible for the situation include:

The unsustainability frameworks

Scales and dimensions

It may be useful to adopt one or more frameworks to catalog, and relate, the various factors of unsustainability identified. These can be related to scales of dimensions of sustainable development, as shown below.

Table 1: Hierarchical typology for factors of unsustainability

Scale (level)










Table 2: Examples of development criteria with indication of the state or value leading to unsustainability for each development dimension






Higher then allowable

Harvest value

High and growing

Fisheries contribution to GDP

High (attractive)

Fisheries exports value (compared with total value of exports)


Investment in fishing fleets and processing facilities


Taxes and subsidies

not disincentives


in excess


attractive or too low

Fishery net revenues




in excess










attractive or too low

Fishing traditions/culture

inexistant or degraded



Gender distribution in decision-making



Catch structure

too selective?

Relative abundance of target species


Exploitation rate

too high

Direct effects of fishing gear on non-target species

high, non-reversible

Indirect effects of fishing: trophic structure


Direct effects of gear on habitats

high, not reversible

Biodiversity (species)


Change in area and quality of important or critical habitats



Compliance regime

poor, ineffective

Property rights


Transparency and participation


Capacity to manage


The direction of change of a criteria might be in many cases more important than its level in pointing to unsustainability.

Even after scoping the problem of unsustainability, selecting the appropriate dimensions, criteria, possible indicators and reference values remains a difficulty. Criteria and indicators may be identified for which there is no reliable data. When identifying factors of unsustainability, presumably for corrective action, the following properties should be kept in mind: (1) Policy priorities (i.e. relevance); (2) Data availability; (3) Cost-effectiveness of the corrective measures; (4) Understandability to managers, industry and the public; (5) Robustness to uncertainty; (6) Scientific support; (7) Formal (legal) instruments available.

In the fishery system, and depending on the typology in mind, one would identify: (1) the human and environmental subsystems; (2) the resources; environment, institutions, technology, and people; (3) the Fishing operations; post-harvest practices; trade; research; management (governance).

Figure 1: Schematic representation of the FAO sustainability framework

In reference to the FAO implicit framework for sustainable development (Fig. 1), the sources of unsustainability could originate in:

It is also usual to distinguish the techno-economic, socio-cultural; legal-institutional; and bio-ecological factors. Some of them follow:

The general framework for sustainable development is less detailed than the Code of Conduct because it has been designed for general application and has the advantage of explicitly identifying the two domains of well-being (the environment and the human subsystems) and how they relate to one another (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The general framework for sustainable development

The system is unsustainable when decisions strongly favour one subsystem at the expense of the other, i.e. when the functional rules and constraints of the life-supporting ecosystem or the vital needs of the people are disregarded. The unsustainability signal comes in terms of social stress and unrest or ecological stress and resource collapses.

The pressure-state-response (PSR) framework (represented in Figure 3), developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and other international bodies, provides a variation on the general sustainability framework, with its dichotomic representation of sustainability, superimposing on it the state of the two system components as well as the processes that affect these states and in particular the pressure exerted on the environmental subsystem and the responses made by society that affect both subsystems.

Figure 3. The PSR, DPSR, and DPSIR frameworks

In such a framework, an unsustainable contribution of fisheries to development may come from:

Chesson and Clayton (1998) have proposed a variant of the general sustainable development framework, known in Australia as the ecologically sustainable development (ESD) framework, to assist in determining how well the management requirements for sustainability are met, and how performance progresses over time. The top dichotomic structure is similar to that of the general framework for sustainable development above, reflecting the environmental and human components. The effects of fishing are subdivided into the effects on humans and the effects on the environment (sensu lato, including the effects on the resource). The subdivision recognizes that while all effects ultimately influence the quality of human life, some act directly whereas others act indirectly through the environment. The ESD framework establishes, in addition, a hierarchy of elements at progressively higher levels of detail. The framework could be used to list factors of unsustainability (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Environmental and human factors of non-sustainability and sources influencing them (in italics) H = High; L = Low; P = Poor; NR = Non Responsible

This and other frameworks lead to lists of factors but do not identify the functional relations between them. Developing a “tree” of factors would be more useful for determining priorities for action, understanding relations between causal factors, and eliminating confusion about causes and consequences (see below).

Annex A: Selected criteria and indicators for ecological, economic, social and institutional/governance dimensions of fisheries

1. Ecological criteria

Wrong catch structure: too many spawners, juveniles, bearing females,

Non protection of critical habitats

No refuges available

2. Economic criteria:

Profitability: if high, attracts environment

Value of fishing entitlements: if none, no incentives to conserve or behave responsibly

Subsidies: do not lead to performance. Externalization of costs not advisable

3. Social criteria

Employment: if high unemployment, pressure for open access

Food security: overfish if no alternative sources of food

Tradition and culture: may be a source of responsibility or not

4. Governance/institutional criteria


Institutional factors of non-sustainability

Compliance regime

Lack of incentives to comply with instruments (at all levels)

Existence of outstanding disagreements (lack of consensus)

No real enforcement

Lack of consensus

No explicit relation with recognized frameworks

Illegal fishing

Flags of convenience

Incompatibility between local and higher level enforcement

Property rights

No well defined and recognized property rights

No compatibility of rights with sustainability goals

No incentives for cooperative behaviour

Lack of equity

Lack of consensus

Transparency and participation

No/poor participation in the elaboration of instruments(at all levels)

No incentives for participation in agreements

No involvement of major stakeholders in decision and implementation

Poor communication between stakeholders and with the public

Capacity to manage

Lack of human and financial resources

Poor statistics and research

No management regime

No regional body with competence to manage

No compliance with legal instruments(at all levels)

No matching between development objectives

No effective dispute resolution process

No precautionary approach

No communication/integration between formal and informal governance

No decentralization/local capacity

Annex B: Example of questionnaires relating to the management system (governance)

Factor 1 - Management regime



Are management objectives clearly stated, with relative weightings specified?


Are the rules and regulations of the management system clearly documented and available?


Has the management system documented a definition of “stakeholders” in the fishery?


Is the management system sufficiently inclusive of fishing operators as stakeholders to encourage “responsible” resource stewardship?


Is there a dispute resolution mechanism (e.g. an appeals council) to address issues of procedural & outcome equity?


Is the fishery subject to outstanding disputes, e.g. over allocation issues?


Is research to answer ecological questions being supported (e.g. on ecosystem effects of fishing; on sea bed damage; on cetacean by-catch)?


Is research to investigate the management and decision-making processes supported?


Additional remarks

To what extent is the management regime structured so as to ensure precautionary and sustainable management?


Factor 2 - Decision making



Are management decisions, and their rationale, clearly documented and made available?


Has scientific advice on stock conservation been overridden without overt justification (concerning e.g. social objectives)?


Are there examples of innovative or experimental management procedures being implemented and monitored (e.g. adaptive management regimes)?



Additional remarks

To what extent is the decision-making process structured so as to ensure precautionary and sustainable management?


Factor 4 - Regulation


Do the precautionary management plans specify:


Data, including a specification of precision, to be collected & used for stock assessments?


Decision rules, including risk levels, to be used in determining catch or fishing rate limits?


Are thresholds defined which trigger pre-agreed action if the stock or the environment approach or enter a critical state?


Does legislation exist to discourage wasteful practices such as sea dumping of discards?


Where applicable, are allowable by-catch percentages set?


Additional remarks

To what extent are regulations implemented which ensure precautionary and sustainable management?


Factor 5 - Enforcement



Is there an identifiable enforcement agency or agencies?


How many cases were brought against operators in each of the last 5 years?


Do operators perceive a real risk of cheating being detected?



Additional remarks

To what extent are regulations enforced so as to ensure precautionary and sustainable management?


Overall assessment





Management regime


Decision-making process









UNSUSTAINABLE FISHERIES: WHO IS TO BLAME - FISHERS, MANAGERS, SCIENTISTS OR THE ENVIRONMENT? (two case studies from Namibia) by David Boyer and Hashali Hamukuaya


The Namibian fisheries policy is to utilize the living marine resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of the nation, and to manage them according to scientific information and principles. Ultimate responsibility for control measures rests with the State. A 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone was declared after independence in 1990, the introduction of a new national policy on exploitation rights and quota allocation in 1991, followed by the promulgation of a new Sea Fisheries Act in 1992. A major emphasis was placed on Namibianization of all sectors of the fishing industry and the establishment of local research and management capacity.

All activities of the major fisheries sectors are catch controlled, by TACs, in conjunction with effort controls, primarily through limited vessel rights. These rights are issued for seven, ten, fourteen or twenty years dependent on a number of criteria. The longer rights are issued to companies who, inter alia, are majority owned by Namibians, employ Namibians at sea and on land, have a proven track record in the industry and have demonstrated a long-term commitment by investing in the fishing sector.

Legislation is implemented effectively; all fish must be offloaded under inspection at either Walvis Bay or Lüderitz, and a fisheries observer accompanies all vessels large enough to carry extra personnel. These observers also conduct basic biological sampling. Surveillance is carried out by patrol vessels and aircraft, and a satellite vessel-monitoring system is currently being implemented.

Thus, Namibia, in contrast to many other countries, has many factors favouring successful and sustainable utilisation of its living marine resources. The country has a strong legal framework backed by political will, only two harbours to monitor, friendly neighbours, and a fairly discrete physical system with limited sharing of stocks with other countries. Many international conventions, agreements and codes of conduct have either been signed or ratified giving Namibia the legal (and moral) basis with which to manage its own resources.

Since Independence, the re-building of depleted stocks has been encouraged through strictly enforced management controls, mainly by limited Total Allowable Catches. Several stocks are now showing signs of a sustained recovery, and annual catches have been allowed to increase. Other stocks, notably sardine, remain depleted, while the newly established orange roughy fishery collapsed within 6 years of its initiation.

This paper reviews two cases of unsustainable fisheries in Namibia; the sardine and orange roughy resources[7].


The northern Benguela stock of sardine Sardinops sagax used to be considered one of the major clupeoid stocks of the world; it supported an average annual catch of >700 000 tons throughout the 1960s. The stock has been in a depressed state for more than two decades, as demonstrated by annual catches that averaged around 50 000 tons between 1978 and 1989 and only slightly more in the 1990s. It has experienced fluctuations in abundance of several orders of magnitude during the most recent decade. Population size increased until 1992, when the acoustic estimate of biomass was about 750 000 tons. Catches increased accordingly, averaging 100 000 tons between 1992 and 1995, but from 1992 to 1996 the stock was in decline and the lowest annual catch in the history of the fishery was taken in 1996. Although there was a small increase during the last three years of the decade, the stock remains seriously depleted. Survey-based recruitment indices suggest that the changes in the 1990s were initiated by fluctuations in recruitment, but the decline was almost certainly exacerbated by continued fishing. Poor recruitment and decreasing catch rates between 1993 and 1996 in a number of other key resources suggest that system-wide environmental changes were an important factor in the decline of the sardine stock at that time. Anomalous oceanographic conditions, such as extensive hypoxic shelf waters in 1993/94 and a Benguela Niño in 1995, support this conclusion.

The following discussion examines the relative importance of fishing and environmental impacts, particularly on recruitment, and why the beginning of a recovery in the stock in the early 1990s was not sustained.

Effect of fishing

Official records of landings for the decade are a reasonably accurate reflection of total fishing mortality, in stark contrast to the 1960s and 1970s. Dumping of unwanted catch is not permitted and since 1991 has been controlled largely by the practice of placing fisheries observers on most fishing vessels.

During the first half of the decade, the Namibian TAC was set almost six months before the start of the fishing season. In 1990 recruitment was not measured, but in 1991, being the first “recruitment” survey, the results were not used for management purposes. For biomass-projection purposes, recruitment was assumed to be average in those years. However, 1991 appears to have been a year of good recruitment, so stock size increased at a faster rate than predicted, and the TAC for the subsequent year’s fishing season was based on an underestimate of the fishable stock present by the time the season started. This subsequently resulted in fishing mortalities below the target level of 0.2 year-1. It can therefore be concluded that fishing levels were moderate until 1992 or 1993 and probably played a relatively minor role in limiting the size of the sardine stock. Indeed, if conditions were favourable for recruitment and growth, it is entirely plausible that fishing mortality could have been higher than the target level without restricting the recovery of the stock.

The fishing pressure exerted during 1994 and 1995, given the size of the stock, was excessive. In 1994 the total biomass was estimated at just over 200 000 tons and the TAC was 125 000 tons, although only 115 000 tons were landed. This failure to catch the TAC, which had only previously occurred in 1976 and 1978, should have sent warning signals to all parties. However, despite a decline in the biomass to around 100 000 tons by 1995, a TAC of 45 000 tons was set. Given the small size of the stock, and its rapid decline since 1992, fishing at such a level was likely to be very risky.

In addition, for the first time in more than two decades, vessels were permitted to catch sardine in Angolan waters, starting in late 1994. No limits were placed on the catch, and this increased the harvest to 92 000 tons in 1995, from a stock estimated to be not much larger than this. Following the adverse environmental conditions of the Benguela Niño earlier in the year, this catch proved catastrophic. Apart from about 1 000 tons caught in 1996, and minor amounts harvested by artisanal fishers, no sardine have been caught in Angolan waters since 1995.

Despite the establishment of a TAC of 20 000 tons in 1996, industry was unable to catch sufficient sardine to open any canneries, supporting the survey results and so confirming that the stock had declined to levels rarely seen in any of the other major sardine stocks of the world. Since then, the stock has increased slightly and TACs have followed suit.

Environmental effects


There was a relatively cool period at the beginning of the decade until mid 1992, but this early part of the decade is not noted for any particularly adverse environmental features. Stock size was boosted by recruits from the 1989 cohort, and recruitment was above average in 1991 and 1992. During this period, the biomass reached its highest level since prior to the crash of the mid 1970s. Sardine recruitment is generally reported to improve during moderately warm periods (Jacobson and MacCall 1995, Cole and McGlade 1998). However, as outlined in Bakun’s (1996) Triad hypothesis and the Optimal Environmental Window hypothesis of Cury and Roy (1989), the factors controlling successful recruitment are complex and, whereas sea surface temperature (SST) is a proxy for some of these, other factors may have assumed greater importance during these years.


Several major environmental anomalies were recorded during this second period. For much of 1993 and 1994, a body of poorly oxygenated water, estimated to be between 50 and 250 m in vertical extent, lay over the Namibian shelf, and levels as low as 0.25 ml l-1 were measured between Cape Frio and Walvis Bay (Hamukuaya et al. 1998). Although poorly oxygenated bottom waters occur seasonally during periods of reduced upwelling as a result of the decay of organic matter, this event affected a much larger body of water and persisted for longer than usual. Events such as this are thought to be attributable to an influx of water from the Angola Dome (Bubnov 1972). Furthermore, much of the period was characterized by warm surface waters extending over the entire inshore region of the Namibian shelf. This culminated in a Benguela Niño in February and March 1995, when a positive temperature anomaly of up to 8°C was recorded in the upper layers, with a deepening of the thermocline by about 20 m. This unusually warm water mass was found from Cabinda (5°S) to at least 24°S, although above-average temperatures were recorded as far south as Lüderitz (27°S). Benguela Niños are thought to be associated with large-scale changes in wind patterns resulting in the poleward movement of warm tropical waters. The southernmost penetration of surface waters was at the beginning of March 1995, after which it retreated with the onset of south-westerly winds (Gammelsrød et al. 1998).

These anomalous environmental conditions are likely to have resulted in the poor recruitment of those years. De Decker (1970) reported a reduction in the number of sardine eggs following a low oxygen event off the west coast of South Africa in summer 1967/68. In 1963, a year in which a strong Benguela Niño was recorded in the northern Benguela, sardine eggs were virtually absent during the main spawning months (Stander and De Decker 1969). Boyd et al. (1985) reported an order of magnitude reduction in sardine egg production, but good survival of larvae, following the 1984 Benguela Niño. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that recruitment was poor during 1993 and 1995 and that the lowest recruitment index for the decade was estimated by the November 1995 survey. The composition of the 1993-1995 catches confirmed the poor recruitment indices, because they increasingly comprised larger fish.

Despite relatively high numbers of recruits entering the fishable stock in the early 1990s, these cohorts were reduced at rates seemingly greater than could be accounted for by fishing and expected rates of natural mortality (Fossen et al. 2001). Whether this apparently high rate of mortality was due to natural factors affecting the survival of sardine or was an artefact of survey bias is at present unclear.

Population declines and large-scale shifts in distribution were recorded in a number of other species during the period 1993-1995, suggesting an increased rate of natural mortality attributable to adverse environmental conditions. The Namibian hake stocks migrated farther offshore (Hamukuaya et al. 1998) and their fishable biomass declined by almost half. Monkfish catches fell by more than 25% (Maartens 1999), a significant decline in the horse mackerel stock was recorded and catches of both juvenile and adult components of that stock fell by about 50% (Boyer and Hampton 2001). The Namibian anchovy stock, which had been severely depleted for some years, almost disappeared, and since then catches have averaged around 1% of previous levels. This culminated in dramatic declines of several of the top predator populations, notably those of Cape fur seal Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus, which was reduced by about one-third in 1994 and 1995 owing to starvation (MFMR 1997, Roux 1998, Cury et al. 2000), and bank cormorant Phalacrocorax neglectus, which declined by an even greater amount (Crawford et al. 1999). Sardine mortalities were observed once, when a number of dead and dying sardine were found in Baìa dos Tigres during the 1995 Benguela Niño, where water temperatures were >27°C throughout the water column. However the numbers of sardine were small in relation to the total stock size. No large-scale die-offs, as reported in Australia at the same time by Schwartzlose et al. (1999), were observed.


No marked environmental anomalies were recorded during the latter half of the decade. Sea surface temperatures were close to the long-term average with the exception of early 1997, which was slightly cooler than average.

The 1996 and 1997 cohorts were relatively strong, and the sardine biomass increased from a few thousand tons in 1996 to around 300 000 tons a year later. The fact that this increase in biomass was a result of recruitment was supported by the fact that catches were composed of 96 and 65% fish <22.5 cm in 1997 and 1998 respectively.

The concept of a relationship between spawner biomass and recruitment may be simplistic, especially for a small pelagic species such as sardine, but a minimum threshold biomass has been used by management, suggesting that such an approach has been informative (see Ulltang 1996). It is worth noting that, during the 1990s, there has been a very poor spawner stock-recruitment relationship. Whether this means that the relationship reported by Butterworth (1983), but see also Fossen et al. (2001), has broken down or, more likely, that other factors have superseded it, is not known.

The 1998 and 1999 recruitment indices were again below average for the decade, the biomass showed a downward trend, and the average size of the fish caught again increased as catches largely comprised older fish from the relatively strong cohorts of 1996 and 1997. It is interesting to note the change in distribution of the stock during 1997. Instead of the normal inshore distribution of sardine in a water depth of <100 m, most of the stock moved offshore to depths of 200-300 m, and remained there throughout 1997 and 1998. It is not known if recruitment was poor as a direct consequence of this change in distribution, or if it was attributable to the colder than normal conditions.


It appears that the processes causing the decline of the sardine stock in the mid 1990s were similar to those of earlier declines; several years of poor recruitment led to reduction in biomass and narrowing of the age structure of the stock (see Fossen et al. 2001). Then continued fishing led to an ever-increasing fishing pressure until, in 1996, there were simply so few schools remaining that the fleet was unable to locate any sardine at all. Even the slight increase in 1997 and subsequent increase in fishing levels is remarkably similar to the recovery and increased TACs in the early 1970s.


Exploration for orange roughy Hoplostethus atlanticus in Namibia started in 1994 and, within 12 months, several aggregations had been discovered, suggesting the existence of a biomass sufficient to support a viable fishery. At that early stage it was realized that few, if any, recognized management procedures existed for newly developing fisheries, especially with the paucity of data such as existed on Namibian orange roughy. The first six years of the fishery included a three-year exploration phase, several years of profitable exploitation, and then a severe decline in catch rates. Whether the decline is attributable to fishing mortality or to change in the aggregating behaviour of orange roughy, or both, is not clear. Although many aspects of the precautionary approach were followed, a risk analysis applied and a number of innovative management methods implemented (e.g. incentives to promote exploratory fishing, use of Bayesian statistical methods, implementation of a management plan for long-term total allowable catches), the aggregating biomass declined to between 10 and 50% of virgin levels within the six years.

Francis and Shotton (1997) provide an elegant classification of uncertainty in the assessment and management of fish stocks. These categories are used here to illustrate the Namibian attempts at managing their orange roughy resource and in particular some of the major types of uncertainty that detracted from its success.

Process uncertainty

Process uncertainty accounts for the natural variability in biological processes, and particularly those that control stock productivity. Orange roughy inhabit deep water where environmental conditions are assumed to be relatively constant. Measurements of oxygen, salinity and temperature during four annual research surveys indicate that, at least at the accuracy of measurement, there was little variability. Likewise, commercial vessels report catching orange roughy within a temperature band of 3°C suggesting that, even if there is some variability, the fish try to minimize this by seeking a constant environment. Therefore it is intuitive to expect the biological processes that control the productivity of this stock to have a low degree of stochasticity.

One of the hypotheses tested to account for the large decline in orange roughy biomass on the spawning grounds was that spawning periodicity was either very long or highly variable (McAllister and Kirchner 2001). On purely biological grounds this seems unlikely, but it cannot be disproved. Although little was known about the degree of variability of the key biological processes determining the productivity of orange roughy off Namibia, it seems unlikely that this would have accounted for the observed decline in abundance.

Observation uncertainty

Observation uncertainty refers primarily to the ability to collect data on the fishery, stock abundance and biological parameters with reasonable precision and accuracy. Namibia is recognized as having a high degree of control over commercial catches: all orange roughy vessels carry two fisheries observers and all landings are made at a single harbour under the control of fisheries inspectors (Oelofsen 1999, Boyer and Hampton 2001b). Therefore, there was little observation uncertainty in monitoring catches of orange roughy.

The geographic position of orange roughy aggregations, far from any national borders, and the fact that Namibia has a strong monitoring, control and surveillance policy, which not only does not tolerate transgressors, but also has the means to apprehend them, makes observation uncertainty an unlikely candidate for causing the stocks to have declined. Illegal, and hence unrecorded, catches are not suspected to have been a factor.

As little was known about orange roughy at the beginning of the fishery, much research was directed at the resource. Shipboard and port sampling were initiated to monitor changes in population structure, both between grounds and over time within grounds, as well as to track reproductive development. These activities were conducted with the full support of the industry, and generally with their active participation. While there was doubtless some uncertainty in this monitoring process, especially early on, it seems unlikely that this could have accounted for any large errors in the assessment of the stock.

In order to determine the abundance of orange roughy, two types of surveys were conducted in 1997 and have been repeated each year since. As there are many uncertainties in the estimates, it was decided in 1998 that they should be used only to monitor trends rather than absolute abundance. Additionally, the errors of acoustic estimates have been modelled in an attempt to assess the probability distribution of the estimates (Boyer and Hampton 2001a), so accounting for the most important uncertainties.

However, virtually all research on Namibian orange roughy has been directed at the aggregating component of the stock, through either commercial sampling or surveys. Little is known about the fish outside the aggregations, and the lack of knowledge of this component of the stock may have had severe consequences for the ability to assess abundance accurately. This is discussed in more detail below.

Model uncertainty

This form of uncertainty deals primarily with deciding on the best method of representing the stock dynamics of the species in question (McAllister and Kirchner [2001] refer to this as “structural uncertainty”). The conceptual model of the Namibian orange roughy population and community dynamics contained a number of critical assumptions, not least of which concerned stock structure. Initially the stock was considered to be a single unit, but by 1997 it was assumed that each QMA was, for both stock dynamics and management purposes, entirely separate, this being the most precautionary approach. In addition, it was assumed that a constant proportion of the stock migrated annually to the QMAs to spawn. This proportion was unknown, but it was implicitly assumed that most of the stock spawned each year. From these assumptions, it followed that any decline in the stock would be attributable to fishing mortality rather than to changes in behaviour of the stock or stochasticity in the natural behaviour patterns.

Between 1997 and 1999, the swept-area abundance estimates based on commercial data declined between 2- and 8-fold on the various grounds, and the research-based swept-area estimates by 10-55 times. Similarly, the acoustics estimates dropped by an order of magnitude. Four hypotheses were proposed and tested to account for these declines: first, that it was due to the direct impact of fishing; second, that the aggregating behaviour of orange roughy was being disrupted by fishing activities; third, that there was some previously unrecorded stochasticity or periodicity in the spawning frequency of Namibian orange roughy; finally, that there had been a mass emigration or mortality. Modelling suggested, on the basis of the goodness of fit to the data for models based on these hypotheses, that the catch removal hypothesis remained plausible only on Rix. The mass emigration hypothesis remained plausible on all four fishing grounds, and the hypotheses invoking behavioural changes had low credibility on Johnnies and Hotspot but remained credible on the other two grounds. Biologists argued, on the basis of their experience with other fish stocks, that depletion by catch removals was more likely, but they were unable to provide empirical data to support their case. No consensus has yet been reached on whether these hypotheses are biologically feasible.

During the initial stages of the fishery, many biological parameters on Namibian orange roughy were unknown, creating uncertainty in estimating the productivity of the resource. These parameters were for the first two years of assessment assumed to be the same as for New Zealand orange roughy. While this may be intuitively sensible, it did create an additional source of uncertainty. Sensitivity analysis involving testing a range of plausible values showed which were the most critical parameters, e.g. age at maturity, growth and natural mortality. Considerable effort was then expended to determine these parameters using Namibian data, which were used from 2000 onwards. Indeed, the use of a fishing-down strategy to determine optimal fishing levels, rather than taking the less-aggressive approach of studying the biology and productivity, as recommended by Clark (1995), though seemingly safe at the time, can now be seen to have been a high-risk strategy.

In the Bayesian assessment, priors were included for key parameters such as natural mortality, to account formally for the uncertainty of such parameters in the stock assessment process (McAllister and Kirchner 2001, in press). Also, a Beverton-Holt stock-recruitment relationship was assumed, and recruitment was also allowed to assume some variability, using the same values as in New Zealand.

Another type of model uncertainty was introduced in the initial estimates of abundance using commercial cpue data as a proxy for swept-area data. It was assumed that the area of an aggregation was fixed, so mean catch rates were raised by the same area each year to calculate abundance. Kirchner and McAllister (in press) analysed the spatial distribution of the aggregations and concluded that the area was, in fact, not constant, so assuming stationarity greatly inflated the abundance estimates.

In addition, an assumption made during the initial phases of this fishery was that cpue tracked abundance, despite strong indications from Clark (1996) that this may not be so for orange roughy. Indeed, some initial indications of declining catch rates in 1996 were discarded as artefacts and the decline was only accepted and incorporated in the stock assessment in 1998. Indeed, the cpue data, especially when used in a swept-area type model, were repeatedly used by industry as evidence for the robustness of the stock. As noted above, this type of analysis should have been used with considerably more circumspection for an aggregating species such as orange roughy, especially with the lack of knowledge of the species’ aggregating dynamics.

Surveys of orange roughy were conducted using swept-area and acoustic techniques. Once two surveys had been conducted and a time-series existed, these were used as relative indices, recognizing the uncertainty in the estimates attributable to various biases (Boyer and Hampton 2001a). However, a major uncertainty that is still not resolved is whether the surveys, by targeting spawning aggregations, were surveying a constant portion of the total stock each year, or whether this was variable. This again relates to the lack of understanding of the behaviour of orange roughy, and particularly of the aggregations.

It is concluded that the uncertainties introduced through the use of inappropriate model structure or assumptions contributed significantly to an overall failure to predict the decline in orange roughy abundance off Namibia, this form of uncertainty being driven by a lack of knowledge of the biological processes.

Estimation uncertainty

Estimation uncertainty is a secondary type of uncertainty derived from some or all of the above three types.

It was recognized from the early days of the fishery that any attempt to estimate optimal catch levels would be fraught with uncertainty, a natural consequence of any new fishery where information is lacking. To compensate for the lack of data, extensive use was made of sophisticated models. Priors on 3-5 key biological and catch parameters and several annual process error terms were introduced through Bayesian statistics, allowing for uncertainty to be incorporated in a rigorous and structured way into the assessment models (McAllister and Kirchner 2001). Hence, the stock assessment (and risk analysis) was based on best guesses by the available “experts” and elaborate analyses of the limited data available to provide indications of biases and uncertainty in stock biomass estimates. However, some argued that high levels of analysis did not compensate for the limitations of the data being used (as suggested by Ulltang 1996, Rose 1997, Schnute and Richards 2001). Similarly, the priors for catchability were constructed through discussion and agreement by consensus. While this had the advantage of combining accumulated knowledge and experience of many people, it often lacked objectiveness. In hindsight, some of the uncertainties may have been underestimated, possibly by a large amount, especially those that affect the estimation of abundance.

Another unforeseen consequence of achieving consensus was a narrowing of uncertainty. It is suggested that, while this process of constructing priors has its merits, input should be permitted without pressure. Further, all inputs should be used, in other words, there should not be any attempt to reach consensus. Similarly, opposing views (and trends) should not be averaged, because doing so reduces very real uncertainty.

During the initial assessments, the biomass at MSY was treated as a target reference point. However, recent literature suggests that this should be a limit reference point (Mace and Gabriel 1999, Serchuck et al. 1999). In addition, New Zealand assessments suggested that BMSY for orange roughy was around 0.3 of the virgin stock level (Francis et al. 1992) and is derived from a target rate of fishing mortality where catches change with stock fluctuations and are hence maximized. This method requires good estimation of stock size and productivity. However, owing to the uncertainties in this estimate, the more conservative (precautionary) approach of Clark (1995) was followed, i.e. assuming BMSY to be closer to 0.5B0, a level derived from a constant catch strategy and hence the more conservative of the two methods. That this level is “precautionary” is highlighted by the fact that the stated management aim in Australia is to rebuild orange roughy stocks to 0.3B0 by 2004 (Bax 2000).

It is currently not possible to state whether the estimates of virgin biomass, BMSY and productivity were erroneous or whether there were changes in the behaviour of orange roughy, making the component of the stock assessed in, for instance, 1997 different from that assessed in subsequent years. Certainly the original estimates of abundance using commercial catch data were positively biased, but detailed re-analysis of the early surveys, when the biomass appeared to be high, indicate that the original survey estimates were essentially valid and that the perceived large decline in abundance of fish in the QMAs is real.

Once again it has to be concluded that the major uncertainty in estimating biomasses and productivity emanated from the underlying conceptual model that was assumed for orange roughy, rather than stochasticity in the biological processes or observation uncertainty.

Implementation uncertainty

Implementation uncertainty refers to the extent to which management policies and recommendations were implemented. The recommendations made by the Deep Water Fisheries Working Group originally, and later by government scientists, were generally implemented by the authorities with a high degree of faith. In 1997, scientists were more cautious than the DWFWG. Therefore, this form of uncertainty does not seem to have played a major role.

However, there is definitely room for several improvements to the form of management advice. Assessments tended to present results in the form of a mean and a range of probability (90% probability intervals in earlier assessments, but usually 95% in the later ones). In reality, recipients of such information tended to become fixated on the point value (the mean) and to ignore the range. As point estimates are meaningless when CVs are large, e.g. >0.3, it may have been more constructive to give ranges only, perhaps using a fairly wide probability interval of, for example, 80%. Additionally, the outputs of some procedures had such wide probability intervals that the results were uninformative and hence of little use for management. Finally, without concrete evidence to validate, or at least support these results, managers (and often scientists too) failed to trust the outputs.

A set of fishing conditions was applied to promote exploratory fishing. However, these were too complicated to monitor and enforce efficiently. As a result, industry tended to “explore” when catch rates on aggregations were low, i.e. out of the spawning period, when the chances of finding new aggregations or defining the limits of known aggregations were reduced. Incentives to encourage exploration were developed in conjunction with industry, but the costs were deemed to outweigh the potential benefits, so exploration was limited. If the proportion of exploratory fishing trawls had been calculated over shorter time periods, e.g. per month or per trip rather than per year, then this strategy may have yielded greater benefits, although it would have been more costly to industry.

Some management protocols were applied, especially in respect of exploratory fishing, but no procedures were developed for setting harvesting levels on the known grounds. This forced annual debate on the state of the stocks and harvesting levels, an extremely costly and time-consuming exercise for all involved.

Notwithstanding the above, it seems reasonable in general to conclude that implementation of scientific recommendations and management procedures had little impact on the subsequent decline in catches. Indeed, TAC levels were set even lower than those recommended and so may have extended the life of the fishery. Vessel participation in the fishery was strictly limited to a maximum of five, compared to, for example, the Australian orange roughy fishery in which, in 1999, there were 34 vessels still fishing for orange roughy, down from a maximum of 67 in 1990 (Bax 2000).

Institutional uncertainty

Institutional uncertainty is a serious concern in Africa where political, and hence policy, instability is common. Namibia has had a strong, stable government for the past decade with a clear policy towards the utilization of marine resources and, despite some pressure from the fishing industry, has largely abided by it. Owing to the importance of fishing to the Namibian economy, most efforts to protect resources and to increase the long-term output of fisheries gained widespread political, social and economic support. The official policy towards the development of new fishery resources remained unchanged, but some adaptive institutional learning naturally occurred as the orange roughy fishery developed. The establishment of a working group consisting of government managers and scientists and senior industry representatives also reinforced the stability in the assessment and management of the resource.

One restriction in this developing country of Namibia was the lack of local scientific competence. This was solved by contracting international expertise and, although such expertise was temporary, a progressive training programme was implemented such that, by 2000, most of the survey and assessment work was conducted locally.


The orange roughy fishery developed and declined in just six years. The establishment of the fishery was planned and controlled in a rational manner. During the initial “discovery” phase, catches were monitored. A research programme was launched to determine and monitor the state of the stocks, while management routines were being established. Monitoring and control was implemented during the second phase, and strategies to promote further exploration and the collection of pertinent data were also introduced. The third phase saw consolidation of all these activities such that, by 2000, much of the research, management and control of the fishery were routine. The scientifically based recommendations were followed with a large degree of faith, and the fishery was, in general, well controlled. Despite this, catches declined unexpectedly fast and, within a couple of years, all stocks were estimated to have been depressed below BMSY.

Elaborate attempts were made in the assessments to estimate the abundance of the stocks and to quantify the risks associated with various harvesting levels. One of the greatest difficulties for the assessment was to formulate precautionary advice on TACs in the face of conflicting interpretations of available data and assessment results, and their implications for resource status. The spawning behaviour of orange roughy was, and still remains, poorly understood, and the dynamics of aggregation formation and dispersion are similarly unknown. Therefore, alternative assumptions covering a wide range of biological possibilities were used in the formulation of the qualitative conceptual models of stock dynamics and behaviour, so making interpretation of results difficult.

Biomass was overestimated in the first stock assessment owing to the use of a conventional swept-area estimate of abundance from data on commercial catch rate. The initial survey results, although considerably less than the commercial swept-area estimates, also indicated that the harvesting rates achieved in the early years of the fishery would lead to a gradual fishing-down of the stock towards BMSY. Subsequent catch and survey data indicated a dramatic decline in abundance of all stocks, apparently at rates greater than could be accounted for by fishing. Whether this was attributable to overestimating abundance during the early surveys, in which case overfishing could have caused the decline, or to a change in fish behaviour during the spawning period when the stocks were surveyed, remains unknown.

Management usually aims to balance the biological risk of overfishing with the economic loss of underfishing, including taking account of future discounting. However, with a long-lived fish such as orange roughy there is little loss of yield through underfishing. In retrospect, the precautionary approach should have been more rigorously applied, and the limited expansion in effort allowed between 1997 and 1998 should have been avoided until at least two years of research survey data had been obtained, to improve the assessment of abundance. Further time would also have allowed more information on the biology of Namibian orange roughy, in particular on spawning and aggregation dynamics, to be gathered.

The development and decline of the Namibian orange roughy fishery should serve as a warning to other newly discovered fisheries. Even for those with excellent management and fisheries control, full cooperation of industry and high levels of research and population assessment, catch levels need to be severely limited until sufficient understanding of behaviour and stock dynamics allows stock-specific reference points, such as BMSY, to be determined with confidence. Only then should a fishery become a fully operational commercial activity managed to attain optimal sustainable harvesting rates.

The Namibian authorities went to great lengths to guard against such a sequence of events in their orange roughy fishery. Assessment and management created a paradoxical situation whereby state-of-the-art assessment and modelling yielded high quality advice, yet the fishery virtually collapsed within a very short time. There was close cooperation with industry at all stages. A number of strategies for dealing with uncertainty were incorporated into the stock assessment, including a Bayesian approach, and management process, and attempts were made to apply the precautionary approach. In addition, adaptive management was applied through institutional learning. As a result there should be some lessons to be learned from the assessment and management of orange roughy in Namibia. Some aspects provide good examples of how a new developing fishery should be managed; others are clearly illustrative of procedures to be avoided. In particular, one of the main reasons why the management of orange roughy failed to prevent stock collapse was underestimation of some of the uncertainties, particularly those reliant on basic understanding of the biology and behaviour of orange roughy.


Bakun, A. 1996. Patterns in the Ocean: Ocean Processes and Marine Population Dynamics. San Diego; Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas de Noroeste, La Paz, Mexico, and University of California Sea Grant: 323 pp.

Bax, N. J. (Comp.). 2000. Stock assessment report 2000: orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus). Unpublished report, CSIRO Division of Marine Research, Hobart: 81 pp. (mimeo).

Boyd, A. J., Hewitson, J. D., Kruger, I. and F. Le Clus. 1985. Temperature and salinity trends off Namibia from August 1982 to August 1984, and their relation to plankton abundance and the reproductive success of pelagic fish. Colln scient. Pap. int. Commn SE. Atl. Fish. 12(1): 53-60.

Boyer, D. C., Boyer, H. J., Fossen, I. And A. Kreiner. 2001. Changes in abundance of the Northern Benguela sardine stock during the decade 1990 - 2000, with comments on the relative importance of fishing and the environment. In A Decade of Namibian Fisheries Science. Payne, A. I. L., Pillar, S. C. and R. J. M. Crawford (Eds). S. Afr. J. mar. Sci. 23:

Boyer, D. C. and I. Hampton. 2001. An overview of the living marine resources of Namibia. In A Decade of Namibian Fisheries Science. Payne, A. I. L., Pillar, S. C. and R. J. M. Crawford (Eds). S. Afr. J. mar. Sci. 23:

Boyer, D. C., Kirchner, C. H., McAllister, M. K., Staby, A. and B. I. Staalesen. 2001. The orange roughy fishery of Namibia: Lessons to be learned about managing a developing fishery. In A Decade of Namibian Fisheries Science. Payne, A. I. L., Pillar, S. C. and R. J. M. Crawford (Eds). S. Afr. J. mar. Sci. 23:

Bubnov, V. A. 1972. Structure and characteristics of the oxygen minimum layer in the Southeastern Atlantic. Oceanography 12(2): 193-201.

Butterworth, D. S. 1983. Assessment and management of pelagic stocks in the southern Benguela region. In Proceedings of the Expert Consultation to Examine Changes in Abundance and Species Composition of Neritic Fish Resources, San José, Costa Rica, April 1983. Sharp, G. D. and J. Csirke (Eds). F.A.O. Fish. Rep. 291(2): 329-405.

Clark, M. R. 1995. Experience with management of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) in New Zealand waters, and the effects of commercial fishing on stocks over the period 1980-1993. In Deep-water Fisheries of the North Atlantic Oceanic Slope. Hopper, A. G. (Ed.). Dordrecht; Kluwer Academic: 251-266.

Clark, M. R. 1996. Biomass estimation of orange roughy: a summary and evaluation of techniques for measuring stock size of a deep-water fish species in New Zealand. J. Fish Biol. 49(Suppl. A): 114-131.

Cole, J. F. T. and J. McGlade. 1998. Clupeoid population variability, the environment and satellite imagery in coastal upwelling systems. Revs Fish Biol. Fish. 8: 445-471.

Crawford, R. J. M., Dyer, B. M., Cordes, I. and A. J. Williams. 1999. Seasonal pattern of breeding, population trend and conservation status of bank cormorants Phalacrocorax neglectus off south western Africa. Biol. Conserv. 87: 49-58.

Cury, P., Bakun, A., Crawford, R. J. M., jarre, A., Quiòones, R. A., Shannon, L. J. and H.M. Verheye. 2000. Small pelagics in upwelling systems: patterns of interaction and structural changes in “wasp-waist” ecosystems. ICES J. mar. Sci. 57: 603-618.

Cury, P. and C. Roy. 1989. Optimal environmental window and pelagic fish recruitment success in upwelling areas. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 46: 670-680.

De Decker, A. H. B. 1970. Notes on an oxygen-depleted subsurface current off the west coast of South Africa. Investl Rep. Div. Sea Fish. S. Afr. 84: 24 pp.

Fossen, I., Boyer, H. J., Kreiner, A., Oechslin, G., Mouton, D., Van Der Plas, A. and A. Kemp. 1999. Cruise report of the RV Welwitchia. Pilchard survey of the northern Benguela (17°-24°S). Unpublished report, Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources: 72 pp. (mimeo).

Fossen, I., Boyer, D. C. and H. Plarre. 2001. Changes in some key biological parameters of the northern Benguela sardine stock. McAllister, M. K. and C. H. Kirchner 2001 - Development of Bayesian stock assessment methods for Namibian orange roughy Hoplostethus atlanticus. In A Decade of Namibian Fisheries Science. Payne, A. I. L., Pillar, S. C. and R. J. M. Crawford (Eds). S. Afr. J. mar. Sci. 23:

Francis, R. I. C. C and R. Shotton. 1997. “Risk” in fisheries management: a review. Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 54: 1699-1715.

Gammelsrød T., Bartholomae, C. H., Boyer, D. C., Filipe, V. L. L. and M. J. O’Toole. 1998. Intrusion of warm surface water along the Angolan-Namibian coast in February-March 1995: the 1995 Benguela Niño. In Benguela Dynamics: Impacts of Variability on Shelf-Sea Environments and their Living Resources. Pillar, S. C., Moloney, C. L., Payne, A. I. L. and F. A. Shillington (Eds). S. Afr. J. mar. Sci. 19: 41-56.

Hamukuaya, H., O’Toole, M. J. and P. M. J. Woodhead. 1998. Observations of severe hypoxia and offshore displacement of Cape hake over the Namibian shelf in 1994. In Benguela Dynamics: Impacts of Variability on Shelf-Sea Environments and their Living Resources. Pillar, S. C., Moloney, C. L., Payne, A. I. L. and F. A. Shillington (Eds). S. Afr. J. mar. Sci. 19: 57-59.

Jacobson, L. D. and A. D. MacCall. 1995. Stock-recruitment models for the Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax). Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 52: 566-577.

Kirchner, C. H. and M. McAllister (in press) - A non-stationary post-stratification method to compute swept-area estimates of biomass of Namibian orange roughy stocks from commercial catch rate data. Fish. Res.

Maartens, L. 1999. An assessment of the monkfish resource of Namibia. Ph.D. thesis. Rhodes University, Grahamstown: 190 pp.

Mace, P. M. and W. L. Gabriel. 1999. Evolution, scope and current applications of the precautionary approach in fisheries. In Proceedings of the 5th MILEFS NSAW 1999. NOAA tech. Memo. MILEFS-F/SPO-40: 64-73.

McAllister, M. K. and C. H. Kirchner. 2001. Development of Bayesian stock assessment methods for Namibian orange roughy Hoplostethus atlanticus. In A Decade of Namibian Fisheries Science. Payne, A. I. L., Pillar, S. C. and R. J. M. Crawford (Eds). S. Afr. J. mar. Sci. 23:

MFMR. 1997. Proceedings of an International Workshop on Research and Management of Cape Fur Seals in Namibia, Swakopmund, June 1997. Swakopmund; Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources: 60 pp.

Oelofsen, B. W. 1999. Fisheries management: the Namibian approach. ICES J. mar. Sci. 56: 999-1004.

Rose, G. A. 1997. The trouble with fisheries science! Revs Fish Biol. Fish. 7: 365-370.

Roux, J-P. 1998. The impact of environmental variability on the seal population. Namibia Brief 20: 138-140.

Schnute, J. T. and L. J. Richards. 2001. Use and abuse of fishery models. Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 58: 10-17.

Schwartzlose, R. A., Alheit, J., Bakun, A., Baumgartner, T. R., Cloete, R., Crawford, R. J. M., Fletcher, W. J., Green-Ruiz, Y., Hagen, E., Kawasaki, T., Lluch-Belda, D., Lluch-Cota, S. E., MacCall, A. D., Matsuura, Y., Nevárez-Martinez, M. O., Parrish, R. H., Roy, C., Serra, R., Shust, K. V., Ward, M. N. and J. Z. Zuzunaga. 1999. Worldwide large-scale fluctuations of sardine and anchovy populations. S. Afr. J. mar. Sci. 21: 289-347.

Serchuk, F. M., Rivard, D., Casey, J. and R. K. Mayo. 1999. A conceptual framework for the implementation of the precautionary approach to fisheries management within the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO). In Proceedings of the 5th MILEFS NSAW 1999. NOAA tech. Memo. MILEFS-F/SPO-40: 103-119.

Stander, G. H. and A. H. B. De Decker. 1969. Some physical and biological aspects of an oceanographic anomaly off South West Africa. Investl Rep. Div. Sea Fish. S. Afr. 81: 46 pp.

Ulltang, Ø. 1996. Stock assessment and biological knowledge: can prediction uncertainty be reduced? ICES J. mar. Sci. 53: 659-675.


Working with words

Sustainability and unsustainability are difficult concepts with numerous dimensions. The focus on unsustainability in this workshop implies to me that we have a fair idea of what sustainability is about and can therefore easily detect the absence of it. I think that we are still grappling with understanding sustainability, and this makes the task of tackling what is unsustainable (or non-sustainable?) even more challenging. Overexploitation in fisheries is easier to define and deal with, but also not a simple task.

It would seem that nothing is sustainable in perpetuity or everywhere, and agreeing on the scale for a particular discourse or action is fundamental for reaching consensus on objectives and measuring progress towards the achievement. These are thorny issues in the negotiation and implementation of international instruments. How scales of sustainability are addressed in the instruments is relevant to the practical approaches or solutions sought in the workshop. For Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and from a social science perspective that is concerned with scales from individual to international, scale is a central issue to be addressed.

Integrating concepts

Fisheries anthropology and sociology are as old as attempts at conventional science-based management. What is new, and still under-utilized, is the incorporation of this knowledge into conventional fisheries management. Biological and economic knowledge still take precedence. In developing countries and small-scale rural fisheries the manager often knows much more about the fishers than the fish. The focus on understanding economic behaviour is also more appropriate to larger scale industrial fisheries than the others. Even in small-scale commercial fisheries the main determinants of fisher behaviour may not be purely economic. Better understanding of fisher behaviour, from their perspective, is required in order to address unsustainability and overexploitation.

Emphasizing human individual, institutional and societal flexibility and adaptation to change, whether humans or other components of nature cause the change, can provide alternatives to rigid or mechanistic perspectives on sustainability. First, humans could be seen as more integral than external to ecosystem models. Ecosystem and human system integration is implicit in holistic treatment of sustainability. Achieving sustainability of fisheries-based livelihoods, for example, may well lead to rational short-term overexploitation of fisheries resources with the expectation of medium to longer-term recovery to sustainable levels. This may not be bad in some specific cases and for certain fishery resources, but it seems much worse if the ecological and human systems are seen as separate, and perhaps conflicting.

The workshop title says “in” and not “of” fisheries. This prompts wider examination of the components that comprise fisheries and the trade-offs that arise between them in the political reality of fisheries management decision-making. Avoiding unsustainability of fisheries resources, or at least the more charismatic ones, has become much more of an end in itself in recent times than a means to sustain the livelihoods of seafarers. The latter have become more unsustainable. As powerful environmental groups play more active roles in the fisheries arena the emphasis turns from fisheries management and conservation (in terms of sustainable use) to fisheries preservation. This dynamic will increasingly be reflected in international instruments unless the trend changes and some of the instruments that may make fisheries unsustainable due to environmental lobbying for restrictions beyond good management practices will be outside the typical fisheries forums. This may occur in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), World Trade Organization (WTO), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) etc. The relationship between these instruments, and the consultative processes that inform them, versus those concerned more narrowly with fisheries, needs to be considered.

The contribution of overexploitation to the unsustainability of fisheries varies significantly with circumstance. There is seldom a simple cause and effect relationship. Indeed, addressing them both simultaneously is complicated since the intervening, and often more critical, factors must also be clearly explained. There is a need to include wider perspectives such as integrated coastal area management, management for biological diversity, etc. as they impact on fisheries policies and practices. International perspectives highlight the persistent problems of IUU fishing and establishing effective MCS systems that would be less, particularly in the cases of developing countries, if the scales of the issues were national.

The relevance of setting aside both large and small marine spaces as marine protected areas (MPAs) to prevent overexploitation or reduce unsustainability also needs to be addressed. Although my main interest is marine capture fisheries, observations on lake, impoundment, riverine and floodplain fisheries, especially in terms of the external factors that impact on them such as habitat degradation from land-based sources, could be useful issues to discuss for a thorough treatment of the subject. In this context the treatment of transboundary issues that go beyond shared stocks could be considered. It may be relevant to discuss whether the provisions for international, regional and sub-regional cooperation and organizations or arrangements for management have been effective in addressing overexploitation and unsustainability in areas of boundary disputes, spread of pollution, particularly mobile fleets and the like.

Human and technological dimensions

An aspect of fishing technology, important to fishers, is that besides focusing on cost reduction and efficiency, some innovations also enhance safety at sea, making the profession or fishery less dangerous and more likely to be passed on through generations. Does this perpetuate overexploitation or invite investment in avoiding unsustainability? The reproduction of labour inputs into fishing, especially through kinship rather than non-kin entrants, is crucial for inter-generational sustainability in some, often small and artisanal, fisheries. It usually contributes to the reduction of unsustainability, especially if the fisheries are also locally or communally managed. In addition, having stable fishing families can contribute to long-term food security in some rural places and lessen the chances of changes that precipitate overexploitation.

Related to this is the level of participation in the fishery, often categorized as full-time, part-time or occasional. In some countries it has been the policy to support primarily full-time fishers and fishing enterprises, but perhaps this has contributed most to overexploitation and unsustainability. Policies and management measures that promote the flexibility of part-time fishing, particularly in fisheries not critical to mass consumption food security or contribution to the cash economy may be better for reducing the tendency towards unsustainability. Alternative livelihoods need to be given prominence in discussions.

Even more critical in media and market-driven economies is understanding consumer behaviour related to seafood consumption, and perspectives on over-exploitation and unsustainability. This can be linked to matters hotly debated within FAO such as eco-labelling. Uncertainty and other factors may cause well-managed fisheries to become unsustainable from a livelihoods standpoint if the markets for fishery products are constrained by inappropriate trade barriers due to eco-labelling or other similar measures. This may leave the fish populations healthy, but not the fisheries. Some may argue that certain marine mammal populations, for example, are now into an area “over-sustainability” from a utilisation viewpoint.

An additional, and related, concern is that fisheries can become unsustainable if management authorities are forced, or choose unwisely, to adopt management measures the costs of which exceed the benefits, especially in monetary terms. Methods such as Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs), so favoured by certain countries and promoted as an ideal measure are inappropriate and unaffordable in small-scale, multi-species fisheries and fisheries for small, low-value stocks. The short run excesses may cause fisheries authorities with very limited capacities, such as in most SIDS, to abandon management and so contribute to over-exploitation and unsustainability.

While fisheries instruments, scientific papers and practical prescriptions often acknowledge the special circumstances of developing countries and small island developing states, relatively little is actually done to address the harsh reality of effectively managing fisheries under conventional methods when faced with debt burdens, poverty and other threats to sustainability. Given that the world’s major fish stocks, managed mainly by the world’s wealthier countries, are fully- or overexploited there needs to be some other mechanism to address assistance to maintaining the remaining stocks beyond what exists now. If the trend to rely on tied bilateral technical assistance continues, as is seen in the declining FAO general budget and tendency for countries with special interests to fund meetings and activities focused on their agendas and interests, then fisheries management in some countries may become more unsustainable.

Policies and politics

The contribution of political election cycles, and politics generally, to the unsustainability of taxation measures and perhaps the fisheries generally is often avoided. Taxation tends to have more non-fishery influences than several other measures. Often the macroeconomic climate or structural adjustment remedies dictate fairly closely what is feasible, and taxation could conflict with other general initiatives such as poverty alleviation programmes. In some countries taxation does not have much of an impact on rural, small-scale commercial fisheries. These fishers may not be captured in the tax net, often because of lower limits placed on taxable earnings coupled with informal transactions.

State control, co-management and community-based management as general approaches to governance under which most management measures can be implemented need to be compared. There often persists an impression that State-controlled fisheries management and science is the ideal. Consequently co-management is really a means intended to serve State ends rather than a process of genuine empowerment intended to make unsustainability less likely through a reconfiguration of interests and the necessary building of capacity amongst the users to manage, or assist meaningfully in management. The attention to co-management and community-based management in discussions on these concepts needs to beware both the extremes of uncritical warm embraces and careless rejection.

Key factors contributing to overexploitation and unsustainability cannot be easily generalized. For example, in large-scale industrial fisheries subsidised inputs causing overcapacity may be a major factor, whereas in small-scale live-food fisheries destructive fishing methods may be used as a short term means to meet livelihood demands perhaps because the responsible alternatives are not clear. Some universal factors may emerge, but attention also needs to be paid to factors in specific relation to particular circumstances. The interaction of factors is complex and needs to emerge from research. It may be best to focus on determining the few most deleterious interactions in an array of common fisheries scenarios.

One of the fundamental priority issues is to agree upon what constitutes, in practice, a truly sustainable or unsustainable fishery given that natural change, both chronic (e.g. climate change) and acute (e.g. cyclone), impacts on the human and non-human parts of the ecosystem. No human action guarantees ecosystem/human system sustainability, but several may accelerate unsustainability. The other priority is to ensure that responsible fisheries are affordable (economically, socio-culturally and politically) everywhere. Alternative livelihoods for fishery resource dependents (not only fishers) and management flexibility that promotes responsible fisheries to reduce intergenerational overexploitation and unsustainability seem most practical solutions. Co-management and community-based management, where feasible, may be the most appropriate approaches, but the management measures used within these approaches will vary.

International fisheries instruments, for example the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, are recognising the importance of process for identifying common interests and achieving the legitimacy required to facilitate compliance. Unfortunately, this comes at a price. Participation in international negotiations and even national consultations is costly. There seem to be few solutions to the dilemma that those (countries and individuals) who perhaps need most to address issues of unsustainability are those seldom able to become fully involved in the processes. Prudent implementation of existing instruments is more likely to be effective in addressing unsustainability than a proliferation of instruments that complicate the process and pose additional burdens upon participants with limited capacity to meet present or further international obligations. Perhaps, in addition to guidelines, the FAO could present a series of best practices based on the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.


Before commenting on the causes of unsustainability of fisheries, it is useful to clarify what the term unsustainable means. According to the dictionary, sustainable only requires that a fishery be kept “in existence”. From a population dynamics modelling point of view, it can also be shown that a fishery can be sustained indefinitely at a very low level (in terms of yield and fish abundance). Actual experience also confirms that fisheries can be sustained at low levels for long periods of time. Thus, sustainability is not a very demanding standard, as are many fisheries, that scientists, managers, and the fishing industry agree are in trouble, are sustainable. Sustainability is a necessary, but not sufficient, goal for fisheries. I think the goal should be “responsible fisheries” which (1) are sustainable, (2) produce a high level of human benefits, (3) have a “fair” distribution of benefits, and (4) do not cause “unacceptable change” in marine ecosystems (Sissenwine and Mace, In press).


Many factors lead to fisheries that are overfished, with depleted fish stocks, poor economic performance, and social costs. However, I think that three related factors create a vicious cycle which is the underlying cause of problems for many fisheries worldwide. It is depicted in a diagram (below) from Sissenwine and Rosenberg (1993). The key factors are “the race for the fish” which occurs because of inadequate rights based on allocation of shares of the fishery, uncertain scientific information, and risk-prone decisions in the face of pressure to postpone economic and social hardships. The factors interact. The race for the fish creates incentives for overcapacity, and it undermines long term conservation as an incentive. It also leads to biological overshoots. Once the fishery is in trouble, there is pressure to make risk-prone decisions, and uncertain scientific information makes it difficult for decision makers to withstand the pressure.

The solution to the problem has been articulated many times. It is rights-based allocation, the precautionary approach (which includes risk averse decisions), and more and better scientific information. In fact, applying the first two, without better scientific information will go a long way toward solving the problem for many fisheries (especially for developed regions, compared to developing regions, of the world where there is a lot of valuable scientific information). However, even in these situations, more and better scientific information will make it easier for managers to have the resolve to apply the precautionary approach and it will probably produce an increase in the net value of the fishery.

One form of rights-based allocation is individual transferable quotas (ITQs). This is perhaps the best known method, and it is finding broad acceptance, particularly in developed countries. While ITQs have theoretical advantages over other forms of rights-based allocation, there are other approaches which might have important practical advantages. In developing countries, traditional rights at the community level may be a useful building block for a modern regime of rights-based allocation.


While the three factors and the vicious cycle identified above are well known problems with fisheries, and the ways to address these problems are also well known, implementing solutions has proven to be very difficult. I believe that, ultimately, solutions depend on having in place a responsible governance system. Governance is broader than fisheries management. It also includes self governance of the fishing industry and of the scientific enterprise, and the behaviour of the public and politicians. Sissenwine and Mace (In press) address characteristics of responsible governance.


There are many other factors that lead to problems with fisheries, such as poor enforcement of fishery management regulations, pollution, etc. One factor that is often highlighted as a cause of problems is subsidies. Undoubtedly, subsidies have led to overcapacity for many fisheries, which fuels the vicious cycle described in the diagram below. However, the problems caused by subsidies are a symptom of inadequate rights-based allocation. Subsidies are a transfer payment. With well defined rights, they make fisheries more profitable for the fishing industry (although they are neutral with respect to rent) but, in general, they should not create much of an incentive for overcapacity or a disincentive toward conservation. They do create market place distortions that are a fair trade consideration.

There are several aspects of international governance of fisheries that are likely to lead to problems, as highlighted in Sissenwine and Mace (In press). They are discussed below.

Rights-based allocation or freedom of the high seas? The need for rights-based allocation applies to all fisheries, yet international law treats fisheries on the high seas as a global commons with access open to all.

The general approach to dealing with the dilemma is to form regional fisheries organizations, and to expect all countries fishing within the region to join. However, once the initial members of the regional fisheries organizations have allocated shares in the fishery amongst themselves, they are often reluctant to give up a “slice of the pie” to new members. Thus, prospective new members can either join with prospects of only getting a small share, if any, or they can continue to fish without joining, claiming that they are exercising their high seas freedom. At least two regional fisheries management organizations are currently trying to cope with this dilemma: the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization.

Clearly, creative solutions are needed. It seems to us that either members of fisheries management organizations must be willing to give up a reasonable share of their allocations, or it will be necessary to change the paradigm of freedom of the high seas.

Dispute resolution: Even if the dilemma above is solved, there is another threat to the effectiveness of regional fisheries management organizations. In most (maybe all) cases, members who dislike management decisions are not bound by them if they “object.” This is a form of the “end run.” Fortunately, objections are rare, but could become more common as tensions rise with potentially more members competing for a “slice of the pie.” We think that responsible fisheries management requires a practical dispute resolution mechanism to pick the winner and loser in a dispute. Leaving the dispute unresolved usually means the fisheries resource loses.

Management of deep-sea fisheries on the high seas: These fisheries are increasing, particularly on mid-ocean ridges and on seamounts. However, little is know about the fisheries and the ecosystems that contain them, other than that they are almost certainly fragile. We believe that a responsible approach to fisheries management requires that all fishing activity be authorized and that an analysis of the risk of a fishery having an unacceptable impact should be conducted prior to authorization. This is not the case for most of the deep-sea fisheries that are developing on the high seas. Many of these fisheries are not subject to any existing fisheries management authority, except for the general provisions of UNCLOS. In general, they are not straddling or highly migratory fish stocks. We think the international community needs to address this apparent gap in the current international fisheries management system, perhaps by developing an international instrument capable of designating deepwater areas as “marine protected areas.”


Sissenwine, M.P. and P.M. Mace. In press. Governance for responsible fisheries: an ecosystem approach. FAO Conference on Responsible Fisheries in Marine Ecosystems. 1-4 October 2001, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Sissenwine, M.P. and A.A. Rosenberg. 1993. Marine fisheries at a critical juncture. Fisheries. 18(10): 6-14.


The objectives of the project are to: 1) identify key factors, 2) identify how they interact, 3) identify priority issues in addressing the problem and 4) consider best practical approaches. The discussion may be best served by proceeding in that sequence.

The background paper takes a matrix approach to unsustainability by discussing driving forces in the context of specific management measures (or management systems as is the term used in the background paper although this term may be misleading, see below). This is a very useful discussion that should be taken in any case.

However, this approach basically combines issue (1), key factors, and (4), practical approaches, on the expense of issue (2), interactions, and (3), issues. The consequence may be that we loose sight of some more fundamental and crucial reasons for unsustainability which are associated with the functioning of the overall fisheries system, i.e. the interactions between key factors and issues. Another consequence when the discussion is structured according to management measures is that we may loose the ability to look at fisheries systems in their specific context.

It is tempting and seems to be a natural thing for scientists and advisors, which have been closely involved with fisheries management and for fisheries managers to structure a discussion on unsustainability factors according to management measures. After all, management measures is what you can play around with as a fisheries manager when trying to alleviate whatever may be going wrong in your fishery. However, this approach deals with remedy tools and single problems rather than the overall properties of the fisheries system leading to unsustainability. The tendency to focus on the management measures in relation to unsustainability is however illuminating: it reflects a realisation that the management measures themselves may be a driving force in unsustainability and the discussion of tools is highly relevant in this context.

One approach to analysing systems properties could be to try to look at conditions for unsustainability as a hierarchy of:

- System properties - properties of the specific context which are decisive for the impact of driving forces and the possibilities to implement specific management tools, the ‘sensitivity’ of the fisheries system so to say.

- Driving forces for unsustainability - internal incentives and external developments which drives the fisheries towards unsustainability, the pressure the fisheries system is under.

- Management measures, the toolbox available to prevent driving forces from leading to unsustainability.

The point is that the possible impact of driving forces only can be evaluated if the sensitivity of the system to specific forces is known, and that the ability of measures to alleviate the effects of the driving forces only can be discussed on basis of such an evaluation. Or, to put it the other way round, a general discussion of management measures’ ability to prevent unsustainability is of limited value because this ability is so dependent on the specific context in terms of system properties and driving forces. TAC’s, distributed as ITQ’s or otherwise, may be a marvellous measure to prevent unsustainability in single-country industrialized fisheries with good knowledge and MCS capacity, good information flow and transparency and a governance culture accepting that natural resource exploitation should take place within bounds defined by the community. However, on the coasts of many developing countries and even for international industrialized fisheries along these coasts these conditions do not apply - the most relevant measures to revert from unsustainability may not even be traditional fisheries management measures but may relate to those developments outside the sector which create pressures or (in the case of international fisheries) input measures may be more realistic to implement. Unsustainability factors and contra-measures can only be evaluated in context.

Examples of parameters which could be relevant on these three levels are indicated in Table 1.

The groups are of course interlinked - system properties are in the longer term also a result of driving forces and management measures in the past and misguided management measures may be a driving force for unsustainability. This does however not invalidate the observation that it is necessary to distinguish between context, drivers and responses.

The objectives of the project can be met by:

1) identifying key factors: extend and discuss the driving forces list

2) Their interaction: discuss the driving forces in relation to system properties - that is the basis for their interaction and impact

3) Priority issues: based on the understanding of key factors and how they work in context, it is possible to identify the priority issues, namely the specific combination of a driving force for unsustainability matching conditions (fisheries system properties) which will enable it to have impact

4) Practical approaches: relevant measures to be taken for such combinations of driving force and conditions - whether they are fisheries management measures or extra-sectoral approaches.

Instead of a list of scenarios structured by the management measures axis one may develop a set of fisheries systems scenarios, especially ‘vicious circle’ scenarios which are combinations of driving forces and system properties which will have a high probability of leading to unsustainability. Such a set could be based on real-life examples, which both can be used as case studies and as a basis for structuring/developing a typology. A list of vicious circle cases could include North Atlantic cod fisheries, foreign fleets off West Africa, emerging deep sea fisheries, coastal fisheries in Vietnam, which each combine a different set of system sensitivity properties and driving forces.

Table 1: Examples of parameters which could be relevant on the three levels of potential unsustainability (for driving forces and management measures parameter are basically taken from the discussion paper by Cunningham and Maguire)

System properties

Resource system





Production system

Existing fishing capacity relative to resource base


Technology level

Scale of operation

Scale of organisation

Management institution

Balance command-control versus comanagement

Adaptivity of management

Embeddedness of institutions - shared knowledge, objectives, legitimacy of institutions

Knowledge production capacity

MCS capacity

Capacity for conflict resolution and distribution decision making

Societal context

The role of fisheries in the larger society (population buffer, food, rent maximisation...)

Societal wealth - developed/developing


Governance culture

Driving forces


Increased demand

International trade

Changes in landings

Decreased input costs

Resource rent

Access conditions

Open access

Asymmetric entry/exit


Knowledge base (process, observation, model)



Improved technology

Lack of economic alternatives

Desire for stability


Management measures

No management

Technical measures

Input controls

Output controls

Overall TAC


Market based

Combinations of these


“Some elements of fishing may prove difficult to bring within the management system. If for political or other reasons it is not possible to prevent their increase, then over time they may undermine the system. Obvious examples are recreational fishing in the case of developed country fisheries and small-scale fishers in developing countries.” (Cunningham and Maguire, 2002:21)

This statement, found in the discussion paper prepared for the FAO/UN International Workshop on Factors of Fisheries Unsustainability and Overexploitation, is a good point of departure for the thoughts expressed in this brief note.

Right at the outset we wish to make a counter assertion:

Small-scale fishers and their fishing activities will be central to any long-term vision of fisheries management and development in the developing country, tropical water multi-specie ecosystem scenario. Any future management system for these countries and ecosystems that do not take cognizance of this fact will be ecologically, economically, socially and politically infeasible.

Given the worldwide concern for the depletion of marine fishery resources, there is a growing body of literature and an active concern among policy makers at all levels on what can/should be done to find solutions to moving towards sustainable fisheries. The voyage to unsustainability in both the temperate and the tropical marine waters probably has many common causative factors. However, the initial conditions and the evolving development process, that marked these two contexts were different. To that extent, some of the solutions made to the move away from unsustainability to sustainability will also vary.

Elements in the voyage towards unsustainability in tropical, multi-specie, small-scale fisheries in developing countries

1. The non-recognition by the state and civil society of (a) the clearly articulated community property rights of fishing communities to the sea and (b) the measures existing vis-à-vis the manner in which individual users of the community could relate to the living resource therein.

2. Following the above, an ipso facto conversion of the coastal waters into open access (though de jure “state property”).

3. The introduction of new “capital-intensive and throughput-efficient” harvesting technologies (e.g. bottom trawls, purse-seines) inappropriate to the tropical water multi-specie ecosystem. Investments in these artifacts were made largely by investors from outside the fishing communities often with active state support and in the name of “modern fisheries development.” Overcapitalisation and ecosystem overfishing results. There were no stock collapses. But fishing down the food-chain has certainly led to the changing composition of the harvest towards an “inferior” mix.

4. The sudden and excessive expansion of export markets contributed to excessive investment in the processing sector that in turn activates a feedback loop of greater demand for fish. This in turn exacerbated all the above.

5. The poor organisational support for fish marketing resulted in the inability to convert higher physical productivity (due to the open access and new technologies) into enhanced value of output for those who laboured to harvest the fish. The beneficiaries of this were the prime actors of the market - middlemen and merchants.

6. There are now new and often conflicting uses of the coastal waters as source and sink resulting in the “space” for small-scale fisheries shrinking drastically.

7. The lack of enforceable management measures by the state, coupled with the fact that the earlier existing community-based management initiatives are now largely in disuse further contributes to the process of continued unsustainability on all counts - ecological, socio-economic, institutional and community.

How to move towards sustainability

Against this backdrop, the crying need in the tropical, multi-specie, small-scale fishery of the developing countries is to evolve towards a context where the triad of state, the market and the community are perceived as the three essential ingredients in any move for sustainable fisheries management. It is important to assert that the future belongs to small-scale, spatially dispersed, beach-based community operations.

The most important attribute needing redefinition is “community”. The “core” community that we refer to, should consist of only the owner-workers of the small-scale fishing vessels used in the fishery.[8] All lease holder and capitalist arrangements must cease. As a matter of fact, only those who earn a livelihood in this manner from the fishery should be permitted to have access rights to the coastal waters. It is the families of this class of persons who should constitute the larger community. In the earlier form of community property rights, this was ensured by the unwritten norms. Now this may have to be codified in formal legal practice and be considered as a part of a larger package of “aquarian reforms” necessary to ensure sustainability for the living resources and the people. The access rights to the sea can be restricted to an in-shore littoral zone that can be appropriately defined according to the ecological and socio-political context of the country concerned. To ensure sustainability of the community, it is equally important to ensure their priority rights to the coastal zone contiguous to the sea, over and above the claims made by all others.

Other local residents, who do not have this “connectedness” to the fishery resource but wish to be part of the fish economy, can play their roles in the creation of organisational support to the processing and marketing activities. In fact, another facet of the aquarian reform should be an institutional arrangement wherein the right of deciding the mode and the floor price of the first sale of fish be a negotiated settlement between the “core community” and representatives of the market. The organisational apparatus to facilitate this settlement can be local cooperatives or associations in which the core community and the state (ideally perhaps at the lowest level of governance at the village level) have a role.

It is in such a co-management arrangements, where the community, the market and the state play interactive and modulating roles, that the fishery resource and the marine ecosystem is assured of both qualitative and quantitative sustainability. Perhaps, in the main, this is a sort of going back into the future.


The Discussion Paper does an important service by bringing out the various dimensions of sustainability, and opening a discussion of how they inter-relate. The comments that follow should not be taken as criticisms of the preparations made by those who drafted the Discussion Paper. Rather, the ideas below might not have been prompted without a sound Discussion Paper as a starting point.

In reading the Discussion Paper it stood out that the strength of documentation for the diverse points in matrix of factors by management approach is highly variable. This should not be surprising, because in bringing together several disciples (life sciences, economics, sociology & anthropology) many of the themes are new to some disciplines, or else looked at from new perspectives. However, because the strength and completeness of technical documentation is so uneven across themes, many opportunities are presented for views that are little more than professional judgments to be mixed with principles supported by robust empirical evidence. The steps in the process which will follow this workshop will depend on the science foundation set by this meeting. Hence I think that it is important to differentiate those things that have been documented objectively and consistently across a set of case histories large enough to serve as a basis for generalization from those things which are mostly reflections of particular belief systems or conceptual or more models.

The treatment of co-management is a particularly important instance of that concern about reliability of examples. Without question it is asserted in many sources that increased user participation in decision-making results in greater compliance, lower implementation costs, and by inference, greater sustainability in all senses. However, in the governance systems I know, co-management has really only been pursued in a serious way when a large number of preconditions were met, and these biased the selection of cases strongly towards “good news stories”, whatever the management actions. Experience in my area has left me with the impression that many attempts to implement co-were abandoned as some key factor (often trust) fell apart. Few if any of these cases ever make it into the literature. Before we endorse co-management as this decade’s cure for unsustainable practices we should really seek a comprehensive review of co-management attempts and its complete track record of failures, partial successes and complete ones.

The Discussion Paper doesn’t highlight the strong asymmetries that challenge fisheries managers. From game theory asymmetric risk and payoff schedules are known to be particularly hard games to win, but there can be winning solutions, at least in some cases. Identifying those solutions (that is, identifying management strategies that produce sustainable results in our case) requires knowing a great deal about the nature of the asymmetries. There are some high level asymmetries, such as the fact that fisheries management often occurs in a context where inaction almost ensures a poor outcome, but even a well-chosen outcome cannot ensure a good one. Fishers apply knowledge of this asymmetry frequently when fisheries managers ask them to take “short-term pain”. A similar high level asymmetry exists in the con-management relationship, where failure to have resource users support the spirit and intent of a management measure nearly guarantees the measure will not succeed, but having their support does not provide a comparable certainty that the measure will succeed. Here are many more asymmetries in the world of selecting and implementing sustainable management strategies, and concept might help provide some commonality to a number of problems being treated separately at present.

Just as there are asymmetries in the selection and implementation of management approaches, there are also some very different leverages to the different dimensions of unsustainability presented in the Discussion Paper. This is a generalization that I cannot document formally, but is based on a lot of experiences in North America and Europe. In terms of long-term consequences of management actions, without question the state of the future depends crucially on achieving ecosystem sustainability. This gives ecosystem sustainability huge leverage in consequences, because failure here, and the system must sooner or later (and usually sooner) fail on the other dimensions of sustainability as well. In the decision-making process, however, social sustainability seems to have huge leverage. Alternatives that create significant social displacement are resisted much more aggressively than alternatives that simply create some economic stress. This asymmetry in leverage of the dimensions of sustainability means the “game” of choosing management strategies may lack stable solutions unless some of the asymmetries are changed.

In the opening of 5.1 the claim is made that fisheries must be - or expected to be - profitable. That seems inconsistent with the acknowledgement of “community sustainability” as a standard different from economic sustainability. Where opportunity cost is low and alternative employment is nearly non-existent, I have the impression that people enter, and particularly stay, in fisheries that they do not expect to be profitable. This is a crucial problem for the least developed states, but is even a great issue in some coastal parts of developed states. There fishers repeatedly assert that they wish to maintain community heritage values, and they know they cannot recover equity in homes and other real property, were they to leave. This can be exacerbated by social support systems that are not promoted as fisheries subsidies, but keep people in communities where fishing is the only employment, but they know a livelihood cannot be made in the fishery. If community sustainability is to be kept as a metric of sustainability, then the precondition of profitability may need to be relaxed. Some of these considerations are picked up in 5.2.1 as well, and in Section 5.5 (Lack of alternatives). That section, in particular, is well enough reasoned, but when read carefully, parts of that section sound like we are just dodging the issue. It reads like none of us really know what will happen to communities under different management regimes, were they to be implemented well.

The treatment of non-compliance (5.6) is another area where evidence is desperately needed. We keep claiming it is a major factor, and by its nature the degree of non-compliance will be very hard to measure. Nonetheless, whether we intend to deal with it in a policy framework or a scientific one, we need more than reasoning, however sound, to put this factor into scale with other factors. This section also takes a failure-oriented view of compliance. Each failure mentioned in that section is really pointing out what happens when there is a lack of effective consultation. What is missing is how far down the sequence of management options one can go and expect to succeed, if the type of management is combined with effective consultation. Good consultation is not a management tool in itself, nor is it an exclusive characteristic of co-management.

Section 3.1, on natural variations invites misinterpretations. The third paragraph quotes deYoung et al., with a statement that is clever, but unhelpful. The entire section does not make, but comes close to inviting, a plea that because of macro-scale and meso-scale inertia in environmental forcing of biological fluctuations, we should not worry too much about achieving ecological sustainability. It suggests that even with our best efforts nature will not reward us in the end. I would like to see this defeatist interpretation explicitly rejected, and two more useful things affirmed. First, natural variability does allow us to reject the concept, promoted implicitly or explicitly in some quarters, that ecosystems can be “engineered” through management actions into some desirable configuration and then kept there through more management. Second, although environmental variability is inevitable and management must react to it swiftly, we can, and should focus on management strategies that at least do not amplify the natural variability that ecosystem experience. Economic and community sustainability both probably would encourage adoption, where possible, of management strategies that buffer such variation.

Section 5.8 argues that situations where a government would both pay subsidies and charge rents would not occur, because of the logical contradiction in such practices. If there are multiple fleets exploiting a single stock or multispecies complex, the issue of community sustainability could very easily lead to situations where some fleets are subsidized and others are charged rent. This really needs to be explored seriously. The suggestion that the danger posed by subsidies is primarily encouraging riskier investments misses an effect that might be even more insidious - and widespread. It could also make the participants in a fishery much less risk averse with the state of the stock or ecosystem. If the harvesters consider themselves protected from the consequences of stock collapse, their willingness to risk it for short-term economic or community gain might be much higher.


Scope of the document

The issue should not be restricted to just large scale fisheries. Small-scale fisheries must be included, as they are important in both developing and developed countries.

Definition of sustainability and unsustainability

This needs more development, without getting lost in details. As provided the term unsustainable is defined to only apply to collapsed resources (which needs defining here but I assume means unable to provide a fishery catch because the stock is too low to provide a yield or an economic yield). And this implies that the fishery could be regarded as sustainable (i.e. could provide an ongoing yield more or less indefinitely) at any level of abundance above the collapsed state. While remaining true to the general English language interpretation of the words, I think this misses the point for fisheries. The concept of unsustainable in a fisheries yield context (and it would need to be extended to cover ecosystem issues) needs to apply in several different situations:

Perhaps it would be worth inventing some new terms for the different situations such as, respectively, acute unsustainability, chronic unsustainability and incipient or programmed) unsustainability. These terms could be defined in ways that are consistent with terms such as overfishing and overfished.

Supremacy of ecological sustainability in the ecological, economic and social trio

This is a critical point. It is accepted that the full trio (ecological, economic and social) is core to sustainable development achieving goals; that no one of the trio should be maximized without regard to the others; that they are so interdependent that the idea of trade-offs among them need not arise if the full range of interactions is considered; and that many fishery management systems have overly focused their R&D capacity on the ecological while the other two are also major drivers of decision making. However, the real world experience with natural resource management is that trade-offs are made that do strongly favour maximization of one of the trio (often the short term economic, sometimes the ecological and sometimes the social), and that quite quickly and quite often natural resource use has been proved to be not sustainable. There is a need to recognize more clearly that without ecological sustainability there cannot be economic, social or institutional sustainability of a fishery. That is, within the trio ecological sustainability has supremacy. Economic, social and institutional stability may be achieved by other (non-fishery) means depending on the scope for “substitutability” in the broadest sense, but it is only the existence of a sustainable ecological resource that can allow a sustainable fishery. Unsustainable economic practices, social approaches and management governance may persist for a time, but ultimately their limits and demise come from their ecological unsustainability rather than anything intrinsic to the economic, social or governance structure.

Also, ecological impacts such as extinction and major ecosystem disruption are likely to be essentially irreversible on human generational (and hence many human economic, social and institutional) time frames. So inter-generational equity of opportunity in relation to use of natural resources implies long-term maintenance of ecological resources and systems. And if the ecological resources are not there then inter-generational maintenance of related economic, social and institutional structures is not possible.

This may seem a bit academic, but its practical impact is significant, especially in relation to where priority should be given in the case of uncertainty, the application of the precautionary approach and in anticipatory decision-making. For example if all 3 axes of the trio are seen as having potentially equal priority then in situations of uncertain outcome there will be negotiation of a trade-off among them and the outcome will be very dependent on the representation of the interests of the trio. All three axes of the trio are rarely equally represented under most management arrangements, and in any event the fundamental problem is that ecological sustainability is necessary

Management options

The treatment of the management options is overly narrow in places. Especially:

Admittedly most applications of these two management options in the world is of the simple version (i.e. entry for input control and quotas for rights based management), but there has been significant experience with more complex variations and there is increasing interest and experimentation with more complex versions. In both cases it would be worthwhile developing subheadings for the main versions that have or are being tried, and separately discussing their implications to the unsustainability factors. These implications can differ substantially from one another across versions, and from the simple version.

Rights based systems

Rights based on a wider variety of input and output features should be considered, as above.

The potential for the owners of rights to act economically rationally but to the detriment of long-term sustainability should be more clearly recognized. This includes the understandable behaviour of companies, and Governments, to significantly lower their investment time-horizons when faced with situations that threaten their future existence. This is a significant contributor to unsustainability under all of the management options.

Management process or governance

There are several major elements of sustainability/unsustainability that do not appear adequately recognized in the present treatment of the management scenarios. As with technology and co-management, there are features of the management or governance process that would be better treated as cutting across the other management scenarios, as they apply to all the management scenarios (except no management). These include:


Why, despite repeated statements and agreements of intent for sustainability, are so many fisheries overexploited - some to the point of serious collapse?

Some elements of the answer should include:

Further points to elaborate

Points that need to be elaborated further include, inter alia:


This Workshop and the Project are a step in the right direction in seeking solutions to the continuing malaise of fisheries around the world. However, the Project must take the next steps, which involve action at field level, where the resource users are.

In developing countries in particular, awareness about the problems of fisheries management is already quite high but not many are aware of the possible solutions. Many know the causes of overfishing and fisheries habitat degradation, not least those in the industry and government. They are often aware of the know-what, know-where, and know-how. But there is no will to “just do it”.

The will to take action, whether political, institutional, industry, social, communal or community is grossly lacking or not sufficiently stimulated at field level, let alone closely followed up. Lip service is given all the time to the issue. What then? In other words, how to start up and get into gear to ensure that fisheries are managed in a responsible manner. Action must be undertaken at field level and not simply addressed within the confined walls of meeting rooms. More discussions, especially at the central government level are not the answers or solutions to the continuing problems. If workshops are to be held, they should be also held at the level where it matters and where actions take place. That is in the field and with fishing communities. It is indeed at this level that more effort and hard investments into sustainable development should be expended.

The causes of unsustainability are by now well known at different levels, including at the fishers level. Fishers are able to articulate the causes of unsustainability. But they are not able to change for the better or remedy the situation or do “something” about them for a variety of reasons, which this Workshop should carefully examine.

Chief among the variety of reasons, is the lack or inadequacy of precaution in the conduct of the fishing enterprise from the pre- to the post-harvest levels. If precaution is induced and actually taken, excesses in all their forms and manifestations would not take place, especially overfishing and fisheries habitat degradation. It is the lack of precaution, driven by unregulated greed and the wrong incentives, that caused irresponsible practices.

Precaution can be taught and institutionalized. The insufficiency of precaution can be rectified through stakeholders education. More effort must be undertaken to implement the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and educate stakeholders on its basic principles. The Code’s implementation so far has been half-hearted in many countries. If not seriously implemented, it may become just other instrument to be referred to from time to time. A serious effort is required to institutionalize it and to make it a part of life for fishers, fisheries managers and other stakeholders.

Institutions in all their forms (and in particular weak or poorly established institutions) could also constitute a major cause of unsustainability. This should be further elaborated by the Workshop.

As producers, our inability to live within our environmental limits is a known cause of unsustainability. But this also applies to us as consumers and people, especially in developed countries, must be made aware that their consumption patterns may be highly unsustainable (promoting higher fish consumption can translates into more investments in fisheries and higher fishing pressures on a rapidly dwindling resource base). This is a question that needs to be examined, e.g. in terms of promoting responsible fish consumption.

[6] “Havets ressurser”, Fisken og havet, No. 1, 2001. Institute of Marine Research, Bergen.
[7] The research and management of these two stocks was recently reviewed in two articles (Boyer et al. (a) 2001, Boyer et al. (b) 2001) published in the South African Journal of Marine Science; A Decade of Namibian Marine Fisheries, Vol. 23, 2001. The following report is selected sections from these papers.
[8] This is akin to the arrangements practiced in the coastal fisheries in Japan and in Norway until recently.

Previous Page Top of Page