Decision-making permeates activities throughout all RFBs, as it does in most other institutions. The difference is that the future of a global resource is at stake and vital decisions to manage fishing activity are not completely binding. Nor, despite the untiring work of secretariats and commitment of many member countries, are they always timely or effective.
Despite the proliferation in the number of RFBs after the adoption of the 1982 UN Convention, the 1994 and 1996 SOFIA reports, discussed above, underlined the despondent state of the worlds fisheries resources and the expectation of the role that RFBs might play to remedy the situation. By 1999, the situation continued to be characterized by overfishing, over-capacity and overcapitalization of the sector, and the high rate of discards in some areas. In the context of such challenges, possible action by RFBs was described, based on the following trends:
emergence of environmental values in fishery resource use;
globalization in almost all aspects of fisheries (in particular trade);
changes in consumption patterns and perceptions;
transparency, accountability, partnership and good governance.
In the face of these challenges and trends, the international community has increasingly recognized not only the potential of RFBs to serve as the vehicles of cooperation in fisheries management, but also the need for this to happen, preferably at an accelerated pace. Although the role of RFBs had been evolving, especially since the adoption of the 1982 UN Convention, a major catalyst in defining their new roles and responsibilities was the group of post-UNCED fisheries instruments. In particular, the Fish Stocks Agreement consolidates the role of RFBs as management bodies, and supports this role by identifying the need for adoption of sturdy decision-making procedures. It incorporates the recognition by the international community of the prominent role that such procedures play in the enhancing the effectiveness of each organization, and consequently the effectiveness of the management of the fisheries resource. It also takes into account the trend towards strengthened fisheries governance by RFBs.
The value of clear and effective decision-making procedures is augmented in view of the current issues facing RFBs, such as membership (including non-members obligations), new entrants and requirements for compatible measures between the high seas and areas under national jurisdiction. Actions taken to improve transparency in the operations of RFBs, including the participation of observers at meetings, have also resulted in increased attention to the decision-making procedures of RFBs. All these issues have distinct political elements, and implementation of clear and effective decision-making procedures could assist in promoting an objective approach based on agreed principles of conservation and management.
Some key areas that may affect the timeliness and effectiveness of conservation and management measures, such as voting requirements and an objection process, are entrenched in the constitutive instruments of the RFB and difficult to amend. However, the objection procedures - while they may weaken or delay implementation of the measures - may also avoid a situation where there is failure to agree. It is clear that there is a considerable difference among RFBs in the time periods between adoption of conservation and management measures and entry into force (with or without objections), but no assessment is made of the consequences, if any, of the span.
Decision-making procedures appear to be still evolving with respect to dispute prevention. Some rules adopted in a recently established RFB may serve as a precedent for future initiatives. Otherwise, agreement on dispute settlement procedures, provided for in all post-UNCED international fisheries instruments, is not formally incorporated in the constitutive instruments of many RFBs in this review.
As noted above, on the whole RFBs have not been motivated to review their decision-making procedures: among other things, voting and objection procedures are in the constitutive instrument and would require an amendment to effect any change, and performance indicators would likely have to be developed. However, many are actively involved in using those procedures to implement other concepts in the post-UNCED instruments, and have developed some decision-making procedures to address current issues such as transparency. The current decade, a period of consolidation in which the post-UNCED instruments are being implemented, could provide a platform for further elaboration of decision-making procedures in RFBs in respect of the areas discussed in this document.
 Report of the First
Meeting of FAO and non-FAO Regional Fishery Bodies or Arrangements, Appendix