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Alain Bonzon


The paper addresses the management of coastal fisheries in the Mediterranean[107] at regional level with a focus on institutional issues, especially on factors relating to limited governance. The paper underlines the complexity and the lack of standardized data which characterizes the Mediterranean basin as a whole, and needs to be tackled collectively. The institutional features, activities and recent achievements of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) are reviewed. Enforcement mechanisms for conservation and management measures are emphasised within a system of multi-level governance, characterized by: interaction among at least five levels of governance (global, regional, sub-regional, national and local); the need for an effective decision-making process; and enhanced collaboration and cooperation on policies and activities of the relevant institutions/actors concerned,


1.1 Institutional Component of Sustainability

Within a regional perspective, the component of sustainability which is of particular relevance to the Mediterranean basin as a whole is the institutional component,[108] more specifically factors related to limited governance. Without a consolidated framework for good governance at regional level, it seems at first sight premature to tackle the details of other factors relating to unsustainability.

An important factor of unsustainability in the Mediterranean is the lack of common data sets on management parameters for the basin as a whole. This also needs to be dealt with collectively.

1.2 The GFCM System of Governance[109]

Awareness of the characteristics of the fisheries system in the Mediterranean, and of its vulnerability to external factors such as pollution and environmental degradation led to the recognition, more than half a century ago, of the importance to promote regional cooperation in the Mediterranean fisheries sector. In 1949, the General Fisheries Council for the Mediterranean (GFCM), renamed the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean during its 22nd session, 13-16 October 1997, Rome, Italy, was established under Article XIV of the FAO Constitution. The Agreement which first set up the GFCM as an advisory body came into force on 20 February 1952 and was subsequently amended in 1963, 1976 and 1997.

The GFCM is empowered to formulate and recommend binding management measures, to which Member States must give effect, unless they object to do so within 120 days from the date of notification (Article V.3).

The GFCM mandate covers the management of coastal, straddling and high seas fisheries of the Mediterranean and Black Sea area. It is also competent for promoting marine and brackish water aquaculture development and for promoting broad fisheries cooperation, including training, notably to cope with North/South and West/East discrepancies, which affect governance. At present, all Mediterranean riparian countries as well as the European Community and Japan are Members of GFCM.

In 1997, the GFCM amended its constitutive Agreement. This was brought on by a number of international instruments which enhanced the role of Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs) in the period following the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (“UNCED”).[110] The GFCM launched a series of structural and operational reforms in 1997. Aside changing its name from Council to Commission, these reforms included:

The process towards building the foundation for responsible fisheries also required reassessing linkages between some key management issues and governance capabilities, in particular scrutinizing operational objectives, revisiting policy instruments, priorities and time frames and, eventually forecasting associated costs. This meant, inter alia:

Governance at regional level primarily entails addressing the institutional component of sustainability as an instrument to cope with the bio-ecological, the social and economic dimensions. In relation to the latter, it can be noted that access conditions have been poorly considered yet for demersal and small pelagic, while the economic and social dimension is seldom considered for tuna. At present, the short/medium term priorities of the Commission mainly include:

In this respect, important contributions towards institutional component of sustainability are underway, including:

Another important contribution to sustainable fisheries management is that of regional cooperation and collaboration. With regard to tuna and swordfish, the strategy is to consolidate cooperation with GFCM’s sister RFMO, ICCAT. In this respect, a Joint GFCM/ICCAT Working group on Large pelagic species and, more recently, a Joint GFCM/ICCAT Working group on sustainable tuna farming have been established. Also, a practice has developed under which ICCAT Resolutions of relevance to the Mediterranean are reviewed and eventually endorsed by the GFCM, making the latter applicable as recommendations for the GFCM Members which are not Parties to ICCAT.

Technical cooperation with other FAO fisheries bodies is also ensured through the Secretariat. For example, a Joint Working Party for the management of sturgeon is being established between the European Inland Fisheries Advisory Committee (EIFAC) and the GFCM.

Cooperation is also being reinforced with the European Union, the Institutions of Barcelona Convention and other environmental regional organizations, either intergovernmental or non-governmental. The adhesion of the European Community (in addition to four Mediterranean EU Member States) to the Commission will naturally entail some harmonization process either on technical grounds (e.g., statistical standards) or on policy oriented matters (e.g., acknowledgement of the “Community Action Plan for the Conservation and Sustainable Exploitation of the Fisheries Resources in the Mediterranean Sea under the Common Fisheries Policy”). The Community Action Plan, although it applies to EU Member States only and not to the entire GFCM Membership was presented at the Twenty-seventh session in 2002. Harmonization process on policy matters of relevance to the EU is likely to be boosted by the adhesion to the EU of three additional GFCM Members in 2004.

Other contributions to sustainability include cooperative regional projects to enhance capacities in less developed countries and to develop management tools. Projects currently being implemented are: Copemed for the western Mediterranean; Adriamed for the Adriatic Sea; and Medsudmed for the Sicily channel.

It can be noted that, for the time being, the operational focus remains on bio-ecological issues with a view to preventing overfishing and resource overexploitation, while progressively considering the economic and social efficiency of the management system.

1.3 Obstacles and Lessons Learned

The effective implementation of many provisions contained in recent international instruments require that Mediterranean countries through their national fisheries administrations address complex matters, such as the precautionary approach, ecosystem management and measurement of fishing capacity. At regional level, there might even be the need to collectively agree on relevant definitions underlying some of these concepts. Yet, as uncertainties are high, incremental approaches need to be considered to reach common agreements and overcome lowest common denominator decisions of participating Member States.

In terms of governance, the main difficulty remains to mobilize Members’ effective will to allow the Commission to actively exercise its mandate and functions, particularly to devise and implement management measures based on the best scientific evidence, and to secure necessary means to operationalize the above mentioned strategy and short/medium-term priorities. There is also a need to better recognize that regional governance might not always match national short term aspirations and goals and that less developed countries face specific financial, human and technical constraints that can inhibit their capacity to meet regional collective requirements and standards.

The obstacles undermining regional fisheries governance in the Mediterranean include:

These factors will be examined below together with paths to solutions for improving the GFCM framework and other relevant issues such as: GFCM cooperation with other regional governance levels and other partners; and the establishment or strengthening of enforcement mechanisms for conservation and management measures.

1.3.1 Decision-making process and procedures

As for many RFMOs, decision-making in the GFCM involves or needs to take into consideration many levels of governance, described below.

The challenge within such a multilevel system of governance remains to identify and integrate the specific needs and requirements of each level of governance, particularly their objectives, behaviour, rules, means and capabilities, as well as ensuring that all levels interact in a cohesive manner through adequate interface. In this context, it is crucial to override conflicts related to law, such as conflicts over legal standards.

The other main constraint at regional level concerns procedures. The tendency within the GFCM to take decisions by consensus led in the past to “lowest common denominator” decisions and eventually to the well known “too little too late” syndrome. The procedure to adopt binding measures (under Article V.3) was seldom used and implementation was uneven. The “user-friendly” objection procedure and the lack of specific mechanisms for dispute settlements in the GFCM Agreement could eventually constitute additional factors undermining the decision-making process.

A possible solution for an optimum decision-making process would be that decisions be timely applied by all Members concerned. Some ways of promoting this might be to agree on a two-tiered system of decision making (e.g., consensus, with a fallback vote), and allow an appeal process in stated circumstances (e.g., if the conservation measure agreed is discriminatory) and a time period rather than an opt-out objection. Even when decisions are advisory, there could be merit in agreeing on an implementation timetable and systematically evaluating actions taken accordingly.

Another important ingredient for improving the effective implementation of decisions would be to involve from time to time high level policy makers in the process as well as stakeholders, in addition to the technicians in the fisheries departments.

1.3.2 Financial and human resources

The financial implications of membership in RFMOs include expenses for attendance at meetings, and for operational costs of the body and its intersessional activities. The 1997 amendments to the GFCM agreement included the establishment of an autonomous budget through contributions by Members. It has been further agreed that Members’ contributions to the GFCM operating expenses will be assessed according to a complex but equitable scheme, which incorporates a basic membership fee, contributions based on indexed catches and national wealth. These amendments not being yet in force, the Commission operates currently on a transitional basis, including through extra-budgetary resources provided by some members to support meeting costs and/or for implementing specific sub-regional research projects, namely: Copemed, Adriamed and Medsudmed. The lack of projects to support activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, where most Members are developing States, tends to undermine the work of the Commission in that sub-region.

An operational autonomous budget might not, however, resolve all difficulties as, among other things, contributions would be effective only for those Members who have ratified the relevant amendments.

A related issue is to ensure in the meetings and intersessional activities of the subsidiaries of the GFCM, full participation of the members of national research institutions, thereby increasing the legitimacy of scientific outputs. This may require in the short/medium term special considerations for training - for example, many countries in the region do not benefit from the services of fisheries social scientists. This also would have implications for establishing and funding work programmes. Realistically, it would be important to maintain multi-source financing schemes for the operations of the Commission, in particular through the institutionalization of the sub-regional projects which ensure much needed assistance to less developed countries.

1.3.3 Provision of timely and accurate data and information by Members

It is acknowledged that the political commitment or the capacity of members to supply timely, accurate and comprehensive data and information is one of the most difficult problems of governance at regional level. It affects management measures in the fields of: conservation; control of catches and effort; fleet capacity; by-catch and discards; and eventually illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS).

In the Mediterranean, data needs are expanding, with the inclusion of ecosystem and social and economic considerations, in addition to those of fishing effort and fisheries governance. In many circumstances, data collection seldom meets even traditional demands. Innovative schemes will need to be found to address additional requirements. An associated issue is the confidentiality of data, e.g., on capacity, for which rules and procedures will need to be elaborated.

Another issue is the adoption of common standards and protocols for the collection, collation and storage of compatible data sets. This is being addressed through the launching of a specific regional project, MEDFISIS, aiming at building an integrated regional statistical system able to respond to the requirements of the Commission but also to the need of individual countries and other regional[113] and global[114] levels of governance. The likely difficulty in the longer term will be, in particular for the less developed countries or for countries with limited fisheries outputs, to bear the burden of rather demanding systems.

Another difficulty is to ensure timely, effective, integrated/multidisciplinary, applied research outputs which fit the immediate needs of the fisheries management decision-making process. This entails a change of attitude to effectively serve the management process, enhanced applied research planning and common understanding of concepts such as precautionary approach and best scientific evidence. At regional level, this implies mounting well-targeted concerted action among national agencies concerned, exercising moral pressure as appropriate, but again without underestimating efforts to be made by less developed States.

1.3.4 Regional coordination with other organizations

Regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) have entered an era of consolidated outreach and more methodical relation to each other. There is generally cooperation with other organizations which have similar interests on the basis of either geography, species, issues, or simply to avoid duplication.

Reference has been made above to the cooperative arrangements between GFCM and ICCAT. The recent membership of the European Community to the GFCM is likely to engender harmonization talks (with the support of the Members of the Commission which are E.U candidates) regarding various schemes and measures and regarding E.U. policy instruments such as the “Community Action Plan for the conservation and sustainable exploitation of the fisheries resources in the Mediterranean Sea under the Common Fisheries Policy” recently adopted by the E.U.

In a semi-enclosed sea such as the Mediterranean, the very protection of the marine ecosystem at large constitutes a permanent source of concern, notably to avoid massive pollution, effect of land based industry (e.g.,, blooms of mucilaginous algae) or more generally induced human ecological disfunctioning which can rapidly lead to the fisheries collapses as experienced in the Black Sea. This implies special attention to strengthen coordination with environmental international governmental organizations (IGOs, such as the United Nations Environment Program, and the institutions of the Barcelona Convention) as well as with a number of active international non governmental organizations (INGOs). With most of them, GFCM maintains permanent liaison and various cooperative activities.

Within the region, as some organizations are dealing with the same issues tackled from different angles,[115] there is a need for jointly agreed division of tasks at least to avoid overlapping. The challenge is, therefore, to build integrated strategies among regional institutions to address a given issue from different perspectives. This entails giving due consideration to related transaction costs and to allow for necessary time for coordination and planning.

1.3.5 Enforcement mechanisms for conservation and management measures

Some forms of enforcement mechanisms, such as in-zone enforcement, high seas enforcement, flag State enforcement as well as port State control, would be particularly relevant, especially against IUU fishing and for ensuring applicable flag State compliance. It has been acknowledged that in the region, flag State enforcement remains below standards, because monitoring, control and surveillance capabilities in many countries are limited, and cooperative or joint enforcement are in stage of infancy - for example, only four countries are presently developing compatible VMS schemes.

Within the GFCM, the implementation of a decision falls, by default, under the responsibility of individual members. Soft instruments such as moral pressure by the Commission tend to be inadequate for addressing responsible fisheries, or more genuinely to ensure effective action as a result of a decision. For example, following an ad hoc meeting of experts on the application of the FAO Compliance Agreement, the Commission adopted, in 1995, two formal Resolutions to pave the way for building a regional register of fishing vessels. Although the Commission has acknowledged, since then, the poor state of implementation of these decisions, progress has been extremely slow, probably because the issue of the confidentiality of data was not addressed. In such circumstances, it can be foreseen that measures such as capacity reduction will be difficult to implement.

With regard to fishing operations, aside from flag State and Port State control, many tools for enforcement could be envisaged. They include, preferably at sub-regional levels and within the framework of specific protocols, exchange of information and blacklisting, prohibitions on transhipments or landings, etc. At regional level, the use of VMS coupled with fishing vessel register seems to be a promising avenue.

However, establishing enforcement mechanisms at regional level may require as a prerequisite the availability of minimum MCS capabilities at national level and careful assessment of the extend of IUU fishing, prior to enacting strict regulations.

1.3.6 Industry Partnership/stakeholder participation

Communication and improved transparency of decisions has become a frontline issue for many RFMOs in the post-UNCED era. In some Mediterranean countries, governments have begun to forge or to strengthen partnerships arrangements with the industry or are even devolving some aspects of management responsibility to them.

Within the region, some INGOs and other observers to the Commission have, over years, encouraged proactive approaches, carried out valuable research, and raised public awareness on important issues. The GFCM Committee on aquaculture has developed consolidated technical cooperation with industry representatives, among other through carrying out a region wide adaptation of Article 9 of the 1995 FAO CCRF and formulating a related Action Plan for Responsible Aquaculture in the Mediterranean.

In this context, the Commission is assessing ways and means to promote greater participation of relevant stakeholders, particularly from the industry, in its work. With the support of the regional projects, specific fora are organized at sub-regional level with a view to facilitating in the longer run the establishment of regional industry associations or similar bodies.

It is however recognized that, such a process at regional level need to be governed by clear terms, procedures and other relevant factors, at least to secure the legitimacy of industry institutions likely to be involved, including a fair representation and appropriate balance of private interests from all Member Countries.

1.3.7 High demand for limited resource

Overall, factors of unsustainability globally follow at regional level the same patterns as those for coastal fisheries in Italy[116] with, however, important discrepancies from country to country.

For example, the overall demand for fish in the region is far superior to estimated supplies for Mediterranean fisheries. This is not evenly distributed: one third of riparian countries reports a positive trade balance while it is estimated that 90 percent (in volume) of import from within the region is attributable to the EU countries. Annual fish consumption varies from less than 2 kg per caput in Syria to over 35 kg in Spain. As in the case of Italy, in most Mediterranean countries fish price increases tend to compensate for any decrease of economic efficiency at vessel unit. Noteworthy, the regular increase of aquaculture finfish production in the Mediterranean (12 percent per year from 1996 to 2002) tends to relax excess pressure on similar demersal wild species, if only by containing price increases.

1.3.8 Path to solutions

Progress toward implementing recent international and regional instruments and thereby strengthening the foundation for sustainable fisheries systems in the Mediterranean are noticeable, although a more proactive stand towards implementing the desired regime still needs to be encouraged. For some analysts, the pace of achievements could appear slow. However, it might be wise to build a robust foundation for sustainability through devoting adequate time to planning at the early stage of the process and therefore ensuring that decisions are based on the best available information.

The effective implementation also requires strengthening concomitantly individual and collective action at national level. Technical agreement must be reached on complex matters, and incremental approaches would need to be identified: an option could be to adopt provisional measures, as appropriate, as formal solutions are being developed. For example, the GFCM recently favoured a step by step approach to address ecosystem to fisheries management. It established two related working groups - one on anthropogenic effects and fishing technology and another on ecology and environment - with a view to strengthening its Sub-committee on marine environment and ecosystem.

In addition to continuing efforts made in most Mediterranean countries to take into account relevant provisions of the FAO Code of Conduct, ingredients to build the foundation for sustainability at regional level include:

1.3.9 Conclusion

Proper management of Mediterranean fisheries relies heavily upon coordinating multi-level governance mechanisms which, if not adequately interpreted, would be propitious to unsustainability. Governance at regional level is a process which should be flexible enough to respond to new problems as well as to new understanding of old ones. It should permanently entail the evaluation of existing and future needs toward building the sustainability of the system. It relies therefore heavily on accurate management planning and evaluation.

The challenge is to integrate the specific needs and requirements of each level of fisheries governance within a coherent medium/long term management planning framework. Such a task calls for renewed expression of political will from concerned countries, transparency of decision making and commitment for implementation, enforcement and adequate financial and human capacities to scientifically support legitimate management decisions.

[106] The views expressed are solely those of the author.
[107] Mediterranean fisheries are mostly coastal.
[108] The other components of sustainability, as identified at the Workshop on Factors Contributing to Unsustainability and Overexploitation in Fisheries, 4 to 8 February 2002, Bangkok, Thailand, are the biological, economic and social components.
[109] The working definition of fisheries governance used within FAO is: "A continuing process through which governments, institutions and stakeholders of the fishery sector - administrators, politicians, fishers and those in affiliated sectors - elaborate, adopt and implement appropriate policies, plans and management strategies to ensure resources are utilized in a sustainable and responsible manner. It could be at global, regional, sub-regional, national or local levels. In the process, conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and cooperative action may be taken.”
[110] Recent international instruments relating to fisheries conservation and management - the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, its International Plans of Action (“IPOAs”), the 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement and the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, for the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, underline the need for all Regional Fisheries Management Organizations to be strengthened appropriately to deal with additional responsabilities. The expectation is that they will play a central role in ensuring that the international fisheries legal order is made effective.
[111] At the time, the 1995 UN Fish Stock Agreement was still under negotiation. It can be argued, however, that it is referred to in the amended GFCM agreement as “other international instruments”.
[112] The Cofradias in Spain, the Prud’homies in France, and the cooperatives in Italy are professional associations. Their objective is to influence decision-making processes by penetrating political circles with a view to taking part in fisheries management and hence represent their interests. Riparian States, under pressure from these associations, have created negotiating and co-management fora/institutions in the fishery sector to identify common positions between the various pressure groups, take decisions and reach consensus. See Féral, F. 2001, “Sociétés Maritimes, Droits et Institutions des Pêches en Méditerranée Occidentale - revue synthétique des droits collectifs et des systèmes décentralisés de discipline professionnelle”. FAO document technique sur les pêches no. 420, Rome, Italy.
[113] e.g. E.U
[114] e.g. FAO/FIGIS
[115] e.g., conservation of sharks
[116] Described in Spagnolo, M.; The Management of Mediterranean Fisheries Resources, Discussion paper 8.

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