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Philippe Cacaud


An increasing number of developing countries have adhered to international fisheries instruments over the past few years. Implementation of these instruments is a formidable challenge for the fisheries authorities of these countries, which in most cases suffers from a lack of human and financial resources. Application of the four components of sustainability shows that developing countries have, so far, been unable to translate fisheries management principles into effective management actions. Lack of good governance in all dimensions of fisheries management was identified as the principal obstacle to achieving sustainability. It was argued that unless this issue is addressed, it would very difficult for developing countries to improve significantly the effectiveness of fisheries management.


The purpose of this paper is to examine whether developing countries have been able through the implementation of international fisheries instruments to address effectively the main factors contributing to unsustainability and overexploitation that were identified and discussed in the framework of a first workshop organized by FAO in February 2002[119]. The approach elected to carry out this objective consisted in analyzing the way fisheries management is conducted in two countries familiar to the author and where fisheries is significant both economically and socially, namely, Senegal and Indonesia.

In recent years, international initiatives have led to the improvement of the international legal and policy framework for fisheries management through the adoption of international fisheries instruments and the establishment of regional fishery bodies. An increasing number of developing countries have, over the past few years, ratified or adhered to major international fisheries instruments and become members of regional fishery bodies. This trend is encouraging as it reflects developing countries’ interest in strengthening regional cooperation and in improving international fisheries management.

The present document aims to: identify the main constraints faced by developing countries in implementing international fishery instruments; assess the extent to which the implementation of such instruments has contributed to lessening the impact of the main factors of unsustainability and overexploitation; and suggest steps towards sustainability.


This section attempts to identify the main difficulties and obstacles that developing countries are confronted with in implementing major fisheries instruments. To this end, the present document examines whether fishery management in developing countries is successfully achieving the four components of sustainability as identified by the first workshop: bio-ecological, social, economic and institutional.

2.1 Bio-ecological component of sustainability

Analysis of national fishery policies and fishery laws and regulations shows that main bio-ecological objectives embedded in major international fishery instruments, such as the need to protect, conserve, and restore fishery resources, the marine environment, habitats, ecosystems and biodiversity, the need to create the conditions capable of producing the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) as well as the need to take all necessary measures to avoid overexploitation are widely recognized. While it is fair to say that the bio-ecological aim enshrined in international fishery instruments is generally well understood by fishery authorities, this may not be necessarily so at the grass-root level. Indeed, local fishers may not be aware of the importance of such issues as well as their implications on their livelihood and thus not fully understand where their long-term interests lie. In a context of fierce competition, as is often the case in coastal areas, awareness, however, may not necessarily be conducive to responsible fisheries practices, as some fishers may feel compelled to use harmful fishing methods in order to survive. Therefore, while the degree of awareness tends to vary in relation to the education level of each individual fisher, use of responsible fishery practices by local fishers depends primarily on the local context and on their ability to make a decent living by using such practices.

While the need to protect the marine environment, habitats and marine ecosystems is generally recognized in recent fishery legislation, one notes that the inclusion of such principles in the law does not necessarily carry any legal implication. Hence, management institutions and fishers may not feel compelled to abide by them.

So far, protection and conservation of marine biodiversity and ecosystems through the establishment of marine parks or other types of protected areas have had limited success in developing countries as most of them do not have the necessary means to implement and enforce the conservation and management measures provided for in the management plans for these areas. Likewise, implementation of conservation and management measures prohibiting the use of harmful fishing gear or methods has proved difficult to achieve.

Regional fishery bodies have been instrumental to the promotion of the main bio-ecological aims of fisheries management at the regional level, notably, through the organization of workshops on specific aspects of fishery management. They provide a forum of discussion where experiences can be shared amongst fishery managers and where strategies to ensure implementation of international instruments at the regional level can be developed. In this regard, one should point out that regional plans of action for the protection of certain species such as sharks have been adopted in certain areas. National plans of action, however, have yet to be developed in most developing countries.

While there is a general consensus on the need to improve fishing gear selectivity and to promote environmentally safe fishing gear and methods, little has been done so far to achieve these goals. Moreover, too many legal frameworks still do not provide sufficient safeguards to prevent the introduction and use of harmful fishing gear or methods.

Few conservation and management measures have been adopted to address the issues of by-catch and discard and to ensure the conservation and protection of associated species. Lack of adequate data gathering systems prevent fisheries authorities from measuring the impact of these issues. Some States, however, have taken action by enacting regulations prohibiting discard and restricting the amount of by-catch that can be landed in specified fisheries.

2.2 Social component of sustainability

2.2.1 Safety at sea

In recent years, improvement of safety at sea in small-scale fisheries has come to the forefront of fisheries management in many developing countries. Increasing competition for dwindling resources has led many small-scale fishers to fish further out at sea increasing risks of collision with industrial fishing vessels and merchant ships. Small-scale fishing vessels are generally poorly equipped, lacking the most basic safety equipment such as life vests, radio HF or radar reflectors. In the face of frequent losses of life at sea, many governments have launched safety-at-sea programs with the support of foreign aid and have introduced regulations requiring small-scale fishing vessels to meet minimum safety and seaworthiness standards. Typically, such regulations require that safety vests, lights, radar reflectors, fire extinguisher, first-aid kit and anchors be carried on board. GMDSS pilot projects aiming at establishing GMDSS centres and at equipping all small-scale fishing vessels with a radio HF and EPIRB are tried in certain areas. Despite all these initiatives, much effort remains to be made to make these programs fully effective. The fact that small-scale fishers are often poorly organized compounds the implementation of such programs. Lawmakers in some countries have envisaged introducing regulations conditioning access to fisheries by small-scale fishing vessels to compliance with safety and seaworthiness standards as is required for industrial fishing vessels. In practice, high degree of compliance with such measures is unlikely unless small-scale fishers understand the benefits they can derive from such measures and required equipment is made affordable.

Loss of life at sea is a frequent occurrence in fishing communities and may have enduring social implications on the families of deceased fishers. Although many communities still rely on traditional solidarity systems to support the families of deceased fishers, these mechanisms often prove insufficient to sustain these families in the long run. Hitherto, banks or other financial institutions have failed to devise insurance products tailored for the needs of small-scale fishers.

2.2.2 Fair and healthy working conditions

While it is the duty of governments to ensure fair and healthy working conditions for fishers, rules governing living and working conditions on board fishing vessels have yet to be developed in many developing countries. Absence of legal protection results in living and working conditions on board fishing vessels often not satisfying internationally agreed standards. In addition, it prevents fishers from taking legal action. Furthermore, it should be emphasized that fishers’ social and legal status are often ill-defined as lawmakers, in many developing countries, have failed to specifically address this issue.

Lack of organization, in particular in the small-scale fisheries sector, prevents fishers from influencing decision makers effectively and thus from protecting their rights efficiently.

2.2.3 Quality and safety of fish and fishery products

In many developing countries, quality and safety standards to be applied to fish and fishery products depend on whether such fish and products are to be exported or consumed locally. For the former, stringent quality and safety standards modelled after those applicable in the targeted markets apply. Countries such as the United States of America, Japan and the European Union impose drastic quality and safety standards on fish and fishery products to satisfy local consumers and require that all imported fish and fishery products meet these standards. By contrast, few quality and safety standards governing the harvesting, handling, processing and distribution of fish and fishery products have been developed in the latter.

Profitability is the driving force behind the enactment of regulations governing safety and quality of fish and fishery products in many developing countries, as such fish and products fetch much higher prices in the US, Japanese or EU markets than in local ones. In the meantime, little attention, if any, has been paid to the need to improve the safety and quality of fish and fishery products in local markets, even though harvesting, handling, processing and distributing practices are recognized to be of low standards. Some countries have been as far as introducing EU or US regulations in their national legislation without adjusting them to the local context. As a result, such rules are totally inapplicable locally, except for a few fishing companies and processing plants targeting foreign markets. Failure to set appropriate quality and safety standards for fish and fishery products traded in local markets adversely affects public health and the general well-being of populations.

2.3 Economic component of sustainability

2.3.1 Management of fishing capacity

It is the duty of coastal States to ensure that the fishing capacity deployed in their waters is commensurate with the productive capacity of the fishery resources, the environment and the ecosystem. To this end, States are required to assess the fishing capacity of all the fleets of principal fisheries, including foreign vessels duly authorized to operate therein, and to update this assessment periodically. Fulfilling this obligation is likely to be a challenge for many developing countries provided that few systematically register or record small-scale fishing vessels and that accuracy of information entered into industrial fishing vessels registers is questionable, as there is no local expertise to verify the accuracy of such information. It is widely recognized, for instance, that many industrial fishing vessels’ recorded tonnages are understated or false. Failure to register or record small-scale fishing vessels combined with recording of unreliable data on the industrial fishing fleet are likely to distort the overall assessment of fishing capacity. This may in turn prompt fisheries managers to make wrongful conclusions and propose inappropriate national plans of action for managing fishing capacity. Inaccurate assessment of fishing capacity at the national level is also likely to affect effective management of fishing capacity at the regional level.

Most developing states do not have the financial and human means to ensure a systematic and accurate monitoring of the fishing capacity.

Where required, reduction of fishing capacity may be difficult to achieve, in particular in areas where alternative sources of employment and livelihood for fishing communities are not readily available.

2.3.2 Trade of illegally-caught fish

States have a duty to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing. To this end, they are required, among other things, to take all necessary measures to prevent fish caught by vessels engaged in IUU fishing from being traded or imported into their territories. While regional commitment to combat IUU fishing has been forcefully proclaimed in certain areas, actions to make this commitment effective have yet to be undertaken at the national level. Little has, indeed, been done to devise or strengthen national strategies and procedures for port State control of vessels involved in fishing and related activities. Appropriate links and cooperation mechanisms between port and fishing authorities, which are critical to make control and monitoring effective, are still lacking.

Most States have yet to review their legal framework to ensure that it provide fisheries managers and law enforcement officers with all the necessary legal tools to prevent and deter IUU fishing.

2.4 Institutional component of sustainability

2.4.1 Data gathering and management advice

Lack of sufficient and reliable scientific information to evaluate the state of the fishery resources is a major problem hampering the devising of conservation and management measures, the development of fisheries management plans and the determination of Total Allowable Catch (TAC). Uncertainty may lead to wrongful managerial decisions.

Research programs in support of fishery conservation and management are not always properly tailored to the needs of fisheries managers and policymakers.

Funding is generally insufficient to ensure the sustainability of research programs in support of fishery conservation and management. Scarcity of financial resources results in research programs being discontinued at times and/or heavily dependent upon foreign aid through execution of projects. Needless to say that irregular funding of research programs undermines the effectiveness of fisheries management.

Tools and procedures to ensure timely, complete and reliable collection of statistics on catch and fishing effort have been established through laws and regulations. Keeping of logbook and position reporting by industrial fishing vessels are required in most developing countries. Maintenance of collected information, however, does not always comply with applicable international standards and does not always provide sufficient information to enable sound statistical analysis. In this regard, it should be emphasized that developing countries often lack appropriate software programs and the necessary expertise to perform meaningful analysis of the collected data. Oftentimes, updating of data lags behind and no appropriate data verification system is designed, thus encouraging underreporting and misreporting of catch. Moreover, no proper safeguards designed to ensure confidentiality of collected information, including access, use and disclosure, have been developed.

Collection of complete and reliable statistics on catch and fishing effort from small-scale fisheries is a major problem due, inter alia, to the difficulty for understaffed fishery authorities to control scores of landing sites and to the high rate of illiteracy amongst small-scale fishers. It should be pointed out that provisions pertaining to data collection provided for in fisheries laws and regulations are primarily aimed at industrial fishing vessels. Few, if any, rules designed to ensure collection of data from small-scale fisheries are devised. Where such rules have been enacted, one notes that it is generally extremely difficult to implement them satisfactorily. In certain areas, local and regional projects have contributed to the strengthening of data collection systems from small-scale fisheries. However, ensuring the sustainability of such systems in the long run remains a challenge in most developing countries.

Socio-economic studies generally sponsored by foreign aid have contributed to improve knowledge and understanding of socio-economic issues in the fishery sector and to the taking into account of social and economic factors in fishery management. However, there is no systematic gathering and analysis of socio-economic data.

2.4.2 Management framework Fisheries management plans

It should be pointed out that broadly stated management objectives, enshrined in developing countries’ fishery policies and basic fisheries laws, are rarely translated into management actions. In this regard, it is interesting to note that many fisheries legislation make it a legal obligation for the competent authority to devise comprehensive fisheries management plans and to review them periodically. Experience has shown, however, that most developing countries have yet to develop such plans. Meanwhile, developing countries have adopted general management measures applicable throughout their waters without specific reference to particular fisheries. Lack of reliable scientific data and insufficient knowledge explain to a large extent why many developing countries have failed to draw up fisheries management plans. Lack of local expertise, complexity of multispecies fisheries, and lack of political will are other factors contributing to this situation.

Mechanisms to evaluate policies and management performance have rarely been put into place thus failing to create proper incentives to improve fisheries management. Planning of coastal areas’ multiple uses

The extent to which fisheries interests are taken into account in the multiple uses of coastal areas and are integrated into coastal area management, planning and development varies from one country to another. It depends essentially on the political weight of fishing communities and producer organizations, on the socio-economic importance of the fisheries sector in the country and on the ability of the fisheries department to ensure that the fisheries sector is recognized as a legitimate user of coastal areas. Formal mechanisms designed to ensure that all interests are fairly taken into account and properly balanced in the management of coastal areas have yet to be devised.

Adequate protection of marine ecosystems, habitats and biodiversity cannot be achieved unless all users of the marine environment cooperate with a view to reaching that goal. It is therefore the duty of governments to facilitate the achievement of that goal through the establishment of proper consultation mechanisms and decision-making processes and through the devising of effective linkages between all interested departments and authorities. Ultimately, such action may translate into the development of an integrated coastal zone management plan. So far, many governments have failed to coordinate the actions undertaken by all interested departments and authorities so as to ensure that a global and integrated approach to the protection and the conservation of the marine environment is applied. Environment is, to some extent, still perceived as a preoccupation of rich countries and therefore is not yet regarded as a priority in many developing countries.

In order to secure the long-term exploitation rights of aquaculturists, it is critical that governments ensure the taking into account of aquaculture interests in the multiple uses of the coastal zone and their integration into coastal area management, planning and development.

2.4.3 Legal and administrative framework

Implementation of major international instruments generally requires that States translate their international rights and duties under such instruments into national legislation. This process may be slow at times and result in time-lag, which is a major impediment to effective implementation of international instruments. Access conditions

Most coastal States have opted to restrict access to their fishery resources through the establishment of a licensing system. Such a requirement is generally applicable to all industrial fishing vessels, whether foreign or national, operating within waters under national sovereignty or jurisdiction and also, but not always, to small-scale fishing vessels. In certain areas, where fishing communities are well-organized and politically influential, governments may be reluctant to subject small-scale fishing vessels to a licensing regime. The need to maintain peace may also prevent the introduction of such a regime in other areas. In countries where a license is required for any small-scale fishing vessel, implementation of such a requirement has often proved difficult, if not impossible, to achieve due, notably, to the failure of the administration to systematically record small-scale fishing vessels and to the lack of understanding of such a measure by fishing communities. In this regard, one should not underestimate the fact that the need to first obtain a license to fish in the sea area adjacent to coastal villages is a concept still foreign to many fishing communities where freedom of fishing, and thus free and open access to fisheries, is a long-standing principle. Non-compliance to such a requirement is also the result of the fisheries authorities being often ill-prepared to carry out that task.

Recent fisheries legislation generally subject flag vessels to an authorization regime to fish on the high seas or in the waters under the sovereignty or jurisdiction of a third party. Some developing States, however, object to the inclusion of such a requirement in their fisheries law on the ground that it is irrelevant since no flag vessels undertake any fishing operation on the high seas and/or that it is the duty of the coastal state in the waters of which a flag vessel wishes to fish to ensure that vessels operating therein comply with applicable legal requirements. Few developing States, even where a special authorization to fish on the high seas is required under national law, are able to exercise effectively their jurisdiction and control over such vessels. Data on catches on the high seas are scarce. Where existent, competent authorities have no means to verify their accuracy. So far, few States have established and maintained an up-to-date national record of fishing vessels authorized to fish on the high seas, making the goal of establishing a regional register or record of fishing vessels difficult to achieve.

Access by foreign fishing vessels to fisheries under national sovereignty or jurisdiction is generally allowed through fisheries agreements concluded between States or through chartering arrangements. It should be no surprise that, in cash strap countries, conclusion of fisheries access agreements is, at times, dictated more by the prospect of making short-term financial gains rather than based on managerial considerations. Such approach runs counter to fisheries management principles and is likely to affect the long term sustainability of fishery resources. It may also adversely impact the livelihood of small-scale fishers.

Few measures have yet been taken by developing States to ensure that flag vessels do not engage in IUU fishing. In particular, little has been done to avoid flagging vessels with a history of IUU fishing. Likewise, not enough attention is paid to vessels’ previous history, when deciding whether to grant such vessels an authorization to fish within waters under national sovereignty or jurisdiction. Decision-making process

In recent years, many developing States have introduced mechanisms designed to ensure transparency in decision-making process and procedures to facilitate involvement of interested parties in the development of laws and policies related to fisheries management. Participation of fishers in law enforcement has also been experimented in some countries. While it is too early to measure the extent to which the introduction of such mechanisms and procedures has improved fisheries management’s effectiveness, it is clear that fishing communities have shown a great deal of interest in being involved in the decision-making process. General discussions and debates leading to the establishment of participatory mechanisms and consultation procedures have revealed that whatever the form of the mechanisms proposed meaningful participation of interested parties must be ensured to improve confidence in the management system and willingness to support conservation and management measures.

Lack of transparency in the license allocation process is likely to undermine the effectiveness of the management system. Monitoring, control and surveillance

It is the duty of States to ensure compliance with and enforcement of conservation and management measures and establish effective mechanisms to monitor and control activities of fishing vessels. To this end, many coastal States require that duly authorized industrial fishing vessels be registered and properly marked, maintain a logbook, undertake regular technical visits, embark observers on board and communicate their geographical position regularly. Satisfactory implementation of such measures has proved difficult to achieve for most developing countries due to well-known constraints, particularly lack of financial and human capacity. For a long time, monitoring and control measures were primarily directed at industrial fishing vessels, while little attention was paid to small-scale fisheries. Lately, however, the need to control and monitor the fishing effort of small-scale fishing fleets as well has been increasingly recognized. So far, few countries have managed to systematically register and mark their small-scale fishing vessels. Lack of monitoring and control of small-scale fisheries combined with increasing competition result in very low compliance with conservation and management measures by small-scale fishers.

Many coastal States impose duly authorized foreign fishing vessels and often, but not always, certain categories of flag vessels to take on board one or two observers when operating within waters under national sovereignty or jurisdiction. Running of observer programs is costly and developing States do not always have the capacity to ensure that observers are adequately qualified to carry out their tasks and receive proper financial incentives to perform their duties honestly. In addition, observers’ status is not always well-defined as they are often employed on a contract basis and thus are not part of fishery authorities’ staff. Furthermore, considering the risks to which observers are exposed, States do not always provide them with sufficient legal protection.

While recognized as a key component of MCS system, surveillance at sea, using traditional means (surface and aerial surveillance), has proved way too costly to operate for developed and developing countries alike. Over the past decade, more and more developing States have opted to install a vessel monitoring system (VMS) using satellite communications to improve the cost-effectiveness of surveillance at sea. Introduction of VMS has sparked a shift in surveillance strategies and led management authorities to rethink the way of using traditional means of surveillance in support of VMS. So far, however, most developing States have failed to establish proper mechanisms to coordinate actions by the fishery authority, the Navy and the Coast Guards (both being responsible for law enforcement at sea and owners of patrol vessels).

It is widely recognized that in port monitoring and control of fishing fleets is critical to deter IUU fishing and trade in illegally caught fish. It appears, however, that little has been done to improve in port monitoring and control procedures in developing countries as focus of fishery authorities is primarily directed at acquiring new technology through the installation of VMS. Monitoring and control of small-fishing activities is virtually inexistent.

Although many developing coastal States have enacted legislation providing for the protection of marine ecosystems and biodiversity from marine pollution and have designated competent authorities for administering such legislation, few actions have ensued. As a consequence, nowadays few States have the capacity to monitor the state of the marine environment and are adequately prepared and equipped to prevent, mitigate and combat marine pollution (e.g. development of contingency plans, acquisition of equipment). Moreover, failure to establish such monitoring systems also undermines States’ ability to protect public health effectively.

Aquaculture contributes to the diversification of income in many developing countries. Shrimp aquaculture, for instance, is a lucrative business in Asia. Development of this activity, however, has had some adverse impacts on the environment in coastal areas. Large swaths of mangrove, for example, have been destroyed in order to dig ponds for shrimp farming. Degradation of water quality has occurred in some areas due to aquaculture activities (dejection of farmed animals, use of chemicals, wastewater discharge). Escape of genetically modified organisms is also a potential threat to the local biodiversity and the balance of marine ecosystems. While an increasing number of developing States has improved the legal framework governing aquaculture activities by requiring, for instance, environmental impact assessment prior to authorizing the exploitation of fish farms, by imposing restriction on the use of chemicals, and by subjecting use of fresh water, wastewater discharge, and movement of farmed species to authorization systems, a lot remain to be done to strengthen technical controls of aquaculture activities and make them fully effective. Law enforcement

It is the duty of States to ensure that their legislation provide for adequate sanctions in respect of violations. Imprisonment, which was a common feature of fisheries law adopted in the eighties, has been struck out of most recent fisheries legislation, while fishery authorities have been empowered to refuse, withdraw or suspend licenses in the event of non-compliance with conservation and management measures. The threat of having their license withdrawn or suspended is a potent deterrent for fishers as it prevents them from going to sea and hence from generating revenues. However, lack of enforcement and lack of appropriate procedures to ensure transparency in decision-making and thus avoid arbitrariness undermines the effectiveness of this approach in many countries.

To ensure swift decisions and thus avoid the lengthy procedures of court proceedings, lawmakers have, in an increasing number of countries, introduced, in their fisheries legislation, mechanisms providing for out-of court settlement. These mechanisms allow designated authorities to compound all or certain categories of offences. Lack of adequate procedures and proper safeguards to ensure transparency and fairness in decision-making has unfortunately led to arbitrary decisions. It should be pointed out that in certain countries, where there exists general distrust in the judicial system, use of compounding has replaced court decisions.

Rules of evidence are generally given little attention by lawmakers in fisheries legislation since general rules defined in criminal and civil law are generally applicable. Use of new technology in fisheries management requires that States develop new sets of rules to specify the evidential value of information generated by the new technology (e.g. VMS position reports).

While water pollution generated by fishing vessels or fish farms is an offence under the fisheries and aquaculture laws of some countries, few make the destruction or degradation of ecosystems or habitats caused by such activities (e.g. use of explosives or noxious substances) an offence and provide for the restoration of the resources, ecosystems or habitats that may have been adversely affected. Although remedy may be sought under environmental legislation, it would be useful to incorporate language dealing with this issue in fisheries laws.

Lack of regional or sub-regional cooperation in monitoring, control, surveillance and enforcement (MCSE) undermines the effectiveness of law enforcement of individual coastal Sates, especially with regard to IUU fishing.

2.4.4 Precautionary approach

Recent fishery policies and legislation require decision makers to apply the precautionary approach to conservation, management and exploitation of fishery resources. In practice, too many fishery managers still postpone or fail to take conservation and management measures on the ground that no sufficient and reliable scientific evidence is available.

Few States have developed a global strategy to implement the precautionary approach.

2.5 Cooperation to promote conservation and responsible fishing

As was noted at the first workshop, the focus of many international fishery instruments is on action at the regional level, primarily through the establishment of regional fishery bodies. In recent years, many regional fishery bodies have been created to enhance regional cooperation. Some of the existing regional fishery bodies are ineffective as they lack the proper financial resources to operate and lack effective participation by members. Failure of members, particularly developing countries, to discharge their responsibilities under international instruments is an issue of concern that needs to be urgently addressed.

Regional cooperation is critical to improve monitoring, control, surveillance and enforcement of fisheries management measures as the FFA example in the South Pacific region illustrates. Most regional fishery bodies promote the strengthening of regional cooperation in MCSE and advocates the development of regional VMS and the establishment of regional fishing vessels registers. While many States have expressed their interest in strengthening regional cooperation in MCSE, they have yet to translate their political commitment into action.

Bilateral agreements designed to improve management of shared stocks and MCS over both the industrial and small-scale fishing fleets have been signed in some areas of the world. Although such initiatives contribute to bolster sub-regional cooperation, their effects on fisheries management have, so far, not been significant as States often fail to discharge their responsibilities under the agreements.

The costs of implementing international instruments are prohibitive for some countries. Hence, in a context of proliferation of international agreements, some developing States are likely to opt not to participate in international instruments that they do not view as essential for their interests and by doing so may undermine regional cooperation.

Table 1. A summary of major difficulties and obstacles to implement major existing fisheries instruments by developing States (bio-ecological, social and economic)




1. Lack of awareness and understanding or disregard of fishery management principles at the grass-root level

2. Most conservation and management measures aimed to protect and conserve marine biodiversity, habitat and ecosystems and to prohibit the use of harmful fishing gear and methods have to a large extent been ineffective

3. Few actions have been undertaken to improve selective and environmentally safe fishing gear and methods

4. Little has been done to address comprehensively the issues of discard and by-catch

1. Implementation of safety-at-sea program so as to reduce losses at sea has proved difficult to achieve

2. No insurance products tailored for the needs of small-scale fishers available

3. Absence or lack of legal protection to ensure fair and healthy working conditions on board fishing vessels

4. Social and legal status of fishers are ill-defined

5. Fishers are generally not sufficiently organized to influence effectively political decisions affecting their livelihood

Failure to improve the quality and safety of fish and fishery products destined for local markets

1. Inability to manage fishing capacity effectively

2. Lack of economic alternatives impedes implementation of plans of reduction of fishing capacity

3. Ineffective port State control and monitoring procedures to prevent and deter IUU fishing

Table 2. A Summary of major difficulties and obstacles to implement major existing fisheries instruments by developing States (institutional component)


1. Lack of sufficient and reliable scientific information undermines effective management

2. Sustainability of research programs in support of fishery conservation and management is not secured

3. Ineffectiveness of data collection systems and lack or absence of verification procedures

4. Lack of appropriate procedures to ensure confidentiality of data

5. Lack of appropriate mechanisms to ensure data collection from small-scale fisheries

6. Failure by management institutions to develop fisheries management plans as required by law and to devise mechanisms of evaluation of policies and management performance

7. No formal mechanism to ensure the integration of fisheries interests in the multiple uses of coastal areas

8. Failure to establish proper coordination mechanisms amongst all users of the marine environment undermines the protection of the marine ecosystems, habitat and biodiversity

9. Integration of aquaculture interests into coastal area management, planning and development is required to secure long-term exploitation rights

10. Limited-entry through licensing system is ineffective, particularly for small-scale fisheries

11. Inability of developing States to exercise effectively their jurisdiction and control over flag vessels authorized to operate on the high Seas or in third party waters

12. Access by foreign fishing vessels for short-term financial gains may undermine the long-term sustainability of the fishery resources

13. Failure to take action to prevent flagging and licensing of vessel with previous history of IUU fishing

14. Lack of transparency and meaningful participation of fishers in management system

15. Low compliance with management measures

16. Lack of safeguards to ensure effectiveness of observer programs

17. Lack of proper mechanisms of cooperation and coordination undermines surveillance effectiveness

18. Failure to improve in port monitoring and control procedures to deter IUU fishing

19. Failure to establish adequate monitoring system of the marine environment

20. Insufficient technical control of aquaculture activities

21. Lack of transparency and fairness in decision-making leads to arbitrariness in law enforcement

22. Distrust in judicial system

23. Review of rules of evidence in fisheries law

24. Inadequacy of the legal framework to protect and conserve marine biodiversity and ecosystems and to provide for appropriate remedy

25. Poor application of the precautionary approach

26. Failure of States to discharge their responsibilities under international agreements

27. Cost of implementing international instruments is prohibitive


Participants in the first workshop noted that factors contributing to unsustainability and overexploitation are of a similar nature in almost all fishery systems and jurisdictions, if on a different scale and with a variable degree of importance. It identified six general categories of factors of unsustainability, namely, inappropriate incentives, high demand for limited resources, poverty and lack of alternatives, complexity and inadequate knowledge, lack of governance and interactions of the fishery sector with other sectors, and the environment. This section examines how main factors of unsustainability interact with the achievement of the bio-ecological, social, economic and institutional components analyzed in Section 2 of this document.

3.1 Inappropriate incentives

Lack of transparency and participation of fishers in the management system undermines confidence and willingness to comply with management measures. To tackle this problem, many States, under pressure from donor agencies, have initiated programs designed to introduce some form of co-management mechanisms. Whatever the form of the proposed institutional arrangements, it is crucial that meaningful participation be ensured. Mere consultation of fishing communities may fall short of what is expected and is likely to be interpreted as a ploy from the government.

In a context of economic hardship and overexploitation, conclusion of fisheries access agreements for short-term financial gains sends the wrong signal to local fishers and generates strong feelings of distrust in government actions. This is particularly true where no or little moneys derived from these agreements are used by governments to improve social and economic conditions of local fishing communities.

3.2 High demand for limited resources

Growing demand for fish in a context of limited sustainable supply may result in market price increase. Higher prices may, in turn, provide an incentive for intensifying exploitation and expanding fishing capacity further. Prospects of making financial gains are likely to intensify pressure on governments to allocate more licenses.

3.3 Poverty and lack of economic alternatives

Overcapacity of the small-scale fishing fleet is to a large extent responsible for overfishing in coastal areas. Programs of reduction of fishing capacity in already overexploited fisheries are unlikely to succeed as there are few, if any, alternative sources of employment and livelihood in coastal areas. Moreover, migration of population to coastal areas increases pressure on fishery resources and exacerbates competition for space. This movement of population is also likely to give rise to conflicts between long-established coastal communities and new comers.

3.4 Complexity and inadequate knowledge

The complexity of many fishery systems as well as inadequate knowledge and understanding make it hard for fishery authorities to identify the right course of action.

In small-scale fisheries, high rates of illiteracy among fishers make it difficult to collect sufficient and reliable catch data.

3.5 Lack of governance

To be effective ocean governance requires a high level of cooperation between interested departments at the central level and between the central level and other levels of government as well as proper coordination of actions undertaken by each legitimate department or authority. So far, many States have failed to establish appropriate mechanisms of cooperation and coordination to ensure effective ocean governance. One of the reasons is that sectorial departments have no tradition of cooperating with each other. In this context, cooperation relies more on individual networking than on formally established institutional cooperation mechanisms. Improved cooperation between the Fishery Department, responsible for issuing fishing authorizations, and the Shipping Department, responsible for the flagging of vessels, including fishing vessels, is required in most States so as to avoid re-flagging of vessels with previous history of IUU and inaccurate declaration of vessels’ characteristics. Likewise, better cooperation is required between the Fisheries Department, the Navy and the Coast Guards to ensure compliance with management measures and law enforcement at sea. While the creation of environmental departments or agencies has been instrumental in improving the integration of environmental concerns in the devising of sectorial policies, much remains to be done to establish appropriate mechanisms designed to coordinate the actions of individual departments and agencies and to ensure their compatibility with the global environmental policy. Effective protection and conservation of the marine ecosystems, habitats and biodiversity can only be achieved through effective mechanisms of cooperation between all users of the marine environment.

Non-compliance with fisheries regulations is widespread and a major factor in unsustainability. A central issue for governments therefore is to identify the factors explaining non-compliance and to act upon them. Enacting ever more legislation and regulations is not going to solve the problem. Key elements that need to be addressed include: (1) ensuring widespread publication of enacted laws and regulations; (2) ensuring applicability of proposed measures; and (3) ensuring global coherence of the legal framework. Limited publication of laws and regulations results in their provisions not being well-known by fishers and enforcement agents alike. Too often proposed measures are inapplicable in the local context either because they have not been discussed with interested parties prior to their enactment or because they are not understood locally or are contrary to traditional practices. Another reason is that management institutions are not always ready to implement enacted laws and regulations (e.g. lack of implementing strategy) and/or do not have the necessary means to implement them.

Moreover, lawmakers must ensure the global coherence of the legal framework so as to avoid conflicting objectives (e.g. prohibition of using certain gear, while the importation and manufacturing of such gear is lawful).

Time-lag between the enactment of laws and regulations and their implementation undermines the timeliness and credibility of fishery management measures.

Poor law enforcement is a critical element in unsustainability. While financial and human constraints are partly responsible for lack of enforcement, other factors contribute to this situation. First, lack of cooperation amongst law enforcement departments and agencies undermines at sea and in port enforcement. Second, existing legal procedures are either insufficient or not scrupulously complied with (e.g. procedures governing arrest and release of vessels, report of violations, compounding). Third, lack of in-built legal safeguards in the decision-making process leads to arbitrariness (e.g. unchecked use of discretionary power).

Distrust in or deficiency of the judicial system results in criminal proceedings not being a deterrent. Indeed, it is not unusual in developing countries that law cases in fishery matters never reach the courts. While out-of-court settlement may be desirable to speed up the process, it should not be substituted to judicial review and should not lead to arbitrary decisions as is too often the case.

Mismanagement of qualified personnel is a common occurrence. Training programs proposed to local agents are not always relevant to the needs of the department.

Little attention has been paid by governments to provide conflict-resolution mechanisms to settle disputes among resource users whenever they cannot be settled within the community.

Transfer of excess capacity to other states or on the high seas is an issue of concern. In certain areas of the world, governments turn a blind eye to the illegal operations of their vessels outside their waters and in so doing fail to discharge their flag State responsibilities.

Adhesion to international agreements is at times a political gesture intended to send the right signal to the international community and donor agencies rather than a commitment to discharge responsibilities under the agreements.

Little attention has been paid to improve the social status of fishers and to provide them and their family with some type of insurance coverage.

3.6 Interactions of the fishery sector with other sectors, and the environment

It is a duty of governments to ensure a balanced and peaceful development of coastal areas. To this end, improved planning, management and development of such areas involving local communities and authorities and development of an integrated policy are required.

Proliferation of projects supported by foreign aid requires a better coordination at the national level so as to avoid conflict of objectives.

Activities of other sectors in coastal areas are likely to affect fisheries activities in one way or another (e.g. pollution, competition for space or resources). Since these factors are beyond the control of the fisheries sector, there is a need to integrate the impact of such activities in fisheries management and to take actions in order to mitigate their negative effects on fisheries activities.


The first workshop concluded that the main problem was not the lack of international instruments, but the lack of implementation of such instruments. One cannot agree more with this statement in particular for developing countries as shown in Sections 2 and 3 of this document. The workshop identified seven types of measures to address the issue of unsustainability, namely, rights, transparent and participatory management, support to science, planning and enforcement, benefit distribution, integrated policy, precautionary approach, capacity building and public awareness raising and market incentives.

This section examines how the identified “paths to solution” listed above could help to overcome the difficulties and obstacles to successful implementation of fishery management.

4.1 Rights

The granting of secure rights to resource users for use of portion of the catch, space, or relevant aspects of the fishery would certainly be an incentive for rights owners to use responsible fishing practices and to comply with management measures. The difficulty would be to select the appropriate criteria to determine who would be entitled to apply for such rights and who would not. In the context of developing countries, such approach may be difficult to achieve, especially where no economic alternatives to fishing is available.

The granting of secure rights to qualified fish farmers for the use of water and space, both on land and at sea, are crucial for the development of aquaculture.

There is a need to improve legal protection of fishers in many developing countries. This can be done through the clarification of their social and legal status and through the devising of specific sets of rules governing working conditions of fishers on board fishing vessels both in the industrial and small-scale fishing sectors (e.g. conditions of employment).

4.2 Transparent, participatory management

There is an urgent need to ensure transparency in decision-making processes through the establishment of appropriate mechanisms and procedures and to provide for meaningful participation of stakeholders in the full range of management. In small-scale fisheries, for instance, where surveillance is complex and virtually inexistent in most developing countries, involvement of fishing communities and local and traditional authorities in the monitoring and controlling of landing sites through the devising of appropriate mechanisms is critical to improve fishery management. Such steps would also be instrumental in restoring confidence in the government.

To avoid arbitrariness in decision-making processes, proper safeguards should be provided for in legislation (e.g. obligation to motivate decision where a right is denied, incorporation of appeal procedures, and restriction of discretionary power).

4.3 Support - science, enforcement, planning

While providing the resources necessary for all aspects of fishery management is certainly desirable, it is, as of yet, a wishful thinking in the context of developing countries. Therefore, effort to use more rationally whatever resources are available and to find ways to increase or secure financial support should be pursued. Particular effort should be directed at ensuring the long-term sustainability of programs started with the help of foreign aid and expertise (e.g. data collection system, MCS programs).

4.4 Benefit distribution

There is little doubt that unless socio-economic issues in coastal areas are addressed comprehensively by governments, plans of reduction of fishing capacity in over-fished coastal areas are unlikely to be successful. Therefore, economic tools to distribute benefits from the fishery could be used to tackle these problems. Adoption of such an approach, however, is likely to depend on the ability of the Fisheries Department to convince the government of the necessity of taking such a course of action.

4.5 Integrated policy

There exists a large consensus in the need to develop and apply an integrated policy if fishery management is to be effective. To do so, proper coordinating mechanisms between sectorial institutions would have to be devised as lack of cooperation is likely to be one of the main constraints to the achievement of this goal in developing countries.

4.6 Precautionary approach

Application of a precautionary approach in fisheries management is inscribed in most recent fisheries legislation. So far, however, few governments seem to have devised a strategy for its application. Failure to do so has led many governments to refuse to take action to reduce fishing capacity arguing that there is no sufficient scientific evidence to support that view. This shows that much effort remains to be done to ensure proper understanding and therefore proper application of the precautionary approach.

4.7 Capacity building and public awareness building

Capacity building is a central issue to help developing countries manage their resources effectively and has been rightly recognized as such by the international community as its inclusion in most development projects indicates. It is required in all aspects of management. Attention should also be given to the need to support the action of the judiciary as it is necessary to restore trust in the judicial system if judicial review is to be perceived as a deterrent.

Large dissemination of information to increase awareness of policymakers, lawmakers, enforcement officers and the public at large about main fisheries issues is required if the importance of what is at stake through fishery management is to be widely understood. Increased awareness and better understanding of fisheries issues by stakeholders will in turn improve the quality of their participation in the decision-making process and make it more meaningful.

4.8 Market incentives

In developing countries, effective use of market tools to improve responsible fishing requires that producers and the public at large be better informed about main fisheries issues.


So far, developing States have had little success in implementing international fishery instruments effectively. Lack of political will plays an important role in governments’ inability to discharge their responsibilities under international fishery instruments as few of them have devised any strategy for their implementation.

While, as shown above, an array of factors contribute to ineffective fisheries management, the main constraint appears to be that of bad governance. Bad governance affects all dimensions of fisheries management. Of particular importance is the failure of governments to provide for adequate mechanisms and procedures in decision-making processes (to ensure transparency and fairness) and in coordinating of actions between different entities at the various levels of government. Although progress has been made to ensure participation of stakeholders in fisheries management through the establishment of fisheries management committees or other institutional arrangements, more effort remains to be made to ensure the proper functioning and the long-term sustainability of such mechanisms. For a long time, governments have primarily directed their actions at industrial fisheries, while little attention has been paid to small-scale fishers. Where it has, it generally responds to a need to maintain peace in coastal communities, but rarely translates a willingness to improve their economic and social conditions. Another result of bad governance is the general distrust in the judicial system displayed by people in many developing countries. This, of course, should be a matter of primary concern as it reflects States’ inability to enforce the rule of law.

Steps towards sustainability should therefore primarily focus on the need to improve governance through capacity building, awareness raising and strengthening of the rule of law.

[118] The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author, Philippe Cacaud, consultant, Viry, France,
[119] See: “Report and Documentation of the International Workshop on Factors Contributing to Unsustainability and Overexploitation in Fisheries (Bangkok, Thailand, 4-8 February 2002) ”. FAO Fisheries Report, No. 672. Rome, 2002.

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