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Implementation of the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries:
Information needs and constraints
David J. Doulman, International Institutions and Liaison Service (FIPL),
FAO Fisheries Department

The purpose of the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (the Code) is to secure structural change in the fisheries sector[1] so that resources are harvested and utilized in a rational manner. The Code envisages that governments, working in partnership with stakeholders, would seek to facilitate long-term sustainability in the sector and, at the same time, instil a greater sense of responsibility on the part of all persons involved in fisheries. Similarly, through their participation in regional fishery bodies or arrangements (RFBs) the Code urges States to pursue equivalent goals for the conservation and management of international fisheries.

A range of actions are foreseen by governments, organizations and stakeholders (including fishing communities) to implement the Code. In 1995 the FAO Conference, in adopting the Code, called upon States (irrespective of whether they were FAO Members), international organizations whether governmental or non-governmental and all those involved in fisheries to collaborate in the fulfilment and implementation of the objectives and principles contained in the Code. This appeal from the Conference was interesting in itself in that it went beyond the FAO Membership, the conventional focus of FAO resolutions.

In promoting the full and effective implementation of the Code, governments have a pivotal role to play. Governments, as custodians of national resources for society at large, are expected to:

Stakeholders are encouraged to support and comply with the policy and legal framework, which ideally should be developed inclusively, involving their participation.[2]

Underpinning the Code’s implementation, as explicitly recognized in its substantive articles (articles 7 to 12), is the need for two broad categories of information. These are:

Making mention of these two types of information needs may appear simplistic. However, many fisheries administrators, scientists, industry representatives and stakeholders, particularly in developing countries, are disadvantaged because access to information is limited. Many of these technicians and stakeholders are aware of the Code but have not actually seen a copy of it.[3] Access via the Internet to the Code and the information needed in support of its implementation is still not an option for many communities, especially those located outside urban areas. Facing the constraint of lack of access to basic information, they are not well placed to promote the implementation of the Code.

Identifying the specific national, regional and international information needed to support the implementation of the Code is beyond the scope of this paper. However, many of the general needs were identified by the drafters of the Code, some of which include:

This rather extensive, although probably not exhaustive, list illustrates the scope and depth of the information needed by governments, institutions, industry and stakeholders to implement the Code. Many governments, especially those in developing countries, face difficulties in the elaboration of fishery policy and legal frameworks that accord with the Code because they do not have access to basic information. Lack of information also limits their research capacity to elaborate sustainable approaches to fisheries management and utilization. Some of these governments, in the absence of basic and up-to-date information, are hard pressed to make decisions to facilitate the implementation of the Code and the many other regional and international fishery instruments that have been concluded since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). These countries are now facing what has been termed in the literature "instrument-implementation fatigue" and as a result are not supportive of emerging initiatives that involve the conclusion of new instruments.

In reporting on information-related constraints in their efforts to implement the Code some FAO Members have reported to the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) that they are handicapped by:

To address these information-based constraints FAO Members have proposed:

The dissemination of the Code is constrained at two levels:

Operating in a dynamic environment, ongoing challenges for international organizations, governments, industry and stakeholders concerning the implementation of the Code and related policy and legal frameworks are:

Frequently, the information received in national administrations, especially in developing countries, is from biased and unreliable sources (e.g. foreign fishers who provide fish price data for the calculation of access agreements). This situation leads to inappropriate and wrong decisions, many of which are likely to be fundamentally irresponsible. As they seek to broaden and deepen their efforts to implement the Code and to minimize the impact of information gaps and bottlenecks on these efforts, governments, industry and stakeholders also need to focus on the exchange of information and to collaborate with countries facing similar fisheries problems.

This Circular seeks to address a range of information issues to support implementation of the Code. It considers these issues at three levels:

In its review of issues, the Circular focuses on the formal (i.e. institutional and organizational) information needs that are required to support the implementation of the Code. Other information needs, while recognized to be critical for the Code’s implementation (e.g. for fishing communities), are mentioned in the paper but are not considered in detail. The opportunities identified and strategies suggested are targeted in particular towards fisheries libraries and information centres, their parent institutions and external funding agencies and partners supporting the collection and dissemination of fisheries information.

2005 marks the tenth anniversary of the unanimous adoption of the Code by the FAO Conference. Biennial reports made to FAO by Members, RFBs and NGOs for the past four Sessions of COFI indicate that the lack of information continues to constrain the full and effective implementation of the Code. FAO is cautiously optimistic that good progress is being achieved in the implementation of the Code. However, addressing the financial, capacity and information constraints in developing countries in a more comprehensive manner would hasten the rate and scope of implementation.

[1] As appropriate, fisheries include aquaculture.
[2] Some fishery administrations are reluctant to promote inclusive approaches to management and a more visible and active Non Governmental Organization role even when it is demonstrated that such approaches are more efficient in implementing the Code. This reluctance occurs because administrations often view broader participation as eroding their authority and role in management. However, inadequate stakeholder participation has been identified by some FAO Members as being a major constraint to the Code’s implementation.
[3] At the November 2003 FAO Regional Workshop on the Elaboration of National Plans of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing in East Africa some participatants received for the first time copies of the Code of Conduct and related documents.
[4] The Code is available in more than 60 languages.
[5] FAO is aware of this problem in accessing information about the Code and, within available resources, has taken steps to remedy it.

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