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At the beginning of the 1990s, the Committee on Fisheries devoted much attention to the need for new measures to manage and conserve fishery resources and the environment. Many of the issues addressed at this time had been identified in earlier years. Some, including those related to high seas fishing, had defied resolution during UNCLOS III and in the period that followed.

By that time, however, the Committee had unmistakable evidence of over-exploitation of major commercially fished stocks, damage to ecosystems, and associated large economic losses. New instruments and mechanisms were essential to meet this challenge and to establish sustainability as the fundamental principle for management and development of the world’s fisheries. The first step was a commitment to seek a new standard for responsible fishing.

Driftnet Fishing

The preamble to the 1989 UN Resolution on Large Scale Pelagic Driftnet Fishing described driftnet fishing as, potentially, "a highly indiscriminate and wasteful fishing method that is widely considered to threaten the effective conservation of living marine resources, such as highly migratory and anadromous species of fish, birds and marine mammals." The resolution called for a moratorium on the use of the gear on the high seas by 30 June 1992. It also specifically requested FAO to study the matter and report to the Secretary-General. A second resolution the following year requested further study and reports, and emphasized the deadline for the banning of such drifnet fishing set for mid. 1992. In April 1991, the Director- General drew the attention of the 19th session of COFI to these developments and sought guidance on further action to promote the conservation and wise use of the living resources of the high seas.

Previous discussions relating to marine mammals encompassed indirect reference to the use of driftnets in terms of possible entanglement and by-catch. The conservation of marine mammals had been discussed by COFI in 1977 and the Committee at that time had recommended that FAO continue work on the issue in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In 1981, an FAO/UNEP Draft Global Plan of Action for the Conservation, Management and Utilization of Marine Mammals was submitted to COFI.. Its recommendations included a proposed study of the incidental killing of mammals in other fisheries. The session was unable to review the Plan in detail, and some delegations reserved comment but COFI requested the Secretariat to engage in further elaboration and implementation of the Plan.

A further report on the draft Plan of Action received more detailed attention at the next session in 1983. The Committee expressed support in principle for the general aims of the plan although there was concern about a duplication of efforts by FAO and other governmental and non-governmental agencies. COFI asked the Organization to establish priorities within this project and consider its relative importance within its overall fisheries programme.

In the discussion, the responsibilities of the International Whaling Commission for conservation of whales were underlined, as were the sovereign rights and responsibilities of coastal States within the EEZs. The session welcomed the strong element of research in the plan. It also expressed appreciation for action taken in the eastern Pacific to reduce the incidental take of porpoises in the tuna purse seine fishery.

Yet again the issue appeared in 1985, under the heading "Protection of Living Resources from Entanglement in Fishing Nets and Debris". The bases for discussion were a report submitted by the United States delegation and the summary of a Workshop on the Fate and Impact of Marine Debris. The Committee welcomed the United States’ initiative and it was recognized that the entanglement of marine mammals occurred frequently during normal fishing operations. The session decided, however, that insufficient information was available to assess the problem and drew attention to the economic impact of proposed technical solutions. It referred the question to FAO for a report at its next session.

When the discussion resumed in 1987, much attention was given to the possibility of referring the issue to other bodies. COFI felt the issue of entanglement in marine debris (including lost fishing gear) might be subject to the provisions of anti-dumping agreements, including the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). It might therefore be within the competence of the International Maritime Organization.

The Committee also noted that regional fishery bodies might be the appropriate fora in which to consider measures relating to the incidental kill of marine mammals, turtles and other species in fishing operations. The session was of the opinion, however, that it was the responsibility of individual States to introduce and enforce such measures. Some delegations felt the issue should have a lower priority in the work of the FAO and of COFI. Others noted the need for immediate action in some areas. It was agreed that future work should be carried out in cooperation with other bodies such as UNEP and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, subject to the availability of extra-budgetary funds.

The report of the 18th session in 1989 includes no direct reference to the issue. Eight months later, however, just prior to the UN Resolution on large-scale pelagic driftnets, the 25th session of the FAO Conference agreed that the Organization was the most appropriate technical agency to study the question. The Conference agreed the issue should receive close attention, including analytical scientific work by FAO.

Later, the Director-General took steps to create a special Task Force on driftnets and to prepare an Expert Consultation on the issue. Several studies were commissioned and the issue was added to the agenda of regional fishing bodies. Two of these bodies – the Committee for the Management of Indian Ocean Tuna of the Indian Ocean Fishery Commission and the Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission – proceeded to recommend a moratorium on driftnet fishing on the high seas in their respective areas of competence.

By the time of the 19th session, an initial resolution of the driftnet issue appeared well advanced. COFI agreed to consider that the UN resolutions were the basis on which all members of the international community had consented to work. It strongly appealed for the complete and timely implementation of the resolutions in all regions. This alone could not be the end of the matter. The discussion identified two further issues requiring action.

The first concerned the responsibility of those engaged in fisheries. COFI recognized that FAO had an important role to play "in promoting international understanding about the responsible conduct of fishing operations."

It recommended that FAO strengthen its work on gear selectivity "particularly, but not exclusively, those types of fishing gear which are employed in high seas fishing . . . such a technical work could result in the elaboration of guidelines or of a code of practice for responsible fishing which would take into account all the technical, socio-economic and environmental factors involved."

Equally significant was the attention given to the second issue: rational management of the living resources of the high seas. A first agreed measure was that FAO should take steps towards collecting and publishing statistical data in a way that differentiated between coastal and high seas fishing. The discussion raised questions about responsibility for high seas fishing issues. Some delegations stated that legal and policy guidance lay with the UN Office for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. However, most delegations stated that FAO also had a role that included both research and policy guidance. It was agreed that FAO should continue to cooperate with the Office. Such work, it was observed, would include organization of an expert meeting on the Implementation of the Legal Regime for High Seas Fisheries in July 1991.

Noting the "complex and delicate nature" of the issues involved, COFI also recommended that they be submitted to an ad hoc intergovernmental consultation which would then report to the next session.

Sustainability as a Goal

The 1991 debates on the driftnet ban and the difficult trade issues set the stage for much of COFI’s work in the new decade. The concepts that would guide that work began to take shape in discussion of yet another emerging issue on the agenda of the 19th session: the environment and sustainability in fisheries. The outcome was COFI’s strongest commitment yet to sustainability as the touchstone for fisheries management.

This, too, was a position arrived at over time. The conservation and management of living marine resources was considered as a major issue since the First Technical Committee in Fisheries at FAO in 1945, and had since become increasingly a matter of international concern. In 1981, a discussion of economic zone management included a warning from several delegations that the fisheries could not produce the expected benefits unless governments intervened to control catches, or fishing activities or fleet capacities. The following session, in 1983, returned to this subject at much greater length. It is the nature of fishermen and investors, the Committee agreed, to seek immediate benefits from the fisheries. Beyond a certain level of participation, the results are reduced benefits, economic stagnation and collapse of the stocks. Government’s role should be to ensure that the allocation of benefits is consistent with the productivity of the resources and to the benefit of the community as a whole.

These concerns were reflected at several points in the Strategy for Fisheries Management and Development. The Strategy spoke of the need for careful planning to achieve "optimum utilization" of resources ( All those involved in fisheries should understand their social and economic importance and the desirability of "using fishing methods and processes which do not jeopardize economic viability by exhausting resources" (I.8.ix). Again, development and management plans should take into account the need to "protect aquatic habitats from the effect of pollution . . . including pollution originating from fisheries themselves, especially aquaculture . . ." (I.8.vxii).

By 1991, COFI had come to recognize that sound as these guidelines were, a more active approach was required. The 19th session agreed that governments and international organizations must collaborate actively to "effectively address environment and sustainability in fisheries." It emphasized that a number of resources were overfished resulting in severe biological and socio-economic consequences. Efforts should therefore continue "to maintain fishing intensities in inland waters and in the sea at sustainable levels that were economically viable, ecologically sound and socially acceptable."

One feature of this discussion was recognition of the "need to involve fisherfolk directly in decision-making." This was seen to be an aspect of integrated coastal zone management, a concept to which the Committee now gave high priority. Polices were needed to integrate conservation with resource use at "the river basin and coastal areas level." Fisheries training and educational programmes should highlight issues related to sustainable development, food security and the environment. Particular attention should be given issues "concerning multiple and potentially conflicting uses of coastal areas and watersheds."

This focus on sustainability did not occur in isolation. UNCED was scheduled to elaborate the concept on a global basis at Rio de Janeiro the following year. FAO had responsibility for preparation of documents for the Conference on the environment and sustainability in fisheries. Even before Rio, however, the deliberations of the pivotal 19th session of COFI were to find more formal expression in the Declaration of Cancun.

The Declaration was the product of the International Conference on Responsible Fishing, organized by Mexico in collaboration with FAO and held at Cancun from 6 to 8 May 1992. Although undertaken with less preparation than UNCED, the Conference would set for FAO and COFI one of their most important tasks of the coming years. In calling for a Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing, the Declaration recognized sustainability and concern for the environment as fundamental principles for fisheries management and development. Responsible fishing was to be understood as "the sustainable utilization of fishery resources in harmony with the environment and the use of capture and aquaculture practices which are not harmful to ecosystems, resources or their quality."

Women in Fisheries

One further achievement of the 19th session of COFI was the consideration given to the position of women in the fisheries. Other sessions had recognized the work of women in small-scale fisheries and aquaculture. In 1987, the Committee noted with satisfaction that the celebration of "Fishermen and Fishing Communities" on the previous World Food Day had included a focus on the role of women. Also, the 1989 session had asked FAO to address more projects specifically to the needs of women.

The discussion in 1991 undertook a more critical examination of the constraints on the role of women in fisheries. The Committee noted that women were involved in all aspects of both the rural small-scale and the industrial fisheries. In all regions, they did most of the marketing in the small-scale sector and participated in many different tasks for aquaculture. Often in rural areas, they worked outside the fishery to supplement family incomes.

Despite these contributions, the Committee observed, the role of women in the fishery was constrained by a number of gender-related factors. These included traditional biases, lack of access to technical training, and the fact that most extension and credit programmes were aimed primarily at men within fishing communities. By the same token, women were sometimes overlooked in statistical surveys on which legislation or policies were based. If professional associations classed them as unsuitable for membership, women also could miss out on opportunities for retraining or the provision of credit.

The Committee observed that planning for programmes intended for women should take into account the time-consuming nature of their work in rural areas. It also emphasized the importance of anticipating the potentially negative impact on women’s incomes of development activities and technologies.

Among positive developments that the Committee noted efforts by FAO to make women more aware of its technical programmes and to integrate them into development programmes. The increasing importance of women as a target group for programmes had come about partly through changes in donor policies. Also welcomed were initiatives by the FAO Fisheries Department that included creation of a Departmental Core Group on Women in Fisheries. The Committee endorsed proposal for the creation – subject to the availability of funds – of a professional post in the Fisheries Department to promote the role of women in fisheries development.

The Committee’s view was that extension and training were important elements of programmes for women in fishing communities, within which more women extension workers should be trained and employed. Other recommendations included:

Agenda 21

Sustainability was declared a global priority at UNCED in June 1992. The Rio Declaration stated: "The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations." This principle is applied to the "protection, use and development" of the living resources of the ocean in Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, the comprehensive framework of action endorsed by UNCED. Recognizing the rights and obligations of States, the chapter invokes international law, including the Convention, as the basis for pursuit of:

"the protection and sustainable development of the marine and coastal environment and its resources. This requires new approaches to marine and coastal area management and development, at the national, subregional, regional and global levels that are integrated in content and are precautionary and anticipatory in ambit."

Chapter 17 declared that the existing provisions in the Convention for the conservation of the living resources were inadequate and noted the overutilization of some resources. It called for:

Other recommendations in Chapter 17 of particular relevance to COFI included: strategies for the sustainable use of marine resources; enhancement of legal and regulatory capabilities; support for artisanal fisheries; and recognition of the special needs of small island developing States.

Although all of the seven programme areas defined in Chapter 17 dealt with matters of concern to COFI, three were of particular moment, and COFI’s achievements in these areas is presented under separate headings of this paper. The first relevant programme area was Section C: "Sustainable Use and Conservation of Marine Living Resources of the High Seas."

Many familiar problems were listed under this heading, including inadequate enforcement, over-utilization, excessive capacity, unregulated or poorly regulated activity and insufficiently selective gear. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation was required to ensure that high seas fisheries "are managed in accordance" with the Convention, especially with regard to "fisheries populations whose ranges live both within and beyond exclusive economic zones (straddling stocks) . . . (and) highly migratory species."

To this end, an intergovernmental conference was called for under UN auspices as soon as possible to identify and assess the problems of managing straddling and highly migratory stocks and to consider means to improve cooperation in their management. Effective cooperation was encouraged within multilateral fisheries bodies, and States with relevant interests were encouraged to join such bodies. Flag States, meanwhile, should take measures to:

The second Chapter 17 programme area important to COFI was Section D, which spoke to Marine Living Resources under National Jurisdiction. This area, providing 95 percent of the annual marine catch, had increased yields by fivefold in the post-1945 era. A host of obstacles to sustainability in this area were raised, including threats to coral reefs and other coastal habitats.

The Section endorsed a wide range of activities by coastal States to maintain or restore stocks, promote the use of selective gear and practices that reduce waste and to preserve rare or fragile ecosystems. The special needs and interests of small-scale artisanal fisheries were given special attention, as was the importance of measures to "increase the availability of marine living resources as human food by reducing wastage, post-harvest losses and discards and improving techniques of processing, distribution and transportation."

In this regard, relevant UN organizations were instructed to encourage international cooperation to reduce such losses in order to promote the contribution of marine living resources to eliminate malnutrition and to achieve self-sufficiency in developing countries. Cooperation also should be encouraged to increase the financial and technical capacity of developing countries in marine fisheries and aquaculture, devise criteria for the use of selective fishing gear and promote seafood quality.

The third programme area especially important for COFI, Section G, directed the attention of international organizations to the special needs of small island developing States. These States were described as ecologically fragile and uniquely vulnerable to global warming, sea level rise and climate change. Increased cooperation and exchange of information among the island states was urged, with the assistance of international organizations and through periodic regional and global conferences, the first such to be held in 1993. International organizations were also instructed to recognize the special development requirements of the small island States and to give "adequate priority" to assistance for sustainable development plans.

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

UNCED and the International Conference in Cancun had mandated a new canon for the management of world fisheries, one more attuned to the needs of the environment and the limits of living marine resources. There followed a period of intense activity to devise instruments that would be effective as well as consistent with the rights, jurisdiction and duties of coastal States and the provisions of the Convention relating to the conservation and development of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. COFI’s role in this process – which occupied much of the next two sessions – was both substantive and supportive.

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries was to be the cornerstone of the new order. In 1993, COFI unanimously agreed on its importance for future sustainable fishery development and reiterated support for the Declaration of Cancun. In considering the scope of such a Code, six thematic areas were identified: (a) fishing operations; (b) management practices; (c) fair trade; (d) aquaculture; (e) coastal area management and; (f) research.

The Committee advised guidelines under each of these headings should be supported by a series of Annexes covering conventions, protocols, or specific instruments which might exist already or which could be developed separately. COFI emphasized the importance of close consultation between FAO departments and with the relevant regional and international organizations in the development of the guidelines. It also noted that member States, government and non-governmental organizations and experts were to participate in the preparation of the Code.

Much of the discussion was based on a FAO report, prepared for COFI at the request of the 102nd session of the FAO Council. This report outlined possible approaches to most of the areas to be covered by the Code.

A central issue was the application of the Code to high seas fishing. The report proposed to develop the section on Fishing Operations in two parts. The first would apply generally to all marine fisheries. The second would refer specifically to high seas fishing and take into account the results of the on-going UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. A related issue was the problem of reflagging by fishing vessels to avoid compliance with conservation and management measures. This, the report noted, was to be the subject of a separate instrument (see below) which it recommended be included in the Code as an Annex.

On the issue of trade, including the controversial question of environmental sanctions, the report adopted the position set out in the Declaration of Cancun. While recognizing the urgency of environmental issues, the Declaration had sought to maintain a separation between environmental and trade policies. Action on international environmental problems required international consensus. Unilateral action which affected trade should be avoided or, at the very least, hedged about with safeguards against arbitrary or unjustified discrimination or disguised barriers to trade.

The Committee generally supported these proposals. In considering a timetable for the preparation of the various sections, it accorded the highest priority to the guidelines on Fishing Operations. At the same time, it expressed some reservations as to whether these should be written in two parts. The decision was to await guidance from outcome of the UN Conference. Modifications were also discussed in connection with the proposals relating to trade, fishery research vessels, aquaculture and the marking of fishing gear. The implementation of the Code, the Committee agreed, should be carried out on a voluntary basis, but parts of it might be incorporated in national fishery laws as bilateral and multilateral agreements. In fact, such implementation is taking place.

Development of the Code had gained considerable momentum by the time of the 1995 session of COFI. Assistance from FAO had made possible widespread participation in a series of working groups that had prepared a draft text. In reviewing this progress, COFI once again emphasized the value of the Code as a means to implement both the Convention and UNCED and struck an open-ended working committee to review the draft text.

In reviewing plans to complete the Code, it was agreed that the final language of principles relating to high seas fishing should be re-examined once the outcome of the UN Conference was known. Some delegations were concerned about further delays but the Committee urged that the final draft be completed in time for adoption at the 28th session of the FAO Conference in October 1995. It also endorsed action by the Secretariat to prepare and to seek funding for a programme of assistance to developing countries for the implementation of the Code.

Approved on schedule, the Code had been widely disseminated prior to the 1997 session of COFI. The Committee endorsed the efforts of the Secretariat to advance implementation of the Code and many delegations reported on national efforts. There was agreement that a progress report on implementation should be presented every two years as a means of facilitating implementation and so that problem areas could be quickly identified. the Committee further urged FAO and other organizations and donors to provide the assistance needed to secure the objectives of the Code at national, regional and sub-regional levels.

The Compliance Agreement

Important as was the Code at the 1993 session of COFI, even more urgent was the need to move forward with a measure to control the practice of reflagging. As requested by the FAO Council in November 1992, the Secretariat had prepared for COFI the draft text of what was to become known as the Compliance Agreement. The draft agreement was delivered to COFI with such haste that many delegations had not had an opportunity to review it with their governments. Anxious to keep the process on a fast track, the Committee agreed to form an open-ended working group to debate and review the text in parallel with the Plenary.

Reflagging - changing the flag under which they operated – had become a growing practice among distant water fishing vessels in the period after the adoption of the Convention in 1982. Increasingly, coastal States had restricted their access to traditional fisheries inside the new exclusive economic zones. Competition for the catch on the high seas had become correspondingly more intense. Switching flags enabled vessels to avoid regional or other conservation and management arrangements to which their original flag States might have agreed – and therefore to escape legal obligations and control by those States.

The Convention provided no effective solution to this problem in the areas outside coastal State jurisdiction. Although it enjoined States to establish regional fisheries organizations for purposes of conservation, it also declared the freedom of all States to engage in fishing on the high seas (Art. 113). Moreover, it required that conservation measures and their implementation "not discriminate in form or in fact against the fishermen of any State" (Art. 119.3).

The Declaration of Cancun and Agenda 21 had identified reflagging as a global priority. It was not the only – perhaps not even the most serious – challenge to the ability of regional fisheries organizations to manage and conserve fish stocks in their areas. Early in 1993, an informal Group of Experts identified new dimensions to the problem. The Group observed that although there had been a decline in the number of flag changes since the peak year of 1986, the number of new vessels entered in open registries had increased significantly in the same period. With no common standard for the registration of fishing vessels nor any international agreement making this compulsory, the problem was now seen to include "the responsibility of flag States in respect of fishing vessels in general."

By the time COFI turned to the issue, the focus was less on fishing vessels that switched flags than on the process by which States authorized fishing vessels on the high seas to fly their flags. Raphael Conde de Saro, the Chairman of the 20th session, said: "It is not a case of questioning the practice of reflagging, but of eliminating the element of convenience that this may imply . . . no State can allow unscrupulous individuals to use its flag to endanger fishery resources . . ."

Along with reviewing and refining the draft agreement in working committee, COFI took care to ensure that final approval be achieved with as much dispatch as possible. It encouraged the Director-General to explore the possibility of convening a technical consultation in advance of the upcoming session of the FAO Council. Recognizing that no funds had been set aside for such a consultation in the current Programme of Work and Budget, it was suggested that all possible donors should contribute to the extra cost and to financing the attendance of developing countries. Finally, the Committee recommended that the Secretariat prepare documentation for the technical consultation on the problems related to the flagging and reflagging of fishing vessels.

The Agreement approved by the 27th session of the FAO Conference in November 1993 established a new level of transparency in the management of living resources of the high seas. No Party to the Agreement may allow any fishing vessel to fly its flag without proper authorization. Each Party is required to maintain a record of fishing vessels entitled to fly its flag, and authorized to fish on the high seas. Information such as name, port of registry, previous flag (if any), name of owner, International Radio Call Sign, type of vessel and length must be made available to FAO which in turn must provide such information to all Parties and fisheries organizations.

As COFI intended, the Compliance Agreement was incorporated into the Code of Conduct. As a result, implementation is subject to monitoring and review by FAO, with progress to be reported to COFI.

The UN Fish Stocks Agreement

Member States of COFI had long noted that UNCLOS did not provide adequate means to conserve and manage the living stocks of the high seas. In 1981, in a discussion of fisheries management issues, it was suggested that the Draft Convention on the Law of the Sea offered little guidance in resolving problems of resource allocation, both within and among countries. The Committee noted the serious concern of some delegations over unregulated exploitation of high seas stocks. Although these delegations recommended that the issue be added to the agenda of the World Fisheries Conference, others pointed out that matters of law belonged with UNCLOS III.

Twelve years later, as recommended by Agenda 21, the UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks undertook to address this outstanding problem. Fundamental issues of law stood in the path of a settlement. Part VI of the eventual Agreement, Compliance and Enforcement – which "significantly extends the boundaries of existing international law" in the opinion of some legal analysts – would be the subject of intense debate during the latter stages of the Conference. The adoption of the UN Fish Stocks Agreement in 1995, however, provided new ground to hope for effective conservation and management of marine living resources through regional cooperation.

COFI’s formal contribution to this process was necessarily limited. As noted, the 1991 session of the Committee had encouraged FAO’s provision of technical and scientific assistance to the preceding Technical Consultation. Again in 1993, despite the concern of some delegations about the report of the Technical Consultation, it expressed satisfaction that FAO would provide similar assistance to the Conference which was then about to open. The FAO Secretariat supported the process all along and contributed significant inputs related to the use of reference points for management and the adoption of the precautionary approach.

In broader terms, the Twenty-first Session of COFI had a unique opportunity to establish areas in which there was consensus, and to encourage a successful outcome. This it did. The Committee emphasized that the Convention remained the framework within which new mechanisms for management of high seas fishing must be formulated. It also reiterated that sustainable resource use must be the guiding principle, that management arrangements must extend over the entire range of the stocks and that the entire ecosystem must be taken into account. Management, it was agreed, should be undertaken by regional and sub-regional organizations that, it was noted, would require additional technical and financial support from FAO and donors. The importance of MCS was emphasized and the elaboration of modalities for the use of transponders and satellite tracking devices was discussed.

By 1993, none of these positions on its own might be regarded as exceptional. Taken together, however, they represented a substantial body of agreement. While the Committee recognized that there remained a number of issues on which there was no clear consensus, there was agreement that these might be addressed by the Conference. The urgency with which COFI attended to the draft text of the Compliance Agreement and the elaboration of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries further demonstrated a desire to achieve agreement on issues that had eluded resolution for many years.

The eventual Agreement was in many ways a compromise between the interests of coastal States and those of fishing States and it included numerous provisions endorsed by COFI. A central element is the requirement for States to co-operate through regional or subregional fisheries management organizations or arrangements in order to gain access to a regulated stock (III.8). The functions of these organizations include the establishment of conservation and management measures and of co-operative mechanisms for MCS and enforcement, allocation of participatory rights and collection of data (III.10).

Guided by the Agreement, the language of the Code of Conduct reflects the enhanced legal standing of regional fisheries organizations. It spells out the responsibilities of States to support regional management measures and recommends action to deter the activities of vessels which might undermine their effectiveness.

FAO Regional Fishery Bodies

COFI had looked to Regional fishery bodies to give effect to the new instruments for the conservation and management of marine living resources. In 1995, it turned its attention to their capacity to fill such a role. Clearly, the changes mandated by UNCED, and growing concern about the scarcity of fishing resources required adjustments in their operation, including those constituted under FAO. The Committee agreed on the necessity for a review of the structures and functioning of the FAO bodies in order to improve their ability to cope with new responsibilities. Such a review should include the issue of funding.

This was by no means the first time COFI had considered it important to update the operation of FAO Regional fishery bodies. In 1987, the Committee had recognized their important role as fora to exchange information and experience and to recommend measures for the development and management of fisheries and to facilitate harmonization of policies. At the same time, it had requested the preparation of a detailed and functional analysis of the scope, objectives and achievements of what were, at the time, nine bodies. The bodies themselves, it was suggested, should carry out an in-depth evaluation of their activities.

At the 1989 session, the Committee was advised that four activities were common to all FAO Regional fishery bodies i.e. data collection, research and training, management and development. Each of these was to have continuing high priority in the work of FAO. Evaluation of the achievements of the bodies was difficult, however, because of the many differences between each region and more effort was needed to improve the means of evaluation.

The Committee once again affirmed its support, particularly for the work of the bodies in promoting TCDC and ECDC and training and for their encouragement of stock assessments. What was also recognized was that much had changed since the establishment of the first regional body (the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission) in 1948.

There were now more trained personnel in the regions. Management had become a more important issue. Socio-economic factors in management were now more recognized. The fisheries sector generally had become more complex. It was desirable, the Committee agreed, that the regional bodies should adapt to the changing situation.

A number of concerns stood out in the review of individual organizations that followed. More means were required to carry out management responsibilities. Some key fisheries were not included within the area of a competent fishery body. Some bodies required more resources to respond to the pressure of increased foreign fishing effort. Ways should be found to include fishermen in the activities of the bodies. Above all, the Committee concluded that lack of financial resources was a severe problem for almost all FAO regional bodies and it urged donors to give greater support.

In 1991, COFI reiterated the need to strengthen FAO regional bodies in recognition of the vital role of intercountry collaboration in the management and development of fisheries. A similar point was emphasized at the following session in the above-mentioned discussion of high seas fishing. In a review of FAO programmes, the Committee also urged a greater degree of consultation between FAO regional bodies and other regional fisheries organizations to avoid duplication of effort. Taking note of this request, the Secretariat pointed out that to provide more detailed report would require considerable additional staff input from the Organization.

The establishment of a tenth regional organization – the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission – was welcomed during the more detailed discussion in 1995. And once again, COFI praised the achievements of all FAO regional bodies. Still, a review was considered essential. Some delegations noted that the bodies would require additional budgetary support from their member States if they were to manage effectively the resources within their areas. They also would have to collaborate with other organizations concerned with fisheries and the environment to reduce duplication of effort and to make best use of available human and financial resources.

Another issue was the limited advisory power of seven of the ten bodies that had been established under Article VI of the FAO Constitution. All such bodies have no direct management authority and are dependent on the Organization for financial and secretariat support. The Committee noted that agreements under Article XIV of the Constitution – which allows for more decision-making power and flexibility – could provide more appropriate structures. It agreed that the most appropriate approach should be decided on a region by region basis and would depend on the needs and wishes of potential members.

A need for change in the system of FAO Regional fishery bodies was spelled out to the Committee in the report submitted to the 1997 session. The report indicated that new management responsibilities were occurring at a time of sharply reduced financial capacity. Increased costs and the reduced resources available to FAO had led to a substantial reduction in its ability to provide assistance. Extra-budgetary funds and support from donors had also decreased. In view of these circumstances, the report stated, "the only realistic and sustainable alternative is for the members of these bodies to face their management responsibilities and take a more active role in their work through greater commitment."

The report also suggested that in many cases, the management of shared fisheries need not involve all members of an ocean-wide regional organization. Many stocks, it said, could be managed more efficiently by smaller subsidiary bodies at the sub-regional level. Funds permitting, FAO could provide neutral technical/scientific support to such bodies. In conclusion, the report offered the following recommendations:

In its review of the report, COFI endorsed once again the need for effective regional fishery organizations to assure the management of fish stocks in a sustainable manner. In this context, it concurred with the report’s recommendations and requested that FAO make a status report to the next session. Also emphasized was the need for close cooperation among FAO and non-FAO fisheries organizations, and with organizations such as the World Bank. It also acknowledged that adequate funding for the regional bodies might require increased commitment by Members, as well as donors.

Small Island Developing States

In 1995, COFI acted on yet another of the prescriptions in Chapter 17 of Agenda 21. The Committee endorsed the establishment of a six-part programme of fisheries assistance to small island developing states (SIDS). In part, the decision reflected concern about the growing dependence of these States on imported food. The special needs of SIDS, however, had long been recognized. The new regime of the law of the sea had extended greatly the marine resources under their jurisdiction but their ability to benefit from the change was sharply constrained by a lack of other resources.

This anomaly had been examined in a report to COFI in 1983. It noted three special problems limiting the development of SIDS: their small size, their often-remote location from markets, and the nature of their fisheries. The inshore effort, the report observed, was directed largely at reef species that were relatively easy to overfish. The offshore fisheries, meanwhile, focused primarily on highly migratory species which might range through the zones of other States and adjacent high seas areas. Here the difficulty was to compete with the well-developed high technology operations of the distant-water tuna fleets and to sell on a world market dominated by a few large multinational firms.

In the discussion of this report, delegations from SIDS indicated that foreign fishing within their EEZs was seen as an interim measure from which they hoped to obtain large benefits. The long-term objective, however, was to develop their own capacity to harvest, process and market the stocks. It was suggested that FAO might help by examining alternative ways for SIDS to benefit from foreign fishing. At the same time, they required assistance to develop a domestic fishing capacity. Needs included aid in baitfish culture, optimum size and type of tuna vessels, improved market information and access to markets and new techniques for small-scale fisheries.

COFI recognized that the capacity needs of SIDS included more trained personnel, more resource information, improvements in infrastructure, and improved communication and transportation. Among suggestions for action were greater exchange of information among SIDS, increased regional cooperation in such areas as research, training and MCS, and harmonization of legislation. On a further point, it was agreed that treatment of the special needs of SIDS should be reflected in the Strategy for Fisheries Management and Development and in the Programmes of Action. Subsequently, these needs were recognized by the World Conference on Fisheries in 1984 but it would not be until after UNCED that SIDS re-appeared on COFI’s agenda.

In 1995, the Committee undertook an extended discussion of the fisheries needs of SIDS. It was agreed that many SIDS continued to face severe difficulties related to their common characteristics of limited size, vulnerable ecology and dependence on marine resources. Of 47 such States, ten were classified as "least developed." Many others were experiencing large increases in population (in some cases between 2.5 and 3.5 percent annually), rapid urbanization and high rates of unemployment. Outward migration meant that some States were losing precisely the skills needed to build their economies. Tourism, it was true, was of growing importance in a number of SIDS but most remained heavily dependent on foreign assistance.

In its response to these and other problems, the 21st session focused on the importance of sustainable fisheries to meet the nutritional needs of island people and to assist their economic development. Specific problems in this sector included a growing shortage of fish for food, due either to overfishing of inshore resources or such practices as "coral reef bleaching." Another consideration, as some delegates noted, was the customary nature of local fishing rights, enshrined in national legislation. Such rights must be taken into account in developing any strategy for the conservation and management of SIDS fisheries resources.

Although the Committee strongly endorsed the establishment of a fisheries assistance programme, it also emphasized that it should be tightly focused on the highest priorities. Six areas of concentration were suggested:

The Committee urged FAO to develop funding from internal sources and to seek financing from the international donor community. The least developed SIDS should be targeted specifically. A further stipulation was that, given the large role played by women in fisheries, the programme should address gender issues in an appropriate manner.

The relationship between SIDS and Regional fishery bodies was also considered at the 21st session. It was noted that assistance programmes were most likely to be effective when implemented through FAO or non-FAO regional bodies and the importance of cooperation with them was underlined by many delegations. Some SIDS expressed concern that they were not benefiting from the activities of the fisheries bodies in their region due, in one case, to a five-year break in meetings by working parties. Other delegations felt regional fisheries management bodies did not adequately represent their interests. Lacking resources to join these organizations, they nonetheless faced high costs of compliance for low levels of fishing.

A note also was made that some FAO Members were supporting substantial programmes of technical assistance to SIDS, and that these would continue. Attention was drawn to contributions by other Members to national and regional programmes of special significance to SIDS such as the preservation and management of coral reef systems.

In 1997, the Secretariat submitted the Programme of Fisheries Assistance for SIDS to the 22nd session of COFI. Noting that the Programme had been strongly endorsed by the Alliance of Small Island Developing States, the Committee urged FAO to proceed immediately with its implementation.

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