FAO Fisheries Department - Committee on Fisheries
November 1996 COFI/97/4


Twenty-second Session
Rome, Italy 17-20 March 1997

The recent international initiatives concerning the effective conservation and management of fisheries resources on a sustainable basis have emphasized the important role of the sub-regional and regional fisheries organizations and other arrangements in achieving this objective. At its last Session, the Committee on Fisheries discussed the need to strengthen FAO regional fishery bodies and the issue was further emphasized by the Rome Consensus on World Fisheries in 1995. The present document describes the role of FAO regional fishery bodies and the way these bodies might be strengthened to improve their conservation and management functions.


1.    In 1971 the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) considered that the enforcement of management measures was essential in achieving effective management but pointed out that neither FAO nor its regional fishery bodies had powers to enforce regulations. In 1984 the FAO World Conference on Fisheries Management and Development recognized the need for adequate financial and other resources to support regional fishery bodies. It pointed out that "As soon as possible, developing countries themselves should increase their participation and commitment to the technical support of such bodies, as well as take full responsibility for their management"1. These two statements indicate clearly that in order to be effective, fishery management organizations should have: (a) adequate powers; (b) increased commitment on the part of their members; and (c) adequate financial and human resources.

2.     At its last Session, the Committee examined "the role of regional fishery organizations and arrangements in fisheries management" and recognized the need to strengthen fisheries management at the regional and sub-regional level to achieve sustainable fisheries2. While recognizing the achievements of FAO fishery bodies, the Committee noted that recent developments in the conservation and management of fisheries made necessary a review of the structures and functions of these bodies in order to improve their effectiveness.

3.     The need to strengthen sub-regional and regional fishery organizations or arrangements has been reiterated on a number of occasions since the last Session of COFI, namely, in the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, the 1995 Rome Consensus on World Fisheries, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the 1995 Kyoto Declaration and the Plan of Action on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security, and the Resolution adopted by the 95th Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Istanbul in April 1996.

4.     The underlining principle in all the recent initiatives is the clear, unequivocal and, in most cases, exclusive responsibility of States in ensuring the sustainable exploitation of their fishery resources. The effectiveness of regional fishery bodies depends entirely on the political will of their members to implement management measures as well as their active participation, including financial support, in the work of these bodies. While the strengthening of FAO regional fishery bodies has become a necessity, FAO cannot realistically be expected to take the necessary action without clear direction by the members of these bodies and a clear expression of political commitment on the part of these members, as well as their technical and financial support.

5.     This initiative aimed at strengthening regional fishery bodies is consistent with, and supportive of, the broader review being undertaken within FAO of statutory bodies and panels of experts, as called for by the Hundred and Tenth Session of the FAO Council in November 1995. While the current exercise with respect to the regional fishery bodies is essentially technical in nature and geared towards making these bodies more efficient in terms of fisheries conservation and management, it should be noted that the Programme and Finance Committees at their Joint Meeting in May 1996 agreed that bodies and panels established by the FAO Conference under Articles VI and XIV of the Constitution should be reviewed in Phase II of that exercise. All the FAO regional fishery bodies are constituted under Articles VI or XIV and will therefore be subject to review in Phase II.


6.     With the exception of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), FAO fishery bodies were all established before the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982. For the most part, these bodies tended to focus initially on regional cooperation for development including data collection and fishery research.

7.     Although the activities of these bodies, with the exception of the GFCM3, have focused mainly on the fisheries resources in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of their members, dealing mainly with national and shared stocks, most of these bodies have not had any significant activities beyond the EEZs of their coastal members. The area of competence of the new Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, however, will encompass high seas as well as waters under national jurisdiction.

8.     Under Article VI of the FAO Constitution, Commissions and Committees may be established by the Organization "to advise on the formulation and implementation of policy and to coordinate the implementation of policy"4 or "to study and report on matters pertaining to the purpose of the Organization"5. FAO has established seven regional fishery bodies under this Article. Regional fishery bodies established under Article VI include the Regional Fisheries Advisory Commission for the Southwest Atlantic (CARPAS), the Indian Ocean Fishery Commission (IOFC), the Fishery Committee for the Eastern Central Atlantic (CECAF) and the Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission (WECAFC). The European Inland Fisheries Advisory Commission (EIFAC), the Committee for Inland Fisheries of Africa (CIFA) and the Commission for Inland Fisheries of Latin America (COPESCAL) promote a common viewpoint and coordinate and facilitate the work of individuals and national institutions on many aspects relating to the management of the inland fisheries.

9.     These bodies have had a wide range of advisory functions and have played a major role in the international cooperation and development of national capacities in fisheries through development of data bases, training, transfer of methodologies and scientific cooperation. As bodies established, funded and administered by FAO, they are entities operating in conformity with the Organization's overall objectives. In relation to management, these bodies have performed only advisory functions, recommending at times management measures to their members.

10.     Two other FAO bodies, i.e. the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (APFIC)6 and the General Fisheries Council for the Mediterranean (GFCM), were established by agreements concluded under Article XIV of the FAO Constitution. They have stronger management mandates which have however been exercised infrequently to date and most of their activities have been of an advisory nature, including the elaboration of management advice and recommendations for consideration and implementation by their members (except for GFCM which adopted a common mesh size regulation following objection procedures and has recently adopted other management measures for tuna, based on those adopted by ICCAT under the same procedures)7. None of the FAO regional fishery bodies, whether established under Article VI or XIV, has yet exercised the sensitive and essentially practical functions of fisheries management such as limitation of access, allocation of effort or catch quotas, monitoring, control and surveillance, enforcement and dispute settlement. The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), recently established under Article XIV of the FAO Constitution has wide ranging management and conservation powers, but has not yet commenced operations.

11.     With the establishment of the IOTC, all tuna stocks, except those in the Northwest Pacific and South China Sea, will be managed by specialized existing FAO and non FAO tuna management bodies. The role of other FAO fishery bodies will focus on promoting responsible fisheries through improved conservation and management by their members with particular attention on shared stocks8.

12.     The problem of FAO regional fishery bodies which have not been active or may have outlived their usefulness or need substantial restructuring to meet the needs of their regions must be addressed urgently. CARPAS, for example, has not been active since 1974 and a decision should be made on its future, taking into account other fishing organizations in the region. Similarly, with the establishment of IOTC to deal with tuna, one of the main ocean-wide functions of IOFC has been removed. Its subsidiary bodies, however, are well placed to operate at sub-regional levels with new structures and functions in accordance with the particular needs of their respective sub-region.

13.     In 1991, the FAO Conference amended Part R of the Basic Texts of the Organization. The amendments were designed, inter alia, to introduce greater flexibility and autonomy for Article XIV Commissions, especially for those with independent budgets financed directly by the parties to the agreement outside the framework of the Regular Programme of the Organization9. Following these amendments, the Agreement for the Establishment of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) was concluded under Article XIV of the FAO Constitution in 1993. The Agreement gives the IOTC power to adopt potentially binding conservation and management measures and provides provisions for implementation of such measures. It also includes provisions for dispute settlement and provides for the financing of IOTC under an autonomous budget, unlike GFCM and APFIC10.

14.     A distinction should be made between the activities and functions of regional fishery bodies dealing with the conservation and management of marine fisheries and the advisory functions on management performed by the inland fishery bodies. Inland aquatic resources and water bodies (except in large lakes and some large rivers which often have independent authorities) are generally under the managerial responsibility of a single sovereign country and therefore, the role of FAO inland fishery bodies have been, and will remain largely that of an international forum where experiences and data are exchanged and where general advice for management is elaborated for consideration, but eventually for action by individual members. In addition, inland fishery resources are, to a large extent, conditioned by non-fishery activities affecting the aquatic system and the water resources, beyond the control of fishery managers. This again re-enforces the limitation of the FAO inland fishery bodies to an advisory role.


15.     The costs of the activities of FAO regional fishery bodies, together with the reduced availability of resources in FAO has made it impossible to maintain its level of financial and technical support for these bodies, resulting in substantial reduction in the activities in support of these bodies11.

16.     The extra-budgetary funds available, and in many cases instrumental to the activities and achievements of the FAO regional fishery bodies, have decreased dramatically in the past ten years. Support from donors has been declining to the extent that most regional projects which have, in the past, provided technical support to regional fishery bodies, have been phased out or terminated, reducing their capacity.

17.     In the light of the continued difficulty of FAO to support the activities of these bodies to the necessary level and the lack of external funds by donors, 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.

18.     Since 1993, the Organization's policy has focused on decentralization of its activities, aiming at improving its efficiency and effectiveness. Since 1996, most FAO regional fishery bodies have been operating under FAO Regional Offices, with their secretariats located in their respective regions. This has enabled them to provide all necessary information directly to their members, as well as maintaining closer links with them. Technical and scientific support, however, has been supplemented, as necessary and possible, by the Fisheries Department.

19.     A general problem encountered is that members with marginal interest in the work of a body to which they belong, do not attend regularly, creating problems of quorum and in effect weakening the decision-making process. As a consequence, the criteria for membership of FAO regional fishery bodies requires revision. It is now generally acknowledged that the membership of a regional fishery body should include only the countries in the region and those which have a legitimate interest in the fisheries resources covered by that body.


20.     While necessary improvements in the structure, functions and role of FAO regional fishery bodies will have to be determined by their members, the overall policy of the Organization in relation to these bodies needs urgent direction by the Committee on Fisheries and therefore, the following considerations are brought to its attention.

21.     In order for FAO fishery bodies to address more effectively their regional priorities, a clearer orientation of their work towards fisheries management will be required, taking account of international requirements as well as powers and means at their disposal.

22.     Where they have competence, FAO regional fishery bodies should initiate activities and programmes in support of management. Such activities could include, inter alia, the identification, mapping and evaluation of shared fish resources; collaborative research efforts for assessing these fisheries, including data standardization; and proposals for joint management measures to be adopted by member countries.

23.     In many areas there is no need for an ocean-wide or region-wide body to deal with conservation and management of stocks which are essentially national or shared between a limited number of countries at sub-regional levels. Experience has shown that, in this case, interested parties are often reluctant to open a debate on resource allocation and joint management within a wider forum than is necessary. Thus, many stocks in the areas covered by FAO bodies, which have a wider geographical coverage, could be more efficiently dealt with either by smaller subsidiary bodies operating at the sub-regional level (such as the Southwest Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Lesser Antilles Committees) or even through bilateral or trilateral arrangements among the countries directly concerned under the aegis of the FAO body, if agreeable. If such arrangements are set up and funds permitting, FAO could provide neutral technical/scientific support. One implication of sub-regionalization of FAO bodies is that the parent bodies should assess the need for their continued existence.

24.     The strengthening of FAO regional fishery bodies to the level required for effective management would entail substantial increase in support from members in order to make them more effective. These bodies should be able to hold their Sessions regularly and preferably once every year to approve and implement the required intersessional activities. In addition, they should have the means to carry out intensive technical intersessional activities. The non-FAO fisheries organizations, depending on their size, membership and functions, operate on annual budgets ranging from US$ 500 000 to over US$ 1 000 000 paid by members' contributions12. Holding annual Sessions, enables these organizations to receive proper direction from their members.

25.     If members of FAO bodies are committed to fund and support these bodies, future strengthening of their functions might be achieved by establishing them under Article XIV of the FAO Constitution (i.e., IOTC model) or by arrangements outside the constitutional framework of the Organization.

26.     The FAO bodies would support and facilitate the initiation of the appropriate management arrangements required by shared resources. However, it has to be recognized that some tasks associated with management arrangements such as allocation of shared stocks or enforcement fall outside the area of competence of these bodies. Consequently, for shared resources, governments should be encouraged to enter into bilateral or trilateral sharing and management arrangements. FAO bodies could play a technical and neutral advisory role to countries concerned.

27.     FAO should ensure that its bodies continue to operate while arrangements for their strengthening and restructuring are decided upon by their members and the transitional process is put in train in 1998/99 and following biennia. Detailed analyses are currently underway by APFIC, CECAF and WECAFC regarding the future structure and role of these bodies.


28.    The Committee, taking into account the need to strengthen the FAO fishery bodies and bearing in mind the financial and resource implications involved, is invited to consider the following recommendations to the Organization and adopt them:

1 Report of the FAO World Conference on Fisheries Management and Development, Rome, 27 June - 6 July 1984, Section VIII "International cooperation in fisheries management and development" paragraph 26(iv), page 29.
2 Report of the Twenty-first Session of the Committee on Fisheries, Rome, 10-13 March 1995, FAO Fisheries Report FIPL/R.524, 1995, paragraphs 26-34.
3 Most of the coastal States in the Mediterranean have not declared extended jurisdiction and therefore the Mediterranean Sea for the most part remains a high seas area.
4 Article VI-1 of the Basic Texts of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Vols. I and II, 1994 edition.
5 Ibid, Article VI-2. According to Article I of the Organization's Constitution, FAO has a global mandate to promote and, when appropriate, to recommend national and international action pertaining, inter alia, to fisheries research, conservation and development.
6 Former Indo-Pacific Fishery Commission (IPFC). The Commission changed its name in 1993.
7 The objection procedure as provided for by the GFCM Basic Texts is as follows: any member of the Council may within one hundred and twenty days from the date of notification of a recommendation object to it and in that event shall not "be under obligation to give effect to that recommendation"
8 Some highly migratory fish stocks other than tuna and straddling fish stocks exist in the working area of these bodies but are of less commercial value.
9 FAO Conference Resolution 8/91, Report of the Conference of FAO, twenty/sixth Session, Rome, 9-27 November 1991, C91/REP, paragraphs 308-311.
10 Any strengthening of the Regional fishery bodies presently operated by FAO, aiming at giving them management functions beyond the advisory level, will have to be accommodated under Article XIV of the FAO Constitution (IOTC model) or by arrangements outside the constitutional framework of the Organization.
11 In recent years the regular Sessions of the FAO regional fishery bodies have been held at long intervals. For example regular Sessions held by some of these bodies are as follows: GFCM (1986, 1989, 1993); APFIC (1987, 1990, 1993); IOFC (1985, 1989, 1994); WECAFC (1987, 1990, 1995); and CECAF (1986, 1988, 1992, 1996).
12 For example the 1994 annual budgets of some non-FAO fisheries organizations were as follows (all in US$): ICCAT: 1,140,390; NASCO: 459,260; PSC: 1,600,000; ICES: 2,486,850; PICES: 440,000; NAFO: 550,000; NEAFC: 1,170,000; CCAMLR: 1,227,820; and IBSFC: 201,240.