FAO Fisheries Department - Committee on Fisheries
December 1996 COFI/97/Inf.6


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


1.    Fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) is an essential and integral component of fisheries management1. The purpose of MCS is to ensure that management measures, once agreed and adopted by a competent authority, are implemented fully and expeditiously. Underpinning effective MCS programmes is the presumption that States are willing, and capable, of exercising effective control over their vessels, and that in the case of international fisheries, the flag State will take measures to ensure that its vessels comply fully with the relevant provisions of international law and the management arrangements in a particular fishery.


2.    There is no unique MCS solution for all fishery situations, nor are there inherently right or wrong approaches to the implementation of MCS programmes. Indeed, in many respects such programmes, premised on sound fisheries management principles, should be fishery specific taking into account issues such as the nature of stock being managed, the state and level of exploitation of the stock, the scope and range of fleet operations, the effectiveness of flag State control, the nature and extent of infringements in a fishery, the cost effectiveness of existing MCS measures and other social and economic considerations.

3.    Fundamental differences between MCS requirements for industrial fisheries and artisanal/small-scale fisheries should be recognized in both policy and practice. Whereas the fisheries management principles upon which all MCS programmes are based are similar in nature (i.e., the need to facilitate sustainable resource use), the means and mechanisms for achieving sustainability differ.

4.    In industrial fisheries cost-effective and integrated MCS solutions are required since programmes in these fisheries may involve expensive sub-programme components including, inter alia, observer placement, deployment of dedicated or multi-tasked surveillance platforms, and the use of vessel registers. In designing and implementing MCS programmes in industrial fisheries, consultation with industry should be given priority as means of gaining its support and thereby facilitating compliance by authorized fishers. Through a combination of well conceived vessel licensing arrangements2 and industry cooperation in MCS, the costs of MCS programmes in industrial fisheries should be contained.

5.    The emphasis of MCS programmes in industrial fisheries should be on the monitoring (or shepherding) aspect of fleet activity. However, in the event that violations against management measures occur, there should also be provision for appropriate and swift enforcement action to deter fishers from engaging in further activities of this nature. Such a provision is essential because illegal fishing or related activities (e.g. unauthorised transhipment of catches) will compromise the implementation of management arrangements and, in the extreme, these activities are likely to undermine efforts to ensure that a fishery is exploited rationally.

6.    For industrial fleets it is possible to monitor vessels efficiently and inexpensively through the use of vessel monitoring systems (VMS)3. This technology can provide immediate access to vessel location and the details of its activities as well as facilitating near real-time transmission of important catch and related information necessary for fisheries management (e.g. status of quotas). In order to participate in some fisheries, the installation of transponders on vessels is a requirement, and it is likely that management authorities for all major industrial fisheries will require the installation of this technology on vessels within the next five years.

7.    In artisanal/small-scale fisheries the use of so-called conventional MCS approaches (i.e., observer placement, surface and air craft, etc.) are costly and ineffective. This is because of the very large number of fishers, mixed gears and landing points in a fishery. Consequently, it is now generally recognized that the promotion of community-based approaches to fisheriesmanagement is the most appropriate option.With such management practice, traditional and community structures are used to re-enforce fisheries measures adopted by a community. Failure to comply with these communally agreed measures may render a fisher liable to the imposition of forceful social sanctions which may, in many cases, extend beyond the fishing.     


8.    The determination of national MCS policy should be vested clearly in the appropriate government authorities. Frequently, in addition to primary inputs from the fisheries management authority, other government agencies tasked with MCS operations (e.g. navy, police or coast guard) are likely to be called upon to provide key policy inputs. Moreover, the results of industry consultation on MCS programmes should be reflected in national MCS policy and strategies. This policy, which should be realistically framed in terms of the financial resources available, should be underpinned by unambiguous fisheries legislation that will permit effective and easy enforcement.

9.    While it is emphasised that the determination of MCS policy should remain firmly rooted in government, this is not necessarily the case for the operational aspects of MCS programmes. Conventionally the navy, police or coast guard have individually or in combination been operationally responsible for MCS. However, the use of military platforms for MCS purposes may not be entirely appropraite, given their high cost and other logistical constraints. Consequently, the involvement of contractually engaged private MCS operators is gaining acceptance, primarily for cost reasons.

10.    Regional MCS cooperation, especially among developing countries, has inherent financial and operational benefits. While many developing countries may be individually disadvantaged in attempting to implement MCS programmes, particularly in situations where stocks and highly mobile fleets are shared, regional MCS cooperation can be promoted to facilitate enhanced fisheries management4. The rationale and merits of regional MCS initiatives have been recognized by many multilateral and bilateral technical and development assistance agencies.     


11.    Cost-effectiveness is a primary consideration for all MCS programmes. In implementing such programmes the benefits and costs of different MCS options should be assessed carefully prior to the measures being implemented. Clearly, if the costs of MCS measures exceed the expected financial and other benefits of MCS interventions, alternative, less costly measures should be entertained.

12.    It is now well established in a number of countries that, since fishers are a primary beneficiary of MCS programmes, the fishing industry should bear incrementally some, if not all, of the costs of these programmes. MCS costs can be easily pro-rated among fishers, by incorporating these costs into fee/licence payments (i.e., a production cost). Consequently, as a matter of principle and as a means of encouraging economic efficiency by internalizing costs within the fisheries sector, the fishing industry should be required to assume progressively higher shares of MCS costs. Such an approach will also encourage fishers to comply more fully with management arrangements, thereby reducing MCS costs.


13.    FAO has been involved in the promotion of MCS policy and practice at least since 1981, when the Organization convened an Expert Consultation on Monitoring, Control and Surveillance5. Experts from 12 Member Nations participated in the Consultation. It examined basic MCS concepts, practices and issues in the light of the global introduction of extended jurisdiction of coastal States, as provided for in the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. The outcome of this Consultation has generally guided FAO's MCS work since that time6.

14.    More recently, there has been heightened international concern about the need for effective MCS programmes in view of the failure of many management regimes to achieve the objectives for which they were established. The need for such programmes is recognised in, inter alia, the 1982 Convention, Chapter 17 of the 1992 Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, 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 and the Report of the 1996Ad Hoc Inter-sessional Working Group on Sectoral Issues of the Commission on Sustainable Development.

15.    The continued deterioration in the state of world fish stocks, migration of fishing fleets, major advances in the availability and cost of VMS and associated technology and heightened international concern about the requirements for, and role of, MCS in fisheries management have given rise to the need to review and perhaps re-state the role of MCS in fisheries management. Building on the results of the 1981 FAO Expert Consultation on Monitoring, Control and Surveillance and taking into account national and international conferences and experiences since that time, the time is right to undertake such an evaluation.

16.    In considering this issue and the importance of MCS in fisheries management, the Committee may wish to consider the appropriateness of convening a technical consultation, providing there is an offer to host the consultation, to address MCS in the light of the many important developments that have taken place in the past decade and a half.

1 In this paper fisheries management includes conservation and development and implies that the goal of management is to ensure that fisheries resources are exploited in a long-term, sustainable manner.
2 Authorized fishers need to be provided with an incentive to elicit compliance with fishery management arrangements to reduce operational requirements and the cost of MCS programmes. To achieve this objective action must be taken to convert fisheries from open-access status through appropriate licensing arrangements. While there are a range of licensing options that might be adopted, either nationally or internationally for a specific fishery, the task of MCS is greatly facilitated if the licensing arrangements confer a quasi-property right on fishers. With such a property right fishers will be less inclined to flout management arrangements and will seek to ensure that other operators in the fishery act in accordance with agreed measures.
3 It should also be recognized that not only does an effective and well planned MCS programme (of which electronic vessel monitoring is an integral component) enhance fisheries management, but it also leads to improved safety for vessels and crews and permits the real-time transfer of market information, which can give important revenue gains where alternative port delivery decision for catch can be made at sea. This latter consideration has proved to be a significant consideration for fishermen in some industrial fisheries (e.g. east coast of the USA).
4 Regional cooperation MCS programmes are being pursued among the small island developing States of the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and the South Pacific as well as the coastal States of West Africa. See for example FAO.1992."Report of a Regional Workshop on Monitoring, Control and Surveillance for African States Bordering the Atlantic Ocean". GCP/INT/466/NOR-Field Report 92/22. FAO. Rome. 94p. and USA Department of State. 1995. Report of the Global Fisheries Enforcement Workshop. Department of State Publications 10256, Washington DC. 217p.
5 FAO. 1981. "Report of an expert consultation on monitoring, control and surveillance systems for fisheries management". FAO Report FAO/GCP/INT/344/NOR. FAO. Rome. 115p.
6 For background information relating to the Consultation and FAO's work in the MCS area since then, see Doulman, David. 1994. "Technical assistance in fisheries monitoring control and surveillance: A historical perspective of FAO's role". FAO Fisheries Circulat No. 882. FAO. Rome 19p.