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Transfer of technology should rely on "best practices" such as this oyster-farm technology
Transfer of technology should rely on "best practices" such as this oyster-farm technology


Fishing technology consists of equipment and practices used for finding, harvesting, handling, processing and distributing aquatic resources and their products. This technology is subject to continuous change due to innovation processes and technology transfer between regions and fisheries.

Technological innovation and transfer occur for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that fishers continually strive to improve the technology they use to increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of their operations. In this sense, technological innovation depends on the availability of new technologies on the market. Other reasons for technological change may be that new government legislation sets certain standards or requirements, or that social groups such as environmental organisations pressure fishers to use different - for example, environmentally less damaging - types of technology.

New technology often builds on advances made in other industries. For example, the development of synthetic fibres, improvements in electronic aids and satellite communications have led to improvements in fishing gear, navigation and fish-finding technologies. Some innovations come from institutes for research and extension. In developing countries, other agents such as non-governmental organisations and development projects can be sources of innovation or technology transfer.

Although improved technologies have advantages such as increased selectivity of fish caught, reduction of waste, increased safety at sea and more advanced monitoring and control systems of fisheries management, they also lead to a number of problems. This is because fishers' objective of increased efficiency can be contradictory to the societal objectives of environmental and social sustainability of fisheries. In other words, if, with the same effort, more fish can be caught, this may lead to overfishing. If, on the other hand, the number of vessels and crew is reduced to protect fish stocks, this will negatively affect employment in the fisheries sector. This dilemma is all the more acute in developing countries, where millions of people depend on fisheries for their livelihoods and alternative employment is scarce. Increased landings from more efficient technology would provide more food for local consumption and much-needed foreign exchange earnings through exports in the short term, but would be unsustainable due to overexploitation in the long-run.

Possible solutions

There are a number of possible ways to mitigate the dilemma. One is to invest in and encourage research for the development of technologies that:

  • reduce bycatch, through increased selectivity or bycatch reduction devices;
  • reduce waste, such as the use of ice or other means to preserve catches; and,
  • increase the utilization of currently underutilized resources.

Some of these technologies benefit fishers directly, as they increase the income made from catches, and do not necessarily affect employment in a negative way. On the other hand, new technologies may lead to increased costs or loss of income and meet with resistance from the fishing industry.

For this reason, it is important to include fishers in the development of new technologies and technology transfer, particularly small-scale fishers and poor groups whose livelihoods depend on fisheries. Sometimes, new technologies become mandatory requirements through new government legislation. The government should then consider taking measures to mitigate the negative effects of new technologies, such as the creation of alternative means of employment. In general, education of fishers about the risks of environmentally damaging fishing practices and providing information about responsible alternative practices is an essential part of technology transfer. FAO's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries underlines the above and propagates technology transfer through the application of a precautionary approach. A precautionary approach would provide for a process of initial and on-going review of the effects of fishery technology as it is introduced or evolves in local practice. The precautionary approach underlines both environmental and social impacts that new technologies may have.

The fishing industry obviously plays an important role in the resolution of the dilemma between increased efficiency and environmental and societal concerns. It is in their own long-term interests that aquatic resources are maintained. Government is another important player. It can invest in research, enact and enforce legislation, decide on policies, and monitor changes in the fisheries sector. A major constraint to the extent to which the above options can be applied to technological change is the resources and management capacity at the disposal of a country's fishery authorities. This is another reason why developing countries face a greater challenge than developed countries . In such cases, international partners or agents such as non-governmental organizations or development projects could provide support.

Use of these nets to dry fish have improved product safety
Use of these nets to dry fish have improved product safety

Action taken

In terms of limiting environmental impact of fishing on the environment, much has been done. Selective performance of trawl gear is being improved. Selective grids have largely eliminated the bycatch of fish in northern shrimp fisheries, while in tropical shrimp fisheries, technologies that reduce bycatch are being introduced that make use of behavioural differences between shrimp and fish. Measures that reduce the incidental catch of seabirds by longlines are also being introduced. FAO's members have adopted an International Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries.

The precautionary approach for fisheries is part of FAO's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and FAO promoted its integration into the Fish Stock Agreement. FAO also developed technical guidelines for:

  • the precautionary approach to capture fisheries and species introduction;
  • fisheries management; and,
  • indicators for sustainable development of marine capture fisheries.

FAO has a programme for the dissemination of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and its technical guidelines, in order to increase awareness of fisheries issues, including technological innovation and change.

The precautionary approach has been widely adopted by a number of fisheries bodies (e.g. CCMALP, IPHC, IWC, NAFO, NASCO, ICCAT, MHLC, SEAFO) and being discussed by a number of others. The approach been applied by ITLOS in relation to the South Pacific bluefin tuna case. A number of countries such as Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United States of America have adopted the approach.

In terms of social issues, FAO promotes fisher participation in technology development and fisheries management. It also has a specific programme on food security and is increasingly using the sustainable livelihoods approach in its projects and programmes, all of which have technology transfer integrated in them. Nevertheless, international support for these social issues related to technological change lags far behind the support for environmental issues. Much remains to be done in this area.


The search for increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness will continue, and it is likely that technological advances will continue to be made which take into considerations the effects of fishing on the environment. Similarly, support for a precautionary approach to technology development in fisheries likely to continue where it concerns environmental aspects. This will probably happen mostly in developed countries which have the means to implement, monitor and control the approach.

However, a more balanced application of the precautionary approach, which also addresses social and economic risks, is needed in future, particularly in developing countries. These countries will need technical and financial support to be able to implement the approach. Data should be collected to show the importance of fisheries for the livelihoods of small-scale fishers and for the national economy, in order to gain support for the idea that their employment and sources of income be protected. Making sure that artisanal fisheries are involved in decisions regarding the development and introduction of new technologies is another means of ensuring that their interests are taken into account. The ongoing gradual introduction of property rights in fisheries, including to small-scale fishers, may also help to protect fishers' livelihoods and give them more say about the use of certain technologies in the fishing areas under their control.

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