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Key processes needed to develop and implement the rules in fisheries management. Decision-making occurs on a variety of time scales: over days or weeks (double broken-line), annually (solid line) and less frequently, e.g. every 3 to 5 years (dashed line)
Key processes needed to develop and implement the rules in fisheries management. Decision-making occurs on a variety of time scales: over days or weeks (double broken-line), annually (solid line) and less frequently, e.g. every 3 to 5 years (dashed line)


Ninety percent of the global fish catch is taken within zones of national jurisdiction, owing primarily to the higher productivity and proximity of the coastal and shelf areas. It follows, therefore, that these are the areas where the bulk of fisheries management problems occur.

Such problems are not a new development: for 50 years at least, recognition has been given to the need for governments to be aware of the state of their fisheries, to implement effective policies aimed at preventing resource depletion and the wastage of fisheries inputs and, increasingly, to facilitate stock rehabilitation.

With about 60 percent of the main monitored commercial stocks considered to require improved or new management, the current state of world fisheries indicates a need for better governance. The challenge for governments is to manage fisheries in such a way that ensures the responsible and sustainable use of resources as well as economic efficiency and widespread social benefits. Furthermore, it is increasingly recognized that the responsibility for management should not rest with governments alone but rather be a shared responsibility, involving those operating in the fisheries sector as well as others who consider they have a right to participate in decisions concerning humanity's natural heritage.

In the 1980s, it was widely anticipated that fisheries governance would improve substantially in parallel with the establishment of extended national jurisdiction under the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This was the case for countries that were able and had the will to strengthen their governance. Very often they were already engaged in exclusive economic zone (EEZ) fisheries or had readily available capacity (e.g. trained fishers, investment capital and infrastructure) within the sector to do so.

Subsequent experience has shown that, even under the most favourable circumstances, achieving good governance is a protracted process. Those governments that now have soundly managed fisheries generally owe this achievement to 20 to 40 years of continuous effort and adjustment.

In many countries, governance has continued to languish for a variety of reasons, including a scarcity of the human, institutional and financial resources required to devise and implement management programmes; a lack of understanding, by both governments and fisheries participants, of the potential benefits that good management can generate; and the reluctance of governments to make unpopular decisions.

Through aid and financial assistance projects, the international community continues to direct substantial efforts towards improving the capabilities of the fisheries institutions in such countries. The countries with the poorest governance are those whose populations face more pressing, fundamental problems such as war, civil disturbances, natural disasters and weak government.

Possible solutions

The prerequisites for good governance in the fisheries sector are generally well recognized: the need for a strategy explicitly aimed at ecological, economic and social sustainability; effective fisheries agencies and research institutions (producing, inter alia, reliable and up-to-date information on the sector); a cooperative, organized and informed fisheries sector; adequate laws and legal institutions, including deterrent monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS); and linkages with the appropriate regional and international bodies. Since the early 1980s, attention has been paid to giving the fisheries sector joint responsibility with government in the management of fisheries. In many instances, this has been recognized by law, as in the creation of statutory committees (e.g. on management formulation, licensing and appeals) whose members include representatives from the fisheries sector. In some countries, this has been extended to the creation of semi-autonomous fisheries management authorities acting under joint industry and government boards of control.

This joint management process has been facilitated by a number of important evolutionary trends. In many countries, the fisheries sector has become better organized and hence more effective in liasing with government and in representing collective viewpoints. A more recent impetus has come from management regimes that establish either real or quasi ownership "rights", such as the right to trade - buy, sell or lease - an entitlement to engage in a managed fishery. In such circumstances, those with an entitlement have more of a vested interest in good management, as the "monetary" value of their entitlement will be directly influenced by the performance of the fishery. Accordingly, titleholders have demanded a major role in the formulation of management.

Another important and related trend concerns the financing of fisheries research and management. An underlying concept gaining wider acceptance is that financing should come from those who benefit, including fisheries participants in the case of managed fisheries. Again, there has been added impetus from the creation of "rights-based" fisheries, where it would clearly be anomalous for governments - using funds from the broader community - to be the sole financing entity. Accordingly, the joint financing of fisheries governance has been most readily accepted in the case of rights-based fisheries. As might be expected, fisheries participants have demanded a role in deciding how the money is spent, leading to more focused spending and systems of accountability. The consequence has invariably been better governance.

A recent trend in management-oriented research is for the scientific arm of management to have more autonomy when providing advice and for there to be more transparency as to what action is taken on the strength of that advice. There has also been a related move towards "privatizing" certain functions of governance, a development that is most advanced in the case of fisheries research institutions, which are becoming progressively more reliant on non-government sources of finance. There have been instances in which countries, for reasons of cost and efficiency, have contracted the operational functions of licensing and enforcement to private sector entities, although the government has maintained policy and legal responsibility. This has met with mixed success so far, but probably reflects the direction that governance will take in the future. Fisheries governance is now benefiting from computer-assisted "networking", for example through e-mail and the World Wide Web, which allows both researchers and managers ready access to the knowledge and experiences of "outsiders". Although related to private sector services, this development is not exactly part of privatization but rather a consequence of globalization.

These trends are most apparent in countries whose capacity for governance is well evolved and where input/oupt accountability is well developed. The approaches nevertheless are globally applicable. A major constraint to their wider application in practice is a lack of organization within fishing communities, including an insufficient understanding of the potential benefits to be gained through good management. The paradox for some countries is that systems of community-based management, which provided cohesion in the past, have been eroded or disappeared. Aid and financial assistance projects as well as other efforts are now aimed at reversing this process, often through the conferring of "rights" exclusively on active members of the community or on the community as a collective. Such an approach will be most problematic - if not impossible in the short term - in areas where there is a high population density and acute poverty because of the high social cost to those excluded from fisheries. The priority in this event is to enhance the welfare of the wider community (e.g. through job creation), and this is a task that requires intervention from "outside" agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the international community.

Action taken

The promotion of traditional or community-based management practices has gained momentum in artisanal and small-scale fisheries, which often involve thousands of fishers, hundreds of fishing communities and a plethora of landing points. The communities involved have very little mobility and are liable to be extremely disadvantaged by the social and economic consequences of bad governance. Management that is directed at safeguarding a community's welfare is most likely to be sensitive to issues at the local level, and hence to the importance of improving benefits from fisheries without causing undue social disruption. The community-based management approach therefore seeks to build on existing customary and traditional practices, adopting the concept of territorial use rights in fisheries (TURFS).

Fishers bringing in the day's catch - FAO/22008/G.Bizzarri
Fishers bringing in the day's catch - FAO/22008/G.Bizzarri

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) is promoting the revival of traditional marine tenure and resource allocation mechanisms in the region. As part of this effort, SPC puts out an information bulletin dealing with traditional marine resource management and knowledge. However, the pace of socio-economic change in the region is such that it is uncertain what the need for fish resources will be when all population groups have become urban wage earners.

Recent advances in the management of industrial fisheries at the national level have focused on the conferring of rights. Most commonly, these rights have included the ability to trade (buy, sell or lease) the entitlement to fish in a particular managed fishery. In most cases, entitlements have been provided in the form of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) or as a subset of a limited number of licences to fish. This strategy is being introduced successfully in a growing number of countries, including Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand and the United States of America. The adoption of rights-based management is also being encouraged by international institutions such as the World Bank.

Chile has introduced experimental ITQs in its deep-water shrimp and its toothfish fisheries, making it the only country in Latin America to have a functioning ITQ system. The government would like to expand the system to other fisheries but it faces resistance from operators in the fisheries concerned.

A High-Level Panel of External Experts in Fisheries, which met at FAO headquarters in January 1998, stressed the relevance of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries1 for governance. The participants concluded that the Code and its guidelines are technically credible to fisheries experts and readily understood by non-experts and, therefore, constitute an important reference for improved fisheries governance.

Regional agreements

The 1996 annual meeting of the South Pacific Forum (SPF), held in the Marshall Islands, recommended the development of comprehensive arrangements for the sustainable management of the region's fisheries across the full geographical range of stocks, including those of high seas. This recommendation reflects countries' increasing concern about the governance of high seas resources.

The Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean opened for signature on 5 September 2000 following four years of complex and intense negotiations. In the period that the Convention was open for signature (12 months from 5 September 2000) 19 States signed the Convention. In addition, a representative of Chinese Taipei signed on 5 September 2000 an Arrangement for the Participation of Fishing Entities.

The Government of New Zealand is the depositary for the Convention. As at 1 June 2002, four States had deposited their instruments of ratification (Fiji, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and Samoa). The location of the Commission's Headquarters has not been decided yet.

The purpose of the Convention is to ensure, through effective management, the long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, in accordance with the provisions of the 1982 Convention and the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement. The Convention applies to the management of all highly migratory fish stocks in the region, but principally the highly valuable and extensive tuna species in the Convention Area and most notably skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and Southern albacore tunas.

The final session of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean Tuna Conference agreed to establish a Preparatory Conference. Its purpose is to put in place arrangements to ensure that the Commission, when established formally, will commence operations effectively and with minimum delay. Two session of the Preparatory Conference have been held and a further session is scheduled for November 2002. It is envisaged that the final session of the Conference will take place prior to August 2003.

The Convention on the Conservation and Management of Fisheries Resources in the South East Atlantic Ocean, which paves the way for the establishment of South East Atlantic Fisheries Organization (SEAFO), opened for signature on 20 April 2001. Its purpose is to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of the fishery resources in the Convention Area through the effective implementation of the Convention. The negotiations for the establishment of SEAFO took place over a five-year period. As at 1 June 2002 one coastal State, Namibia, had deposited its instrument of ratification. SEAFO's Headquarters will be located in Namibia, probably in the coastal town of Swakopmund.

The Convention Area is based on FAO's Statistical Area 47. It covers high sea areas only and abuts the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of four coastal States: Angola, Namibia, South Africa and the United Kingdom (the overseas territory of Saint Helena and its dependencies of Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island).

The Government of Namibia has established an Interim Secretariat to facilitate the implementation of the Convention. It will fulfil this role pending the entry into force of the Convention and the full implementation of administrative arrangements. The Interim Secretariat will implement interim arrangements relating to the authorization and notification of fishing vessels, vessel requirements and scientific observation and collection of information to support stock assessment.

The initiatives to establish, within the framework of the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, SEAFO and the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Commission were taken essentially for the same reasons. The initiatives were intended to achieve two goals. These were to give effect to the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement in the South East Atlantic and the Western and Central Pacific Oceans, and to put in place regional fishery management organizations where none previously existed.

Members of the South Pacific Permanent Commission2 are negotiating how to conserve and manage high seas resources in the Southeast Pacific.


The conclusion that the world's main commercial fisheries need more effective management is neither surprising nor necessarily derogative of national governance worldwide. Ultimately, all fisheries require management as, where it is lacking, wastage of fish resources and fisheries inputs is inevitable. The benefits realized from good governance are most obvious in the developed countries and this has been the case for some time because their capacity for governance is more evolved. Furthermore, these countries have much to gain from improved of fisheries performance. Much of the global fishing capacity and most of the world's mature fisheries - with stocks near to being or already fully exploited - are located in the fishing zones of these countries or in other zones exploited by them.

With increasing fishing pressure and a better knowledge of stocks, the joint management of shared stocks is a priority.

As developing countries are becoming major participants in global fisheries, the focus is likely to shift to include improvements in their fisheries governance. This will require the enhancement of technical and administrative capabilities, enabling the formulation and implementation of appropriate fisheries management plans and assessments of the outcomes and needs for follow-up action. A fundamental policy consideration in this regard is capacity building and institutional strengthening within the fisheries institutions. At the same time, it must be accepted that improved benefits will not be an immediate outcome from better governance. The structural adjustments that are required in many fisheries will take a long time to become effective. Fisheries management is a process that evolves over time in response to changing circumstances.

In line with recent trends, the governance of fisheries will progressively include the direct involvement of fisheries participants, the conferring of user rights, the devolution of management functions away from government - without detracting from its stewardship role - and the financing of governance from within the sector.

1 The EC, Japan, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States
2 Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru

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