Strengthening regional fisheries governance
The importance of regional fisheries management
Strengthening RFBs and their performances in order that fish stocks may be better conserved and managed remains the major challenge facing international fisheries governance. This is reinforced by the overall state of exploitation of marine fishery resources where the situation is more serious for certain fishery resources that are exploited solely or partially in the high seas and, in particular, for straddling stocks and for highly migratory oceanic sharks.
The maximum wild capture fishery potential from the world’s oceans has probably been reached and reinforces the calls for more cautious and effective fisheries management to rebuild depleted stocks and prevent the decline of those being exploited at or close to their maximum potential.
RFMOs - gaining force
In recent years the international community has focused on the need to strengthen RFBs – in particular the RFMOs. This is reflected in international fisheries instruments (both binding and voluntary) and in international fora.
Many RFMOs are taking steps to strengthen governance through implementing the ecosystem approach to fisheries and adopting the precautionary approach. They are also working to strengthen international cooperation, promote transparency, address non-members, and enhance monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) measures, including the implementation of mandatory vessel monitoring systems (VMS), the adoption of regional schemes for port State measures and the development of vessel lists.
However, the role of RFBs with an advisory mandate – and their relationships with RFMOs – should also be fully taken into account. Their activities may lead to improved national fisheries governance and harmonized regional measures. They contribute to the efforts of RFMOs in key areas such as MCS, information exchange and scientific advice and otherwise interact with RFMOs.
Though RFBs are composed of independent States, they are not supranational organizations. States come together under the aegis of a RFB because of their common interest and concern for conserving and managing their mandated fish stocks. Therefore, RFBs can only be as effective as their members permit.
The perceived lack of action by RFMOs and their inability in some cases to stem stock declines should be viewed in the context of the obstacles that many are facing. A lack of political commitment by the members of some RFMOs and unyielding positions incompatible with sound regional fisheries management have thwarted, if not stalled, efforts undertaken within some RFMOs to meet and address conservation and management challenges. This situation hinders RFMO performance, while criticism is directed at the organizations rather than at their members.
Members must collaborate effectively and take difficult decisions if they are to be successful – even though not all members have congruent interests. The strong political will of member States of each RFB must be the primary prerequisite for the effective role of RFBs.