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What is fishing capacity?
A basic definition of fishing capacity describes it as the ability of a fleet to catch fish, but there still is no generally agreed upon method for how capacity should be measured.

Indicators are usually used to gauge capacity levels. The simplest way of doing so is to count the number of boats in a fishing fleet. But more accurate assessments also take into account other variables: the kinds of boats that make up the fleet, including their size; the horsepower of their engines; how many days a year they can operate; and what kind of gear they use.

Even if management regulations freeze fleet size and/or tonnage the ability of vessels to catch more fish can still increase as a result of technological improvement, particularly in fish-finding equipment and in fishing gears and methods.

This is known as "capacity-creep," and means that where overcapacity exists, decommissioning boats may not be more than a temporary solution.

However, overcapacity doesn't always occur because of new, better fishing technology or bigger, faster boats. It may mean simply a growing number of fishers. In the developing world, overcapacity tends to develop wherever large numbers of poor people depend on fishing for their livelihoods. In such situations, overcapacity occur even without technological "capacity creep".

Wherever it exists, overcapacity is a problem. Over the long term, it represents an economic waste for society; even where it is short-term, overcapacity frequently leads to overfishing and other problems like IUU fishing, according to FAO.

Strategies used to moderate fishing capacity vary from place to place, and are often used in combination. They range from rules that govern when and how (or if) new fishing boats can be launched to restrictions on what kind of gear can be used to taxes and royalties that discourage overinvestment in fishing.

However, according to FAO the only long-lasting solution is to put into place, directly or indirectly, fair and firm limits on fishers' access to fish stocks.

This can be achieved through a management system that limits the number of participants in fisheries and that relies on rights-based management schemes, says the Organization. Such schemes reorient the incentives influencing the fisheries industry and fishing communities, modifying them so that instead of racing to catch fish before the competition does, fishers instead adjust their efforts to levels that ensure long-term sustainable resource use.
Focus on the issues title graphic/FAO

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Fishing capacity: global trends

Excess capacity: solutions elusive, but not impossible

Illegal fishing and high-seas fisheries

New tools in the IUU battle


George Kourous
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53168

FAO/19821/R. Faidutti

Comprehensive capacity assessments take a range of factors into account, not just vessel size.

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