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Managing fishing capacity
Some steps in the right direction, but a long way to go
Of 80 countries that responded to an FAO survey on capacity management, 60 have conducted or plan to conduct an initial assessment of national fishing capacity -- but mostly for large scale commercial fisheries.

Half report having national programmes in place for monitoring fishing capacity, but fewer countries (26) have established target capacity levels for their commercial fishery fleets, the survey shows.

However 80% said that they have directly incorporated capacity considerations into their day-to-day fisheries management regimes. About two-thirds of responding countries have developed, or are in the process of doing so, national plans of action on capacity management.

Most countries report putting limits on new boat entries to fishing fleets, at least for larger, commercial fisheries. In addition, many are implementing measures aimed at limiting the use of existing capacity by imposing quotas on catch or fishing effort.

Others are taking steps to actually reduce fishing capacity, usually through government buy-backs of licenses or vessels.

China, for instance, recently initiated a buy-back programme aimed at reducing its total fleet size by 30 000 ships, about 7% of the total. In the European Union, buy-back programmes have been implemented that focus on those fisheries that are most overexploited, with additional incentive payments to fishers willing to exit them.

Importantly, regional fishery bodies -- intergovernmental organizations that manage shared fisheries resources in a given area -- are increasingly addressing issues of capacity. During this week's consultation, for instance, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, composed of 14 different countries, informed FAO that it is finalizing a region-wide plan for managing tuna fishing capacity in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Trends in capacity

Overall, the size and tonnage of the global fishing fleet appears to be stabilizing, according to FAO, and for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries fleet sizes have not merely stabilized, they are declining.

However, the organization noted, it is difficult to assess the extent to which new technologies and other improvements in vessels' ability to catch fish have offset these trends.

Indeed, despite aggregate global trends, a fishery-by-fishery analysis would likely reveal that overcapacity is still present in a large number of fleets exploiting major commercial fish stocks -- and in spite of increasing management efforts.

For instance, FAO research shows that tuna fisheries worldwide have an average harvesting overcapacity of about 20%, although this varies from region to region. Similarly, a recent government study in the United States found that overcapacity exists in 55% of 73 important fisheries there.

What needs to be done

"The survey shows that there's a lot of ground yet to cover, but also that the issue of responsible management of fishing capacity is now definitely on the table, which is in itself a big achievement," said Dominique Gréboval, a Senior Fishery Planning Officer at FAO.

According to Mr Gréboval, four key issues need to be addressed:

- implementing stronger access limitations in all fisheries;

- establishing better regulatory mechanisms to control transfers of fishing capacity among fisheries;

- improving regional cooperation on managing fishing capacity in transboundary and shared-stocks;

- finding ways to help developing countries implement fishing capacity management programmes.
Focus on the issues title graphic/FAO

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

FAO/13788/J. Isaac

Fishing overcapacity can occur wherever large numbers of poor people depend on the sea for their livelihoods, even if their techniques are artisanal.

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