Excess capacity: solutions elusive, but not impossible
According to FAO, a number of common challenges are affecting countries' ability to manage fishing capacity.
These include the need to find alternative employment for displaced fishers; concern over the potential economic impacts of reducing fleet capacity; the difficulty of implementing effective monitoring systems for tracking fleets; and the lack institutional and technical capacity for research and policy development and implementation.
Even wealthy, developed countries are wrestling with the complexities of putting rational capacity management programmes in place, according to Dominique Gréboval, an expert on the issue with FAO's Fisheries Department.
While the size of the world's commercial, more-developed fishing fleet may have decreased somewhat over the past ten years or so, it is important to keep in mind the "capacity creep" brought on by the introduction of new fishing technologies, as well as the effect of the continuous -- and largely unchecked -- expansion of artisanal and recreational small-scale fisheries worldwide, Mr Gréboval noted.
One particularly thorny issue is how to address overcapacity in small-scale artisanal fisheries.
"Overcapacity can be a problem in that sector too, but these are often people who absolutely depend on fishing for their survival," Mr Gréboval said. "What will they do if you limit their access to fishing?"
In Viet Nam for instance, FAO studies show that some 8 million people rely on fishing as their primary income source and an additional 12 million get part of their income from fisheries -- together, they make up over one quarter of the country's total population.
In some places catches by this sector are in excess of sustainable levels, according to an FAO report, but with few alternative sources of employment in many coastal communities, reducing fishing capacity presents a formidable challenge.
In such situations, the Organization says, solutions should generally involve promoting community participation in fisheries management and reducing fishing by larger vessels in of coastal fisheries.
Another major challenge is tracking the movements of global fishing capacity as ships are reflagged in different countries or redeployed in new areas, a phenomenon that means that the distribution of world fishing capacity is an ever-shifting matrix.
Reduction of fishing capacity in some countries has been achieved by relocating vessels to other countries or to high-seas fisheries, which doesn't contribute to a global reduction of fishing capacity, noted FAO's report.
Because fishing on the high seas (those areas outside the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of coastal countries) is essentially unrestricted, effectively controlling fishing capacity on the high seas will be particularly difficult, the study added.
e-mail this article