The South Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) is aimed at ensuring the long-term conservation and sustainable use of fishery resources other than tuna in areas that fall outside national jurisdictions (see map).
A number of concrete actions must be taken under the Agreement, including:
- establishing effective mechanisms to monitor fishing in the SIOFA;
- providing annual reports on fishing operations, including amounts of captured and discarded fish;
- conducting inspections of ships visiting ports of the Parties to verify they are in compliance with SIOFA regulations, and denying landing and discharging privileges to those who do not comply.
Other joint actions include undertaking regular studies of the state of fish stocks and the impact of fishing on the environment, implementing joint management and conservation measures, and establishing rules for member countries to decide which operators are allowed to fish in the SIOFA area.
A major step forward
Jean-Francois Pulvenis de Séligny of FAO's Fisheries Department noted the importance of this Agreement as a major step forward in the process of establishing new regional fisheries management organizations or arrangements to cover areas of the high seas where no such organization or arrangement currently exists.
The SIOFA will also join the existing network of fishery commissions already established in the region, including the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, and will cooperate with these bodies.
It is hoped that other countries will soon join the Agreement, either by signature or accession. It will enter into force once FAO, which is its legal depositary, receives the fourth instrument of ratification, including at least two from coastal states.
FAO is fully committed to supporting the implementation of the Agreement, although in the end its success or failure will depend mainly upon the efforts of the Parties to the Agreement combined with those of all other relevant stakeholders, according to Pulvenis.
The role of the fishing industry is essential
Among stakeholders, the role of the fishing industry in ensuring responsible fishing is particularly essential in the high seas, where recent years have seen a marked increase in catches, including those of non tuna species which are caught at considerable depths.
The issue of deep-sea fisheries has raised concern among the international community and was addressed by the FAO Committee on Fisheries at its last session in 2005.
“Much of great value has been done to ensure that fishing in these areas is conducted responsibly,” according to FAO expert Ross Shotton, “but there is a need to build on the existing efforts of the industry members involved.”
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