FAO Fisheries Circular No. 917 FIRM/C917



Marine Resources Service
Fishery Resources Division
FAO Fisheries Department


Rome, October 1996


The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries was approved in 1995 by the Twenty-eighth Session of the Committee on Fisheries of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as a suitable basis for judging whether living aquatic resources are being harvested in a way which is compatible with sustainable development as discussed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and with other standard norms and practices, such as laid out in the Law of the Sea and subsequent international instruments.

As published in 1995, the Code contains twelve Articles dealing with a range of technical subject matters which include Fisheries Management, Fishing Operations, Aquaculture Development, Integration of Fisheries into Coastal Area Development, Post-harvest Practices and Trade, Fisheries Research, as well as introductory Articles dealing with Objectives of the Code, Relationship with other Instruments, etc. Of immediate concern here are those provisions of the Code relating to management of fisheries. Article 7 contains the core of relevant material, but clauses of importance are to be found in a number of other Articles which have been reproduced here.

Article 4 specifies the role of FAO in the implementation and monitoring of adherence to the provisions of the Code. This document should be regarded as addressing this issue in a hopefully objective way, with minimal interpretation of the text of the Code. A provisional scoring system is provided for which conforms with practice in other areas of endeavour such as, for example, environmental impact assessment, specified in the ISO series of standards.

The question addressed here then is whether a given fishery of fishery management system is in accord with the requirements laid out under the Code. In attempting to address this question, the document provides a series of questions developed with minimal editorial changes from the original text which can be used for an evaluation by the managers themselves or those involved in certification of a fishery as 'responsible', as defined under the Code. Other Articles and clauses of the Code may, of course, be included in such a questionnaire, and the reader is, in any case, referred to the Code for exact wording and full contents.

It is suggested that the document be used in one of two ways:

(1) as a focus for discussion by those concerned with management of a given fishery, to be sure that the relevant issues are touched upon in designing a fisheries management system.

(2) a check list for seeing that the fishery in question meets the requirements of the Code, which can be updated regularly to see whether progress is being made in approximating the fisheries management system currently in place to its provisions.

Provision is made in the document for summarizing relevant information after each section which could elaborate on the reasons given for the scoring assigned to that particular clause or clauses or could spell out progress made or difficulties encountered.

It is requested that a copy of the completed checklist, together with commentary, be sent to FAO, which is the repository of the Code and has the responsibility for monitoring adherence to its provisions. This should indicate the persons or institutions who were responsible for completion of the questionnaire, together with an indication of its status with respect to confidentiality.

Caddy, J.F.

A checklist for fisheries resource management issues seen from the perspective of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

FAO Fisheries Circular. No. 917. Rome, FAO. 1996. 22p.


The provisions of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, as they relate to fisheries management, are expressed in the form of questions with minimal interpretation. A system of scoring is suggested which will assist those concerned with fisheries management in evaluating the adherence of a particular fishery or fishery management system to the provisions of the Code and for monitoring progress in this respect. The document focuses particularly on Article 7, which deals with Fisheries Management sensu strictu but extracts from other Articles those clauses that have immediate relevance to the proper management of living aquatic resources. The document is also intended to provide a focus for discussion at fisheries management fora between those concerned with fisheries management.


The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries originated at the Nineteenth Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) after a protracted period of negotiation, received a broad consensus from the member States of FAO and was finally adopted by the Twenty-eighth Session of COFI. The Code is voluntary, even though certain parts of it are based on relevant rules of international law, including those reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It also includes certain provisions that may be, or are already, binding, notably the Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas, 1993.

As noted in Article 1, Nature and Scope of the Code,

"The Code provides principles and standards applicable to the conservation, management and development of fisheries. It also covers the capture, processing and trade of fish and fishery products, fishing operations, aquaculture, fisheries research and the integration of fisheries into coastal area management".

The present document concentrates principally on issues related to fisheries management in the narrower sense of resource management, notably those clauses found in Article 7, Fisheries Management. Selected clauses from other Articles, i.e. Article 8, Fishing Operations, Article 10, Integration of Fisheries into Coastal Area Management, Article 11, Post-Harvest Practices and Trade, and Article 12, Fisheries Research, are also included here, where they seem of particular concern to the question of resource management, sensu strictu, but should also be considered separately where this seems appropriate.

The genesis of the present document comes from the general observation that the Code consists of a series of statements of principles that need to be placed in an 'operational' context in order to see what is their practical significance to fisheries managers, stakeholders in the fishery, the fishing industry in general and, progressively in recent years, the concerned public at large. As a way of rendering the implications of the Code more explicit, and at the same time testing to see how close the various fisheries management systems are to meeting its provisions, it seemed a useful idea to reformulate the provisions of the Code, where this is possible, in the form of a series of specific questions. These could, in theory at least, be asked of any particular fishery in an attempt to see how it measures up to the idealized fishery regime envisaged by the countries that agreed to the provisions in the Code.

This process has been revealing in that it has made clear how condensed is the text of the Code, in which individual clauses contain a number of ideas that, when formulated in the interrogative form, often reveal themselves as a series of questions that need to be answered in sequence. Some duplication of questions inevitably resulted from this literal translation of individual clauses, but these have been left as indicating the emphasis given to these particular points in the Code. Translating the Code into questions is to some extent subjective, and it must be stressed that the questionnaire below does not have the authority of the Code, although I believe it provides one useful way of seeing what are its implications in practical terms.

A further aspect that was inevitably emphasized by the intergovernmental process that gave rise to the Code is the high proportion of clauses that refer to State responsibility. This is, of course, a reflection of the subsidiarity of the Code to more formal instruments such as the 1982 Law of the Sea, and it is inevitable for those fisheries (identified as such in the questionnaire by an asterisk) where State responsibility cannot be easily delegated, notably those operating totally or in part on high seas, shared stocks and straddling and highly migratory fisheries, where the Code has been harmonized with the relevant clauses of the August 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982, relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. (This questionnaire does not attempt to cover the full scope of this latter Agreement, however, and it will be necessary to delete or modify the asterisked clauses for fisheries wholly under national jurisdiction.)

It is also clear that, for the Code to be effectively applied, it must be addressed through governments to those engaged in world fisheries at the grass-roots level, i.e. the fishing communities, fishing industry, fishers and all those considered to be covered by the term "interested parties" in the Code or, in more common parlance, the "stakeholders in the fishery". In formulating the individual clauses of the Code as questions, therefore, the questions are addressed to a more general audience, when this seemed appropriate, rather than to the "State", so that they can be hopefully answered by different levels of representation of those involved in the fisheries world.

Although the reader is urged not to confuse the questionnaire with the Code but to refer to the text of the Code to see what exactly was agreed to, an example can be provided here of the reformulation of a clause in the form of one or more questions, namely Clause 7.1.2, which reads:

"Within areas under national jurisdiction, States should seek to identify relevant domestic parties having a legitimate interest in the use and management of fishery resources and establish arrangements for consulting them to gain their collaboration in achieving responsible fisheries".

This has been decomposed into two separate questions, for each of which a limited multiple choice of responses has been provided:

7.1.2 (a) Have attempts been made to identify domestic parties having a legitimate interest in the use and management of fisheries resources?

(b) Have arrangements been made to consult these parties and gain their collaboration?

Questions have been scored in such a way that a fishery that meets these criteria in the respondent's opinion gains a 'perfect score', with the possibility recognized that, in most cases, a response intermediate between wholly positive and wholly negative will be likely.

The deficiencies of such a procedure are well recognized, since there are many pitfalls in attempting to interpret the 'correct' response to, and appropriate overall weighting for, a given question, depending on the definitions followed as well as the point of view. Some simple examples of the problem of definitions are, for example, the common phrases "conservation and management measure", "confiden-tiality requirements", "complete and reliable statistics", etc. The parties that agreed to the Code did not enter into questions of definition of its component terms for the obvious reason that, if they had done so, an overall agreement would have been postponed indefinitely! Commonly used meanings of the terms used are implied, but clearly different definitions of a given term exist and will influence how a particular question is answered.

The particular approach taken to translating the answers to such questions into quantitative terms is certainly debatable, and other weightings for the scores are certainly possible. It is justifiable, I believe, if only because a scoring of the questionnaire by those involved or interested in the fisheries conservation and management process should lead to a clarification of the current situation of a given fishery. It would be particularly useful if it led to a short commentary by the respondent after each question, reflecting a general consensus on the answer to be provided and discussing its applicability in the particular circumstance of the fishery in question.

Not all Articles in the Code are well adapted to be expressed in the form of questions, and these have been omitted (e.g. 7.15, 7.4.1, 7.8) and, for the same reason, no specific questions are formulated based on Article 6 of the Code, the General Principles. This is not because these articles are not important; to the contrary, they represent in key form the 'core' of the Code and are elaborated later in more detail in the Articles that follow.

Similarly, in order to preserve objectivity, Article 5, referring to 'Special Requirements of Developing Countries' is not specifically taken as influencing the scoring in the questionnaire - it would seem better to score all fisheries in the same way - but takes "the capacity of developing countries to implement the recommendations of this Code" , referred to in Article 5, into account as and when it is decided what scoring is to be regarded as satisfying the criteria for responsible fishing, an issue which, needless to say, has not been addressed here.

The questionnaire begins with Article 7, Fisheries Management, and the assumption that a particular fishery resource, with geographical boundaries, is to be managed, and it attempts to establish whether or not issues raised in the Code of Conduct have been dealt with, totally or in part. A possible scoring for the questions is proposed which can be summed separately for each major Article. These scorings should be interpreted with caution, however, not only because of the subjective nature of the responses but also because no attempt is made to ensure that the scores reflect the relative importance of the questions or of the clauses of the Code that refer to it, nor is it inevitably the case, given the multiplicity of management systems in operation and the differing importance of the individual questions, that a lower score automatically means that one fishery is "less responsible" that another. The scoring may, however, have some value as an incentive for action and can serve as a way of comparing the performance of a given fishery management system for two or more fisheries.

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