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Purpose of the paper

Driven by world population growth and increased global demand for fishery products, fishing pressure has been rapidly increasing over the past years. Marine captures totalled 86.0 million MT in 2000, a level close to the historic peak of 86.4 million MT in 1997, following the decline to 79.2 million MT in 1998[1]. Capture of inland fish resources, in turn, increased from 7.5 million MT in 1997 to 8.8 million MT in 2000[2] (FAO 2002).

As the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) reports, only an estimated 25 percent of the major marine fish stocks or species groups for which information is available are underexploited or moderately exploited. About 47 percent of them are fully exploited and are therefore producing catches that have reached, or are very close to, their maximum sustainable limits. Another 18 percent are reported as overexploited. Ten percent of stocks have become significantly depleted, or are recovering from depletion through the implementation of drastic and long-term reductions in fishing pressure and other management measures (FAO 2002).

Over time, the international community has launched various international and regional conservation initiatives with the aim of improving the conservation status of commercially exploited aquatic species, with a particular focus on depleted and overexploited species. Such initiatives include:

- management measures by regional fishery bodies and arrangements (RFBAs)[3];
- international treaties; and
- soft law.

The commercial exploitation of aquatic species provides food and income in most areas of the world, and especially in developing countries and transition economies. This paper aims to assess the economic and social importance of selected fisheries targeting aquatic species with an international conservation profile. In order to ensure adequate representation, the following species were chosen:

- Sturgeons and paddlefishes (Acipenseriformes), large inland fish species of high commercial value, mainly occurring in the northern hemisphere. These species are highly threatened by legal and illegal overfishing. They have been listed as a genus in Appendix II to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), while some particular species have been listed in Appendix I.

- Caribbean queen conch (Strombus gigas), a mollusc of high commercial value, exploited by both artisanal and commercial fisheries in tropical areas. It is listed in Appendix II to the CITES Convention.

- Sharks (Chondrichthyes), widely distributed but still understudied animals, generally considered as “poor people’s fish”, but for their fins, which fetch high prices in world markets. Sharks are generally taken by commercial fisheries as bycatch, whereas targeted shark fisheries are largely artisanal. Sharks are protected by the CITES Convention, the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the UNCLOS Convention and by the FAO International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks).

- Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides), a large oceanic species, particularly appreciated by North American, European and Japanese connoisseurs for its flesh, and exploited by commercial fisheries in the areas bordering the Antarctic. The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has set up a sustainable management regime for this resource.

Another selection criterion has been the under-representation of the species in marketing and industry literature, historically focused on traditional commodities such as bivalves, cephalopods, crab, fishmeal and fish oil, groundfish of the genera Gadhus spp., Merluccius spp. and Theragra spp., lobster, salmon, shrimp, small pelagics and tuna.

Background to the international environmental legislation with an impact on the commercially-exploited aquatic species analysed in this paper


The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources came into force in 1982, as part of the Antarctic Treaty System. Outcomes of the Convention were the CCAMLR and its Scientific Committee. CCAMLR is a trans-oceanic RFBA whose mandate covers marine living resources in the Southern Oceans.

CCAMLR and its Scientific Committee pioneered the “ecosystem approach” to the management of fisheries. The ecosystem approach, according to CCAMLR, does not concentrate only on the species fished, but also seeks to avoid situations where fisheries have a significant adverse effect on dependent and related species.

CCAMLR set up measures to prevent and combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU). In the case of Patagonian toothfish, the Commission established an International Catch Documentation Scheme (CDS) to track and monitor trade in Dissostichus spp. According to the scheme, Parties are required to document all toothfish landed in their ports, transhipped in their vessels or through their ports, in order to avoid IUU fishing.


The aim of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. CITES works by making international trade in selected animal and plant species conditional to certain controls. All import, export, re-export and introduction from the sea, of species covered by the Convention must be authorised through a licensing system. The species covered by CITES are listed in three appendices, according to the degree of protection needed:

- Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances;

- Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival;

- Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling trade in such species.

Each Party to the Convention must designate one or more Management Authorities in charge of administering the licensing system and one or more Scientific Authorities to advise them on the effects of trade on the status of the species. A specimen of a CITES-listed species may be traded only if the appropriate document has been obtained and presented for clearance at the port of entry or exit.

Commercially-exploited aquatic species listed in CITES appendices include sturgeons and paddlefishes (Appendix II as a genus and Appendix I), three shark species (the basking shark Cethorinus maximus and the whale shark Rhincodon typus in Appendix II and the great white shark Carcharodon carcharias in Appendix III) and the Caribbean queen conch in Appendix II.

Other international legislation

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range. Parties to CMS work together to conserve migratory species and their habitats by providing strict protection for the endangered migratory species listed in its Appendix I, by concluding multilateral Agreements for the conservation and management of migratory species listed in its Appendix II, and by undertaking co-operative research activities. The whale shark and the great white shark, plus several Acipenseriformes, are listed in Appendix II to CMS.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establishes a comprehensive legal framework to regulate all ocean space, its uses and resources. It contains provisions relating to the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the continental shelf, the exclusive economic zone and the high seas. It also provides for the protection and preservation of the marine environment, for marine scientific research and for the development and transfer of marine technology.

Annex I to UNCLOS provides a list of highly migratory fish species, including tunas, bonitos, billfishes (Scombroidei) and many oceanic sharks[4]. The United Nations 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, was adopted in 1995 and entered into force in 2001. It sets out principles for the conservation and management of those fish stocks and establishes that such management must be based on the precautionary approach and the best available scientific information. The agreement elaborates on the principle of international cooperation, established in UNCLOS, as a means to ensure conservation and promote the objective of optimum utilization of fish resources. The agreement attempts to achieve this by providing a framework for cooperation in the conservation and management of those resources.

Soft law

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) is based on an approach to fisheries management embracing environmental, social and economic considerations. It sets out principles and international standards of behaviour for responsible practices in fisheries and aquaculture with a view to ensuring the effective conservation, management and development of living aquatic resources, with due respect for the ecosystem and biodiversity. The Code recognises the nutritional, economic, social, environmental and cultural importance of fisheries and the interests of all those concerned with the fishery sector. It takes into account the biological characteristics of the resources and their environment and the interests of consumers and other users.

The Code of Conduct was formulated in a way that that would allow it to be interpreted and applied in conformity with the relevant rules of international law, such as UNCLOS and the Fish Stock Agreement[5] of 1995. It also encompasses the principles of sustainability enshrined in the Cancún Declaration of Responsible Fishing[6] and by chapter 17 of Agenda 21.

The Code is voluntary, however, certain parts of it are based on relevant rules of international law. The Code also contains provisions that may be or have already been given binding effect by means of other obligatory legal instruments amongst the parties. Examples include the Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas (Compliance Agreement), adopted in 1993 and forming an integral part of the Code.

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries has been recently integrated in four voluntary instruments, the International Plans of Action (IPOAs). Three IPOAs have been adopted by the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in 1999:

- The International Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries (IPOA-Seabirds);

- International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks;

- The International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity (IPOA-Capacity).

A fourth IPOA has been adopted in 2001, i.e. the International Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IPOA-IUU).

The IPOA-Sharks is aimed at the conservation and sustainable management of chondrichthyans (sharks, rays and chimaeras) through national plans of action. These aim to, inter alia:

- ensure the sustainability of shark catches from species-specific and non species-specific fisheries;

- assess threats to shark populations;

- determine and protect critical habitats;

- involve all stakeholders in research, management and educational initiatives within and between States;

- minimize waste and discards from shark;

- encourage full use of dead sharks;

- facilitate improved species-specific catch and landings data and monitoring of shark catches;

- facilitate the identification and reporting of species-specific biological and trade data.

The Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) of the World Trade Organization (WTO)

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the institutional structure governing the current international trading system. It was established in 1994 as one of the main outcomes of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The WTO system has three main purposes:

- To help trade flow as freely as possible, through removing obstacles such as tariff and non-tariff barriers and ensuring the transparency of trade rules;

- To serve as a forum for trade negotiations, since trade agreements and tariff concessions are negotiated multilaterally;

- To settle trade disputes, through trying to conciliate diverging interests between states and providing the interpretation of WTO agreements through its Dispute Settlement Body (DSB).

The core of the WTO system is the principle of non-discrimination. According to this principle, a member country should not discriminate between other WTO members, which are all given most-favoured nation (MFN) status, and between its own and foreign products, services and nationals, which are all given “national treatment”. Under the MFN principle, if a country grants a special treatment to one or more of its trading partners, it has to extend the same treatment to all trading partners. Under the national treatment principle, products, services and nationals from one WTO member country should be treated in any other WTO member country as if they were domestic. Both principles meet some exceptions, due to the presence of organizations pursuing regional economic integration such as the EU (WTO 2001).

Trade measures aimed at the conservation of commercially-exploited aquatic species, to be consistent with the WTO framework, must be non-discriminatory, particularly with respect to their application against non-parties, transparent and directly linked to a policy of conserving an exhaustible natural resource. It is in the mandate of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) to:

- identify the relationship between trade measures and environmental measures in order to promote sustainable development;

- make appropriate recommendations on whether any modifications of the provisions of the multilateral trading system are required, compatible with the open, equitable and non-discriminatory nature of the system.

(WTO 2001).

The CTE is currently trying to address the trade provisions that several Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) contain. Problems are less likely to occur in the WTO between countries that have signed the relevant MEA and have therefore agreed to the trade measures prescribed in it. Problems are more likely to occur when the relevant MEA obliges its parties to apply trade measures to imports from non-parties (WTO 2003). However, thus far, no case has been brought to the WTO DSB against any of the trade measures aimed at the conservation of natural resources (OECD 2003).

Methodology and shortcomings

This report is composed of four separate studies covering Acipenseriformes, Strombus gigas, Chondrichthyes and Dissostichus eleginoides. The author has striven to provide a balanced evaluation resulting from the analysis of a series of cases, leaving room for future developments and re-evaluation of the conclusions of the studies.

The capture and trade statistics are mostly those collected by the Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Unit (FIDI) of FAO, and made available through the Fishstat Plus database (hereinafter: Fishstat +), complemented by other sources, such as EUROSTAT, CITES, and national statistics. National reports are the main, but not the only source of data used by FAO to maintain its fishery statistics database. In cases where data are missing or are considered unreliable, FAO includes estimates based on the best available information from any qualified source. International trade statistics are obtained from countries and supplemented through a comprehensive network of regional intergovernmental institutions created by FAO (the FISHINFOnetwork).

FAO’s capture and trade statistics are global in coverage, have complete time series since 1950 and are regularly updated. However, during the last decade, financial support for the development and maintenance of national fishery statistical systems has decreased sharply in real terms, while information needs have been increasing dramatically. The outcome, reflected in the Fishstat + database, may present shortcomings in terms of coverage, timeliness, and quality. The result is that the general trends are probably reliably reflected by the available statistics but the annual figures and the assessments involve a certain degree of uncertainty.

FAO data on employment in fishing, provided by FIDI[7], are generally under-representative of the real extent of fishery employment in given countries. Data on employment in the secondary sector are very limited and generally provided without distinction between processing and marketing. Furthermore, gender breakdown is generally not provided by the references consulted (FAO FIDI data and the various FAO fishery country profiles). Last but not least, data on employment in selected fisheries (e.g. sharks, sturgeons, etc.) are very rarely provided, the paper mostly relying on estimates drawn on the basis of FAO data, following this methodology:

Number of sturgeon fishers in country X = (total inland fishers of X)*[(sturgeon catch of X)/(total inland catch of X)]

Number of queen conch fishers in country Y = (total marine fishers of Y)*[(queen conch catch by Y in the Western Central Atlantic area)/(total marine catch by Y in the Western Central Atlantic area)]

Number of Patagonian toothfish fishers in country Z = (total marine fishers of Z)*[(Patagonian toothfish catch of Z)/(total marine catch of Z)].

The analyses of the economic and social importance of the Caribbean queen conch Strombus gigas and on Acipenseriformes benefited the most from availability of data and literature. The regional concentration of the resources also allowed the formulation of more precise and reliable estimates. However, data on catch and trade of queen conch include other conchs and univalves. The sources consulted on sturgeons showed a lack of data on employment in caviar processing and marketing.

The study on the Patagonian toothfish Dissostichus eleginoides benefited from the geographic concentration of the resource and the availability of literature, but there are shortcomings in the quality of employment data. Also the existence of unresolved and sometimes unknown issues such as IUU fishing constitutes a constraint to a sound analysis.

The study on chondrichthyans was the most affected by data shortcomings. The general nature of catch and trade data provided did not allow a precise judgement of sustainability in the utilization of sharks, rays and chimaeras. Furthermore, the particular nature of the fishery, which is more linked to commercial bycatch than to a targeted fishery per se, does not allow assessment of its social relevance with a high degree of precision[8].


FAO. 2002. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA). Rome, FAO. 152 pp. (available at

GLOBEFISH. 2003. Fish trade regulations on the web (available at

OECD. 2003. Stopping the High Sea Robbers: Coming to Grips with Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fisheries on the High Seas, by S. Upton and V. Vitalis. Paris, OECD.

WTO. 2001. Trade into the future. 2nd Revised Edition, Geneva, WTO. 68 pp. (available at

WTO. 2003. The WTO and its Committee on Trade and Environment. Geneva, WTO. (available at

[1] This decline was caused by the adverse impact of El Niño (FAO 2002).
[2] However, as the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) reports, there are significant problems concerning the accuracy of inland fishery statistics (FAO 2002).
[3] On the basis of scientific evidence, RFBAs recommend measures aimed at maintaining the natural resources under their mandate at levels allowing maximum sustainable catch.
[4] Oceanic sharks included in UNCLOS are: bluntnose sixgill shark Hexanchus griseus; basking shark Cetorhinus maximus; the whole family Alopiidae; whale shark Rhincodon typus; the whole family Carcharhinidae; the whole family Sphyrnidae; the whole family Isurida.
[5] The 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.
[6] It represents one of the main outcomes of the International Conference on Responsible Fishing, held in Cancún in May 1992
[7] All employment data in this paper referenced as “FAO FIDI data” are provisional and due to be issued in a forthcoming FAO Fisheries Circular.
[8] As a result, estimates on employment in shark fisheries have not been drawn, with the exception of China, the only case country which made available some data on targeted shark fisheries.

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