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Institutional frameworks

The principles listed in the first section lend themselves to an ethical analysis of fisheries, looking at the various and complex dimensions of the sector that are briefly described in the second section. However, these principles are ineffective by themselves; they must be placed in the complex context of the economic and social reality of fisheries. An important preliminary step is to reflect upon the key instruments of relevance to fisheries that have been formulated by the responsible international institutions.

The natural point of departure for an ethical engagement with development issues is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. General provisions about civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights have motivated subsequent efforts to articulate and implement them. The general provisions of the Universal Declaration provide the motivation and the conceptual framework. The past two decades have seen continuing diplomatic and intellectual efforts in the context of fisheries.

Fishers can become partners in development, not just recipients of services


Among the various instruments and guidelines for a governance framework for fisheries are the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982, the FAO Compliance Agreement[6] of 1993 and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement[7] of 1995. Under the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the Rio Declaration and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) of 1992, countries committed themselves to utilizing natural resources in a sustainable manner.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), in 2002, articulated an agenda for fisheries, asking that fish stocks be restored "on an urgent basis and where possible no later than 2015".[8] At the Nineteenth Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI), in 1991, the need for more responsible fisheries was stressed. The International Conference on Responsible Fishing, held in 1992, elaborated on the initial concept of "responsibility", which was further developed in the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The 2001 Reykjavik Conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem led to the adoption of the ecosystem approach to fisheries as part of the implementation of the Code.

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries was adopted unanimously on 31 October 1995 by the FAO Conference. The Code is consistent with the other instruments listed above. It establishes, in a non-mandatory manner, principles and standards applicable to the conservation, management and development of all fisheries under all jurisdictions. It provides a necessary framework for national and international efforts to ensure sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources in harmony with the environment. The Code lays out principles and international standards of behaviour for responsible practices that aim to ensure the effective conservation, management and development of living aquatic resources. The principles and standards take into account all relevant biological, technological, economic, social, environmental and commercial aspects and allow due respect for the ecosystem and for biodiversity.

Key articles from the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

· Article 6.1. States and users of living aquatic resources should conserve aquatic ecosystems. The right to fish carries with it the obligation to do so in a responsible manner so as to ensure effective conservation and management of the living aquatic resources.

· Article 6.2. Fisheries management should promote the maintenance of the quality, diversity and availability of fishery resources in sufficient quantities for present and future generations in the context of food security, poverty alleviation and sustainable development ...

· Article 6.13. States should ... ensure that decision-making processes are transparent and achieve timely solutions to urgent matters. States, in accordance with appropriate procedures, should facilitate consultation and the effective participation of industry, fishworkers, environmental and other interested organizations in decision-making with respect to the development of laws and policies related to fisheries management, development, international lending and aid.

· Article 6.18. Recognizing the important contributions of artisanal and small-scale fisheries to employment, income and food security, States should appropriately protect the rights of fishers and fishworkers, particularly those engaged in subsistence, small-scale and artisanal fisheries, to a secure and just livelihood, as well as preferential access, where appropriate, to traditional fishing grounds and resources in the waters under their national jurisdiction.

By taking note of international agreements and technical advancements, the Code is meant to establish criteria for the implementation of national policies and effect improvements in the legal and institutional framework required for the exercise of responsible fisheries. The Code addresses the responsible use of resources (and the related environment), as well as the implications for human societies. It emphasizes economic, social, environmental, cultural and nutritional aspects, explicitly linking fisheries, food security and food quality. It also deals with the promotion of trade in accordance with international rules and the promotion of research and, in general, sets standards of conduct.

The Code also places a special emphasis on the nutritional needs of local communities and, by extension, on the relationships between fisheries and food security and food quality. Another important aspect of the Code is an emphasis on transparency in decision-making processes and timely solutions to urgent matters, facilitating effective participation of parties that either have direct interests or represent them.

For more information on the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, visit:

The ecosystem approach

Following the Reykjavik Conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem in 2001, the concept of an ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) was adopted by FAO, and preliminary guidelines to further its implementation, within the implementation of the Code, were developed (FAO, 2003a). These guidelines pose the EAF as an extension of the conventional fisheries management paradigm and practices and are in line with the provision of the Code that addresses the consideration of ecosystems.

While the guidelines do not make any direct reference to environmental ethics, they respond to the demand of society for more responsible behaviour of fisheries (and interacting sectors) towards the marine ecosystem. As such they contain elements of environmental ethics of specific relevance to fisheries.

The sustainable livelihoods approach

FAO and related bodies have articulated, and aim to implement, a sustainable livelihoods approach to fisheries. The concept is applicable mainly to small-scale fisheries, but it also has relevance for many larger-scale fishing communities. The approach encourages communities to consider their assets, strengths and opportunities as a whole. Its purpose is to lay foundations for a community project where fishers, in particular poor rural fishers, can become partners in development, not just recipients of services. The aim is to help these communities, marginalized by poverty, illiteracy and isolation, eventually become full partners in society.

The focus of the following discussion is on the way in which fisheries and their management affect the livelihoods of human societies, relating the moral dimension to socio-economic factors in general - and to poverty and social inequality in particular. The main emphasis will be on presenting a mode of thinking about ethical issues in fisheries that will have implications for how the principles of the Code may be further applied.

[6] Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas
[7] 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
[8] Paragraph 30(a) of the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development

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