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5. Precautionary Approach to Fishery Technology

5.1. Objective

80. Recognizing that many aquatic resources are overfished and that the fishing capacity presently available jeopardize their conservation and rational use, technological changes aimed solely at further increasing fishing capacity would not generally be seen as desirable. Instead a precautionary approach to technological changes would aim at:

a. improving the conservation and long-term sustainability of living aquatic resources;
b. preventing irreversible or unacceptable damage to the environment;
c. improving the social and economic benefits derived from fishing, and
d. improving the safety and working conditions of fishery workers.
5.2. Introduction

81. Fishery technology consists of the equipment and practices used for finding, harvesting, handling, processing and distributing of aquatic resources and their products.

82. Different fishery technologies will have different effects on the ecosystem, the social structure of fishing communities, the safety of fishery workers and the ease, effectiveness and efficiency of management of the fishery. It is the amount and context in which fishery technology is used (e.g. when, where and by whom) that influence whether the objectives of fisheries management are reached, and not the technology. For instance, the current overfishing of many aquatic resources is the product of both the efficiency of the finding and catching technologies and of the amount used. Similarly, building a fishmeal plant might involuntarily result in severe changes in the way the fishery is conducted, and in the community’s social structure.

83. Fishery technology is constantly evolving and its efficiency in catching fish will increase over time. For example, a 4% increase in efficiency per year would cause a doubling of the fishing mortality rate in 18 years if the fishing effort remained constant. A precautionary approach to management should take such increases into account.

84. A precautionary approach should be adopted for the development of new technologies or the transfer of existing technologies to other fisheries to avoid unplanned abrupt changes in fishing pressure or social structures. Certain technologies will be considered undesirable, if they create unacceptable effects (e.g., poison or explosives) or if their adoption leads to wasteful use (e.g., at sea, sorting machines have been banned where they might increase discarding).

85. Fishery technologies produce side effects on the environment and on non-target species. These effects have often been ignored but, in the context of a precautionary approach, some technologies may warrant a review. Similarly, a precautionary approach would encourage careful consideration of the side effects of new fishery technologies before they are introduced.

86. Each fishery technology has advantages and disadvantages that should be balanced in a precautionary approach, and it may be better to have a mixture of technologies. When new fishery technology is introduced, it should be carefully evaluated to assess its potential direct and indirect effects. If a mix of fishery technology representing “best current practice” in an area can be identified, precautionary management would encourage its adoption while it would discourage damaging ones. Responsible fishery technology achieves the specific fishery management objectives with the minimumdamaging side effects. These concepts (of responsible fishing and best current practices) were addressed by the UN General Assembly1 and in the Cancun Declaration2.

87. A precautionary approach would provide for a process of initial and on-going review of the effects of fishery technology as it is introduced or evolves in local practice. However, the extent to which a precautionary approach can be applied to the management of technological changes depends on the existing level of management. In some cases, education of fishermen and consumers towards responsible practices may be the only possible approach. Where elaborate research, management and enforcement systems are in place, a wider variety of options are available for application of the precautionary approach. However, although some gears and practices are prohibited they may continue to be used. The adoption of a precautionary approach to the management of new fishery technology depends on the ability to achieve compliance through education and/or enforcement. The following sections assume that institutional arrangements exist to achieve compliance.

5.3. Evaluating the Impacts of Technologies

88. A precautionary approach to developing and selecting responsible technologies for fishing requires an appropriate understanding of the consequences of their adoption and use. These consequences, particularly the impacts on non-target species and ecosystems, may be highly uncertain. Nevertheless, some information exists and more can be obtained. The problem of evaluating impacts is relevant both to the use of existing technologies and to the development of new ones, as well as to the introduction of existing technologies to new areas. The description of a given technology would state its relative impacts and advantages for a given species in a specific environment. Target fishery, environmental and ecosystem, socio-economic and legal factors should be considered when evaluating the impacts of fishery technologies.

89. The factors to consider when evaluating the impacts of fishery technology include:

a. target-fishery factors such as selectivity by size and species (e.g., target, non-target, and protected species; discards; survival of escapees; “Ghost fishing”; and catching capacity);

b. environmental and ecosystem factors such as bio-diversity; habitat degradation; contamination and pollution; generation of debris and rubbish disposal; direct mortality; predator-prey relationships;

c. socio-economic factors such as safety and occupational hazards; training requirements; user conflicts; economic performance; employment; monitoring and enforcement requirements and costs; and techno-economic factors (i.e., infrastructure and service requirements; cost and technological accessibility; product quality; and energy efficiency), and

d. legal factors such as existing legislation; need for new legislation; international agreements; and civil liberties.

90. These factors could be used to identify beneficial new technologies or damaging ones, to assess the ability of a fishery to accommodate increased use of an established technology and to help direct monitoring and special reporting procedures towards important questions. Technologies for aids to navigation, fish-locating devices, processing and distribution could also be described and evaluated using the above criteria. This will require a suitable description of technologies, cross-referenced against a range of possible impacts. Other elements relevant to the specific technology/area evaluated would also be included.

91. The approaches used to evaluate impacts will vary according to the human and financial resources available to collect information. If resources are limited, it may be possible to make decisions based on existing information on the impacts of similar technologies in similar environments. Monitoring of existing fishing practices (for example recording of bycatch) will provide additional information.

92. Where financial and human resources are limited, existing information on impacts could be used to do desk studies following the approach to evaluation suggested above. Although some general guidelines can be given, based on known characteristics of types of resources and technology, the most appropriate mix of technologies to be used in a particular fishery should be established on a case-by-case basis, following evaluations made at appropriate regional and national levels. Such evaluations could be refined with practical experience and weighed in accordance with local social and economic values.

93. In the case of new technologies, or technologies new to an area, pilot studies may be cost-effective in evaluating the impacts and can be useful in demonstrating the benefits of new technology. For example, the introduction of escape ports in lobster traps for undersized individuals demonstrated to fishermen that catch rates of large lobsters increased. On the other hand, pilot studies cannot demonstrate long-term gains such as increased yield per recruit, but they will show the short-term losses.

94. Considerable resources are required for major experiments to measure effects of fishery technology on the marine environment, but well-designed experiments of this type (either as research projects or via experimental management) will provide the most useful information on which to judge the impacts of technologies in particular areas or habitats. This information may be relevant in other areas than the study sites or fisheries from which the data were derived.

95. Procedures developed in other contexts for protecting the environment3 could also be suitable when evaluating new technologies in fisheries or major alterations to existing ones. This would be particularly necessary when there are vulnerable resources or fragile ecosystems, that must be protected. In a precautionary approach, proponents of new fishery technology would be required by the State to provide for a proper evaluation of the potential impacts of new techniques before authorization is given.

96. The maximum cost that could be justified for evaluating new fishery technology or practices should be in proportion to the expected benefits and impacts.

5.4. Implementation

97. In a precautionary approach to managing fishery technology, a designated lead authority should have the mandate to evaluate and decide on the acceptability of a proposed new technology, or changes to existing technology, and oversee the impact evaluation procedure. Proponents and other stakeholders should be able to appeal if the proper procedure has not been followed or if the decision by authorities does not appear to agree with the conclusions of the review.

98. As authorization procedures in the majority of cases would be for minor technical improvements, the procedures could be kept simple and administration costs held at a relatively low level. However, minimal progressive improvements will accumulate over time and periodic reviews of the impacts of existing technology will be necessary. Increases in catching efficiency result from the rapid growth in the use of modern information technologies in most fisheries around the world (acoustic fish detection and identification, gear and vessel monitoring, satellite-based environmental sensing and navigation, and easy inter-vessel communication). However, information, formally treated as “a measure of the reduction of uncertainty”, can also potentially improve selectivity, safety and profitability of fishing operations and thus create beneficial effects.

99. Restricting the use of improved information technologies will rarely be justified or successful and there should be a positive attitude towards technical progress in fisheries in general especially with regards to safety at sea and fishermen’s health.

100. The benefits of technological improvements need adequate extension work and education to encourage their adoption. The promotion of the best technology would benefit from improvement in international cooperation regarding technology transfer, as underscored in UNCED’s Agenda 21. The successful international efforts in the Eastern Central Pacific in training crews in effectively avoiding bycatches of dolphins through the use of specifically designed technology is a good example of what can be achieved in this respect.

5.5. Technology Research and Development

101. Fishery technology research in support of a precautionary approach would encourage the improvement of existing technologies and promote the development of appropriate new technologies. Such research would not just concentrate on gears used for capture; for example, research into the cost-effective purification of water supplies to ice plants might considerably reduce post-harvest losses and improve product quality and safety.

102. Technological developments such as satellite tracking may also help precautionary management by improving monitoring of commercial operations and by enabling research to reduce uncertainty about relevant aspects of fisheries science.

5.6. Implementation Guidelines

103. The following measures could be applied in order to implement a precautionary approach to fishery technology development and transfer.


a. Effective mechanisms to ensure that the introduction of technology is subject to review and regulation should be established.

Evaluation procedures

b. A first step in the evaluation procedure is the documentation of the characteristics and amount of the fishery technology currently used.

c. Procedures for the evaluation of new technologies with a view to identify their characteristics in order to promote the use of beneficial technologies and prevent usage of those leading to difficult-to-reverse changes should be established.

d. These procedures should evaluate with appropriate accuracy the possible impacts of the proposed technology in order to avoid wasteful capital and social investments.

e. Authorities should ensure that proponents and other stakeholders understand their obligations and their rights regarding such procedures.

f. The extent of the evaluation procedures should match the potential effects of the proposed technology, e.g., from desk study through full scale impact studies, possibly including or leading to pilot projects.


g. Authorities should implement technology gradually to minimize the risk of irreversible damage or overinvestment.

h. Existing technologies and their effect on the environment should be reviewed periodically.

i. Technological developments may modify the practices of fishery workers. To achieve the full benefits of the technology and to ensure the safety of fishery workers, training in the proper use of the new technology should be provided.

j. In fisheries that are being rehabilitated, the opportunity should be taken to review the mix of technologies used.

k. Research into responsible fishery technology should be encouraged.

l. Technology research for the reduction of uncertainty in stock assessment and monitoring should be encouraged.

1 General Assembly resolution 44/228 of 22 December 1989 on UNCED referred instead to “environmentally sound technology”, stressing the need for socio-economic constraints to be taken into account. The wording does not pretend to limit the choice to a single “best” or soundest technology, implying that many “sound” technologies may be used together, depending on the socio-economic context of their introduction

2 The Cancun Declaration (Mexico, 1992) provides that “States should promote the development and use of selective fishing gear and practices that minimise waste of catch of target species and minimise by-catch of non-target species”, focusing on only one aspect of responsible fishing technology

3 Before introducing a possibly dangerous technology or discharging pollutants, industries have to provide information on the potential impact in order to obtain a permit from authorities. Usually a number of special measures are prescribed for monitoring the effect and limiting the possible impacts on the environment. A softer approach is the Prior Informed Consent (PIC), a more stringent one the Prior Consultation Procedures (PCP); the former mainly requires a consent from those who could possibly become affected, while the latter is a more formal procedure. Those mechanisms however are efficient only when there is a powerful and competent environmental authority

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