International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability

Session 8

Policy opportunities for fisheries in the 21st century

FAO session lead: Amber Himes-Cornell

Speakers and panelists

Webcast link

Key messages

This session explores policy imperatives for the fisheries sector of the 21st century in the context of renewed emphasis on fisheries to meet the food demands of a growing human population, progressive changes in the overall productivity of marine systems, the international implications of reduced access to fisheries resources, and the redistribution of fished species in relation to management areas and fisheries as the climate changes.

Given the immense diversity of the economic, social and ecological characteristics of regions and their fisheries, there are wide variations in how fisheries are managed and to what extent management is deemed successful. Most national fisheries management policies focus on balancing conservation and sustainable use, with a particular emphasis on ecological rather than social or economic sustainability. However, the outcomes of these policies have varied, with some nations and regions largely meeting their management objectives while others have not.

Many of the challenges to successful policy implementation are the result of high demand for limited resources, poverty and lack of alternatives to fishing, complexity and inadequate knowledge, inappropriate incentives and market distortions, lack of governance, and conflicts between the fisheries sector with other sectors and the environment. Thus, it is well recognized that national and international management of fisheries still faces a number of gaps and weaknesses that must be addressed so that the full potential of the world's fisheries can be unlocked.

Some of the primary challenges are:

  • Finding suitable mechanisms for effective management in countries and regions that cannot, or choose not to, allocate adequate and human resources to developing and running management systems
  • Managing different fisheries that may share the same biological resources
  • Improving the effectiveness of international cooperation
  • Managing fisheries in areas of high biological diversity
  • Achieving the fair allocation of the world's fisheries resources
  • Building constructive relationships with marine and inland biodiversity conservation initiatives and other sectors and uses of marine and freshwater resources
  • Reconciling economic, social and environmental objectives
  • Practical implementation and enforcement of existing management systems.

Although fisheries management is guided by a number of international policies and agreements including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (UN, 1994), UN Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) (UN, 2001), the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO, 1995) and associated international plans of action and other instruments, the modern world is changing rapidly under the influence of climate change, economic and technological development and other factors. The relatively recent development and adoption of a range of new guidelines and approaches reflects extensive experience with addressing the challenges, and reinforces the need to consider the needs and priorities for new policies for the future.

Furthermore, given the many trade-offs on the environmental-economic-social axes of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we cannot view fisheries policy through a purely sectoral lens. If we are to make progress beyond SDG 14 (Life below water) and towards the many other SDGs that are relevant to capture fisheries and fisheries stakeholders, and if we are to have a positive impact on society and to achieve such a sustainable future, then fisheries policy must be incorporated into the broader policy arena.

The keynote speakers and panel discussions in this session will help discern the policy opportunities for improving fisheries management in the 21st century. It will lay out how alternative policies for the sector in different regions of the world can help maintain or improve the performance of fisheries management and the wider goals of poverty alleviation, development, job creation, food security and nutrition, and the health of the oceans and freshwater resources. The session will conclude by laying out a vision for the sector and the contribution of fisheries to 'The future we want.'

The outcomes of this session will support:

SDG 1 – Reduce poverty
SDG 2 – Food security
SDG 3 – Good health
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 13 – Climate Change
SDG targets 14.2, 14.4, 14.6 & 14.C
SIDS Samoa Pathways
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
UN Fish Stocks Agreement
FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries