The effective management of international fisheries remains one of the great challenges in achieving long-term sustainable fisheries. Many shared fish stocks, including transboundary, highly migratory and high seas stocks, are under significant pressure and concerted international action is required if these resources are to be exploited on a sustainable basis. The development of stable cooperative regimes to manage international fisheries has been a central feature of international policy debate over the last few decades. The international community has sought to strengthen regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). However, there remains concern over the effectiveness of RFMOs and there have been repeated calls for improvements in the way in which RFMOs operate. The international community also examines other measures to address specific issues in the management of international fisheries (including, for example, the development of port state controls and flag state controls).
This report was written by Anthony Cox, Leonie Renwrantz and Ingrid Kelling in the Fisheries Policies Division of the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate. The case study of the CCSBT was prepared by Frank Meere and Mary Lack (Sustainable Fisheries Management, Australia). A number of people provided valuable comments on earlier drafts of the report including Carl-Christian Schmidt and Sung-Bum Kim (OECD), Kjartan Hoydal (Executive Secretary NEAFC), and Johanne Fischer (Executive Secretary NAFO). The report was prepared for publication by Louise Schets.
With the development and entry into force of the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) in 1995, the international community made a commitment to strengthen, where needed, Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs). Since then, RFMOs have been under increasing pressure to better manage the fisheries resources under their control. The expectations placed on RFMOs have grown over the past decades alongside a proliferation of international hard and soft law and there continues to be widespread concern over the performance of RFMOs. This is reflected in calls in international fora such as the United Nations and the FAO for improvements in the way in which RFMOs operate.
The pressure for Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) to improve their performance has increased significantly over the last decade. According to the FAO, approximately 30% of stocks of highly migratory tuna and tuna-like species and nearly two-thirds of straddling and high-seas fish stocks are overexploited or depleted. There has been extensive public airing of issues such as the depleted state of many high seas stocks, reduced profitability, overcapacity and disagreements within RFMOs over conservation and management measures. This has been communicated to the public through the popular press, leading fisheries industry journals, and press statements from environmental non-governmental organisations, all of which regularly headline management failures by RFMOs. It also goes to the heart of the debate over the credibility of sectoral management of fisheries, and the pressure for other international processes to play a greater role in managing fisheries.
Expanding membership in the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT)
The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) was established as a relatively small RFMO in 1994, comprising just three Parties, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Following a period during which the three Parties were unable to come to an agreement over a total allowable catch, serious concerns were expressed about the ability of the CCSBT to function effectively. Compounding this was the increased activity in the southern bluefin tuna fishery by economies that were not party to the Convention. It became clear that it was necessary to, in addition to agreeing on a TAC, bring these other economies under the management arrangements of the CCSBT. This chapter reviews the CCSBT’s policy initiatives to incorporate new members and Cooperating Non-Members. It examines: the need for the policy change; how, and the extent to which, obstacles to its implementation were addressed; the success of the changes; and the key policy insights of relevance to other regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs).
Strengthening the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)
The dynamics of RFMOs are often complex and difficult to disentangle. This is certainly the case with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) where the workings of the RFMO and the process of change are made more difficult by a relatively large number of Contracting Parties, a dated Convention, disagreements over scientific assessments, and continued concerns over the overexploitation of key tuna stocks. There is particular concern about the effectiveness of ICCAT’s conservation and management measures for the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna stock. For example, at the meeting of stakeholders and managers for East Atlantic Bluefin tuna, held in Tokyo in March 2008, the ICCAT Chairman noted that "grave concerns are being raised about ICCAT’s competence to manage the tuna stocks in the region" (OPRT 2008). The US has repeatedly expressed frustration at the slow pace of change within ICCAT and the reluctance of the membership to address pressing problems (Hogarth, 2007).
Modernising the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC)
Prior to the mid-1990s, the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) acted primarily as a forum for consultation in fisheries management issues rather than for adopting conservation and management measures. In fact, only two recommendations had been agreed within NEAFC up to 1995: a minimum mesh size for capelin (1984) and a minimum mesh size for blue whiting (1986). Since the mid-1990s, however, NEAFC has undergone a series of policy changes, culminating in the adoption of a new Convention in 2006 (which is applied provisionally as it has yet to enter into force). This case study reviews the recent changes that have been undertaken in NEAFC, focussing on the process of policy change, the factors underlying the push for change, obstacles to change and how they were addressed, and the key lessons learned from the NEAFC experience.
Updating the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO)
The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) has been under significant pressure over the past few decades. The collapse of the cod stocks on the Grand Banks generated serious political and economic turmoil within Canada, as well as creating international tensions between the NAFO Parties. There were grave concerns about the ability of NAFO to withstand these pressures and, as a result, about the prospects for maintaining a cooperative approach to rebuilding the groundfish stocks over the longer term.
Strengthening RFMOs: key insights from the case studies
The analysis in this study highlights the challenges that RFMOs face in strengthening and modernising their structure and operations. Each RFMO is imbued with a different set of historical, cultural, social, environmental and economic circumstances that strongly influences the viability, stability and success of reform. Issues such as lack of political will, disparate national agendas, divergent economic priorities, different time horizons, and scientific uncertainty combine to hamper the ability of coalitions for change from developing and pushing through improved methods of operation. In recent years, however, a number of RFMOs have been moving forward to strengthen their organisations, with varying degrees of success in terms of ensuring stable cooperative agreements and improved management of fisheries resources.
The following table provides information on the membership of the ten main high seas RFMOs by individual countries together with information on each country’s ratification of UNCLOS, the UNFSA and the FAO Compliance Agreement. The table was prepared by Frank Meere, Sustainable Fisheries Management Ltd, Australia.
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