This question stems from a statement by Fiji Minister, Inia Seruiratou, who at last month’s COP23 said: “Success on climate action requires deep collaboration by a broad coalition of stakeholders. We all have a role to play. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem”. The question is: to which part do we want to belong?
Sustainable fisheries contribute to the health of our oceans, which play an essential role in regulating climate. How does collective action help tackle what can look like complex and far away problems, delivering better rules and practices in our use of marine resources? It enables stakeholders to strengthen the quality and inclusiveness of fisheries policies and facilitates the implementation of these policies, benefiting marine habitats, fish stocks and fishing communities.
Europe is a major maritime and fisheries power. It has a huge fishing footprint through its vessels’ activities in all oceans, and as the largest importer of seafood from across the planet. This helps explain why it wants to lead the move to an international ocean and fisheries governance system. European Commissioner Karmenu Vella stressed the need for authorities, institutions, public and private sectors, and stakeholders to work together and play their part for oceans and fisheries.
European policies must ensure European fishing activities are legal, sustainable and fair. When they involve developing countries under bilateral accords, the EU must ensure that all related activities benefit both the EU and the partner country, including its local population and fishing industry.
For over ten years now, EU policies have involved participation by a number of advisory councils (ACs). The EU institutions retain authority over legislation but the adoption and implementation process involves these bodies made up of representatives from business, NGOs and other civil society organisations. In terms of EU international fisheries, the relevant AC is known as the LDAC: Long Distance [fleets] Advisory Council. Thanks to this, EU rules to combat illegal fishing, make all EU fisheries subject to the same principles and obligations, and to improve control, transparency and accountability of international fisheries have been adopted.
But, as a recent WWF report shows, progress is still needed in the implementation of some obligations. And again, stakeholders, including the LDAC, will be key to delivery. The report; “Is Europe ready to lead on international fisheries?”; analysed the EU’s implementation performance in its external fisheries policy. The report found that “while it is potentially better placed than most” the EU needed to “adhere more closely” to its obligations on fisheries and on sustainable development. It also found that for the measures to be effective, “greater involvement and effort from other relevant authorities and actors around the globe,” would be needed.
For the EU, it is a matter of, if not mainstreaming its external fisheries, at least ensuring greater coordination and coherence with other policies such as on Development Cooperation and Trade. This would help provide the infrastructure and training facilities that would allow for business to develop and bring greater benefits to partner countries. But organisational shifts are never simple, and changes in this area would require agreement from partner countries.
Delivering on the second requirement will take political will from all coastal states. All have to commit and contribute to legal, sustainable and fair global fisheries governance in a transparent and accountable manner. Progress on these two fronts would benefit the marine environment, making oceans fitter to play their role. Healthier seas would, in turn, contribute to delivering on UN Sustainable goal 14 on Oceans, and also on those tackling poverty and hunger.
This is where civil society organisations have a key role to play to move things along and to remind authorities of their duties when they err. But, in many countries, such organisations still have, or are struggling, to develop, including in the fishing sector. Such shifts represent a major challenge for all concerned. But experience shows that being part of the solution can deliver change for the better, even in very complex situations.
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