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Who’s afraid of transparency in fisheries?


There was both rejoicing and some concern last Thursday after the European Parliament voted on major improvements to strengthen transparency and accountability in EU fisheries abroad.

This move by the EU to extend its obligations and principles to all its vessels that fish abroad is welcome as it promotes sustainable development, food security and healthy oceans. There remains, however, a last hurdle to overcome before the measures adopted by Parliament become EU law. This will involve discussions between Parliament, Council (member states) and the Commission to agree a compromise on a few but important sticking points.

Yellowfin in the fish market in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania © Wetjens Dimmlich / WWF-Oceans PracticeYellowfin in the fish market in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania © Wetjens Dimmlich / WWF-Oceans Practice

All the measures adopted by Parliament should be kept as they stand as everyone concerned must have realised that the tide is turning. Greater transparency and accountability are required in economic activities and particularly in the use of a shared natural and mobile resource such as fish stocks.

With its large fleets fishing in all oceans and as the biggest consumer of seafood, the EU’s footprint is immense, as is its responsibility. The EU’s efforts on reforming its fisheries policy, in combating illegal fishing under its IUU regulation and now on strengthening conditions for its external fleets have been welcomed. The United States has also been active in fighting illegal fishing practices through a whole range of measures both at sea and in its seafood imports. Yet their combined efforts alone won’t be sufficient to deliver the changes needed to make world fisheries sustainable.

What is required is a determined and concerted effort by coastal and flag states to strengthen fisheries management both in their own waters and in the regional fisheries management organisations of which they are members. To achieve this, they will have to develop or strengthen inclusive modes of consultation or even co-management involving relevant parties ranging from the various fleet segments and other parts of the seafood supply chain to the civil society organisations which have a stake in fisheries. This will both improve the quality of fisheries management and increase buy-in for the measures. In countries that sell access rights to foreign fleets, it is also important that stakeholders are informed and involved and that the terms of the agreements are made public.

Yellowfin tuna © Wetjens Dimmlich / WWF-Oceans PracticeYellowfin tuna © Wetjens Dimmlich / WWF-Oceans Practice

Political will and determination on the part of coastal and flag states are essential conditions to ensure all necessary conservation measures are taken and are adhered to by their nationals wherever they operate and by those who fish in their waters. Just as with any other sector and policy, transparency and accountability mechanisms which are so lacking at present, have to be built into fisheries management systems. Abiding by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other UN agreements, such as the agreement on the management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks, is a must for successful fisheries management.

Stakeholders such as the European advisory committee on long-distance fishing (LDAC) can play a valuable role in improving and promoting policy. The LDAC, which brings together fleet representatives and NGOs to provide advice to the three EU institutions, has been successful in adopting progressive positions. It has called and supported moves for greater transparency in all EU fishing activities abroad. It has also called on the EU to promote transparency globally and to take initiatives that encourage coastal states who sell access to some of their fisheries to publish the terms of all their agreements, provide lists of registered vessels and information on the global fishing effort per fishery so as to evaluate the availability (or not) of any surpluses. Reliable data are also essential to scientists if they are to make well informed management recommendations to fisheries managers.

There is growing interest among seafood corporates in developing market driven tools, such as fisheries improvement projects, to promote more effective fisheries management. The aim is also to encourage members of regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) and other international fisheries fora to take and implement the required conservation and management measures in their area under their responsibility.

These are encouraging signs. However, the need is so great that we all, in whatever our capacity, should encourage relevant authorities to broaden and strengthen support for sustainable and fair fisheries in their waters and to commit to playing a full role in RFMOs. Donors of aid to developing coastal states and the national authorities concerned urgently need to get their act together to ensure that the benefits of financial support to fisheries is maximised through joined-up support and capacity building programmes. This would enable developing nations to have their voice heard in the international arenas.

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