The Code is a voluntary instrument (i.e. it does not have to be formally accepted by governments) that takes a holistic approach to achieving its goals. Its scope is broad and comprehensive and includes 12 articles and two annexes.
Articles 1 to 5 cover:
- the nature and scope of the Code,
- objectives and relationship with other international instruments,
- implementation, monitoring and updating, and
- the special requirements of developing countries.
Articles 6 to 12, often referred to as the substantive articles, address:
- general principles,
- fisheries management,
- fishing operations,
- aquaculture development,
- integration of fisheries into coastal area management,
- post-harvest practices and trade, and
- fisheries research.
To strengthen the implementation of the Code, FAO is preparing technical guidelines in support of the substantive articles. The guidelines have no formal legal status and are intended to be flexible and capable of evolving as circumstances change or as new information becomes available. In this regard, FAO encourages users of the guidelines to provide information on relevant technical, policy or legal issues that might be useful for updating, evaluating and improving the guidelines as well as for developing more specific information for the promotion of responsible fisheries.
Relationship with other fishery instruments
The Code is related to several other fishery instruments, and it serves, in different ways, to re-enforce and support their goals and purpose. To this extent, the Code and these other instruments, which have similar overall goals but more limited foci, can be viewed as a package designed to confront fisheries and aquaculture problems at different levels and on different fronts. These instruments include the 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement, the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement and recently concluded international plans of action (IPOAs).
1993 FAO Compliance Agreement
The Compliance Agreement is an integral component of the Code, even though the Agreement is a legally binding instrument, unlike the Code.
The essential purpose of the Agreement is to permit countries to take effective action, consistent with international law, to deter the reflagging of vessels by their nationals as a means of avoiding compliance with high seas conservation and management measures. Countries that have accepted the Agreement are obligated to ensure that their flag vessels operating on the high seas are duly authorised to fish there. Such authorisation should, as a result, enhance flag State control in high-seas fisheries and enable these fisheries to be more effectively managed.
The Compliance Agreement is discussed in more detail in Appendix 2.
1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement
The Code, because of its breadth and comprehensiveness, reinforces the principles and provisions of the UN Fish Stocks Agreement with respect to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks. If effectively implemented in tandem, the Code and the UN Fish Stocks Agreement should greatly enhance the long-term status of these two types of stocks.
The UN Fish Stocks Agreement is considered in detail in Appendix 4.
International plans of action
The Code supports the international plans of action (IPOAs) that address the following:
- reducing incidental catch of seabirds in longline fisheries,
- the conservation and management of sharks,
- the management of fishing capacity, and
- the prevention, deterrence and elimination of IUU fishing.
These IPOAs target specific conservation and management issues that have been identified by the international community as problems requiring urgent attention. They have been concluded within the framework of the Code of Conduct.
The IPOAs for the management of fishing capacity and IUU fishing address issues of fundamental concern, such as overfishing and the need to rebuild fish stocks.
The IPOAs on the conservation and management of sharks and incidental catches of seabirds in longline fisheries focus on rebuilding depleted stocks and the minimisation of waste in fisheries.
Monitoring, reporting and revision
Article 4 of the Code recognizes FAO's responsibility to monitor the Code's implementation, to revise it as circumstances warrant, and to report to COFI on progress and related developments concerning implementation. The monitoring function of the Code is an on-going FAO activity. It is achieved both through informal and formal mechanisms, although the most important means for monitoring is the information provided to FAO by its Members and civil society.
To monitor progress towards implementation, COFI agreed in 1997 that reports should be made every 2 years. COFI further requested, among other things, that these reports should include information related to FAO's activities that support implementation as well as information on national initiatives.
Based on reporting to COFI and other available information, the possibility exists for FAO, working through its competent bodies, to revise the Code. This is an important consideration as this process will ensure that the Code continues to be a dynamic and living document, appropriate to the needs of the fisheries sector.
The major challenge with respect to the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries is its effective implementation.
Resolution 4/95 of the 1995 FAO Conference called on States, international organisations, whether governmental or non-governmental, and all those involved in fisheries to collaborate in the fulfilment and implementation of the objectives and principles contained in this Code.
This call to action by the Conference has been heeded. FAO, countries, regional fishery organisations, industry, NGOs and academia have, individually and jointly, initiated activities in line with the Code's principles to facilitate sustainable fisheries. The results of these activities are already starting to bear fruit, with notable improvements in the way in which some fish stocks are used. However, rapid adjustment and change in the fisheries sector, as a consequence of steps taken to implement the Code, are unlikely to result, nor indeed are they to be expected. Rather, progress towards implementation of the Code and the benefits generated from policies and measures adopted by governments to facilitate sustainability are more likely to yield phased and incremental results.
A fundamental concept underlying the implementation of the Code is the assumption that governments want better managed fisheries, and they are prepared to take difficult decisions, in the short-term, as a means of attaining longer-term sustainability gains.
Having regard for the difficulties associated with achieving sustainable fisheries, it is none-the-less important to note the major contribution made by fisheries to global food security. Indeed, in some communities and regions, and among some groups of countries (e.g., communities around large inland lakes and in small island developing States), fish constitutes, by a wide margin, the most significant source of animal protein for human consumption. In this connection, one of the major challenges in fisheries management facing all countries is how to implement measures that will permit overexploited stocks to be rebuilt in a reasonable period of time and to concurrently ensure that optimally exploited, underexploited or unexploited stocks do not become overfished.
A fine balancing of policies and management measures is required to achieve such an objective. However, if successful, these policies should enable the aggregate contribution of fish to food security to be at least maintained. The goals and principles of the Code are intrinsically linked to this food security challenge.
In implementing the Code, national fishery administrations are encouraged to work with all stakeholders in the sector to promote long-term sustainability. In large-scale fisheries, industry will have a prominent role in implementing the Code. This role will focus on trying to ensure that industry complies with adopted measures. Such compliance will reduce significantly government monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) costs. In contrast, in artisanal and small-scale marine and inland capture fisheries, fishing communities themselves (through community-based approaches to management) and NGOs will be expected to be closely involved in facilitating and supporting the Code's implementation.
The Code is a global document and as such does not take account of regional or fishery specificities.
When the Code was being negotiated, it was recognised by FAO and its Members that to meet the particular needs of different regions and fisheries sub-sectors (e.g., inland fisheries), regional and sectoral implementation is desirable. Such regional and sectoral implementation does not violate the spirit of the Code but serves to strengthen it.
The international community encourages regional and sectoral implementation of the Code because it is believed that such implementation will yield benefits that will, in turn, positively impact implementation. Some of the benefits that might be anticipated include:
- a sense of direct participation in the implementation process by stakeholders;
- identification of specific regional and sectoral problems and priorities, including those related to different fisheries, gear, and management practices as well as to fishery enhancement techniques and aquaculture development;
- identification of additional areas that are not specifically or sufficiently covered by the Code but are regionally or sectorally important;
- identification of major local constraints to the implementation of the Code together with approaches to address these constraints; and
- elaboration of regional and sectoral strategies (including the preparation of technical guidelines) to assist with the implementation of the Code in local languages.
Food and Agriculture Organization
FAO has a responsibility to globally facilitate the implementation of the Code and to technically support national and regional initiatives towards this end. In this respect, FAO has a critical catalytic role to play in the implementation process, but the Organization does not implement the Code per se.
FAO's promotional role focuses on a number of different but related activities. These initiatives are a result of instructions from FAO's Governing Bodies to support the wide dissemination and implementation of the Code.
FAO faces a number of constraints with respect to its efforts to promote the implementation of the Code. The constraints affect the pace and extent to which implementation might be facilitated. There are two important constraints:
- rate of dissemination of the Code and a lack of awareness of it in fishing communities, and
- the Organization's inability to secure trust funds to support the inter-regional program that is designed to benefit developing countries.
The implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and other recently concluded international fishery instruments is a major challenge for countries in their efforts to secure long-term sustainable fisheries. The political will to take the necessary, and often unpopular, decisions to accept these instruments, to adopt well-conceived policies and to revise legislation, as appropriate, are fundamental considerations in promoting structural change and adjustment in the fisheries sector.
The Code of Conduct seeks to facilitate change and adjustment in the fisheries sector as a means of ensuring that resources are used in a long-term sustainable manner. Comprehensive, holistic and integrated in nature, and intended to be implemented in a holistic manner, the Code addresses all aspects of fishery practice. While not only recognising that the implementation of the Code must take account of the inter-relatedness of the various sub-sectors of the fisheries sector, the Code underscores the critical nutritional, economic, social, environmental and culturally important role played by fisheries in artisanal and industrial fishing communities.
The effective implementation of the Code is a major challenge. Such implementation requires that problems are assessed and policies put in place to deal with them. In many cases, these tasks will involve difficult decisions. In developing countries, a lack of capacity will hinder efforts to address issues of sustainability, and bilateral and multilateral technical assistance will need to be continued, and boosted, in order to strengthen capacity.