Legal foundations: the Partnership
FIRMS was established in February 2004 to respond to the need for such fisheries information. It draws together a unified partnership of international organizations, regional fishery bodies and, in the future, national scientific institutes, collaborating within a formal agreement to report and share high-quality information on the global monitoring and management of marine fishery resources. FIRMS aims to provide decision-makers with the best and most authoritative information possible in order to develop effective fisheries policies in accordance with the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. To further the effectiveness of fisheries information management and dissemination, FIRMS also participates in the development and promotion of agreed global standards.
Born in parallel with the Strategy for Improving Information on Status and Trends of Capture Fisheries (Strategy-STF), FIRMS addresses at least five of the nine required actions of the Strategy.
The information backbone: inventory of stocks and fisheries
FIRMS works as a monitoring system based on an inventory of stocks and fisheries conducted under the general framework of the 2003 FAO Strategy-STF which has been endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly. The inventory of marine resources monitored by FIRMS partners ranges from broad regional resources to more local resources or stocks. Each partner agrees to regularly provide relevant information on the exploitation, assessment, management and status and trends for species and fishing areas for which they have primary responsibility. In this way, FIRMS contains a unique and comprehensive vision of the current state of the world’s fisheries. As the partnership grows, so will the reporting on marine resources and fisheries of the global inventory conducted under Strategy-STF.
Information is presented in synthesized Fact Sheets and State of Resources Summaries. These include images, maps of geographical distribution, general biological and habitat characteristics, scientific assessment results, management considerations and status and trends statements. Every Fact Sheet is sourced with relevant links thus allowing for transparent traceability, cites related references and, where available, mentions noteworthy observations from other sources. These fact sheets may be published in each of the five FAO official languages. The FIRMS underlying system enables to maintain the history of fish stock assessments: who did what, where, when and how, and what were the results? Keeping a master record on individual stock assessments has significant value for a wide range of purposes:
- to facilitate retrospective analyses of stock assessments for the purpose of improving them;
- to provide a structured repository of information on assessment methods employed;
- to increase transparency; and,
- to allow access to other agencies' information in database format.
The relatively long time frames that are required to reach fishery sustainability for a stock rebuilding programme means that time series of information must be kept. These time series include data and estimates derived from analyses, as well as the methods used in obtaining the estimates.
The operation: shared concepts and standards
To ensure consistency and a common understanding of the information shared, FIRMS has established core concepts, definitions and data modelling. Partners have agreed on protocols and standards in their reporting, which enhance the overall authoritative value and quality of the information shared in FIRMS. FIRMS is powered by the FAO Fisheries Global Information System (FIGIS) and benefits from its content management system and information exchange protocol features. Information provided by partners through streamlined protocols is published on the Web for general access. FIRMS provides partners with the appropriate tools and training to ensure controlled dissemination of high-quality and updated information. Partners are committed to providing the best scientific evidence on the status and trends of fishery resources and fisheries, and to document the quality of their data contributions. For each collection of fact sheets, the FIRMS Data Quality Assurance statements describe the set of criteria applied, enabling users to evaluate FIRMS information content.
Status of FIRMS
Currently, the FIRMS partnership is composed of 10 international organizations, including nine RFBs and FAO. There are also four Observers actively involved in formulating the original partnership agreement or in preparing data. FAO has two roles in FIRMS:
- data contributor with its Global reviews, and through its Regional Statutory Fishery Bodies, including at present General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission (WECAFC), Regional Commission for Fisheries (RECOFI), South-West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (SWIOFC).
This initial stage aims at consolidating a strong and trusted platform which will serve to expand at the national level. The FIRMS website was released to the public during a side event of the UN review conference on Fish Stock Agreement (New York 22-26th May 2006). On that date, the FIRMS website contained fact sheets for about 500 Marine resources or Stocks with (as far as possible) the status and trend for each stock. The Review Conference recommended that States individually and collectively through RFMOs should cooperate with FAO in the implementation and further development of the Fishery Resources Monitoring System (FIRMS) initiative.
FIRMS road map and the STF framework
In the long run, such recommendation for expanding the partnership will allow FIRMS to achieve full global coverage. By involving new partner contributors, particularly at national level, the effective gap between monitored and unmonitored resources and fisheries will be highlighted. This will assist policy-makers in identifying new areas for action and priority. It will also directly support both international and national plans of action for responsible fisheries, as well as bolstering actions needed to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. Although the FIRMS Secretariat and system maintenance is part of the FAO Regular Programme, the initial development phase has also been supported by donors (France with an APO, and Norway and Japan through the Fishcode-STF project). Strengthening and expanding the partnership will require locating additional financial resources to fund necessary conferences, workshops and growing maintenance activities and to keep pace with technological improvements. Where there are no FIRMS partners, FAO’s short term move towards this long term goal is to develop regional or national inventories of marine resources and fisheries within the Strategy-STF framework, on a region by region basis.