A challenge to fisheries management
The challenge is to manage fisheries in such a way as to ensure the optimum and sustainable use of resources as well as economic efficiency and widespread social benefits. Governments have the responsibility for fisheries management. They may delegate such responsibility to specialised agencies and should promote effective participation, including in decision-making, of those operating in the fisheries sector or also using the aquatic resources and their environment for different purposes.
More than ninety percent of the global fish catch is taken within zones that are under national jurisdiction. It follows, therefore, that these are the areas where most fisheries management problems occur. Such problems are not new: for more than 50 years, at least since the London Conference on Overfishing (1946), recognition has been given to the need for governments to be aware of the state of their fisheries, to adopt policies aimed at preventing the depletion of resources and a wastage of fisheries inputs and, increasingly, to assist in the recovery and rehabilitation of over-fished stocks. With about 25 percent of the main commercial stocks for which data is available being overfished and 50 percent more being fully exploited, the need for better governance is clear.
In the 1980s it was widely anticipated that fisheries governance (and state of resources) would improve substantially in parallel with the establishment of extended national jurisdiction. Subsequent experience has shown that, even under the most favourable circumstances, achieving good governance and resource sustainability is a protracted and difficult process. Those governments that now have soundly managed fisheries in their EEZs generally owe this achievement to 20 to 40 years of continuous effort and adjustment.
In many countries, governance has continued to languish for a variety of reasons, including inadequate institutions (including unclear users' rights), a scarcity of the human and financial resources required to devise and implement management programmes; a lack of understanding, by both governments and fisheries participants, of the potential benefits that good management can generate; and the reluctance of governments to make unpopular decisions.
Developing countries have become major participants in the global fishery sector but most of them require improvements in their fisheries governance and financial as well as technical assistance. They require the scientific, technical and administrative capabilities necessary to formulate and implement appropriate fisheries management plans and to assess their outcomes and to take any necessary follow-up action. Unfortunately, the countries with the poorest fisheries governance are often those whose populations face more pressing, fundamental problems such as war, civil disturbances and natural disasters.
A fundamental policy consideration is the strengthening of fisheries institutions so that they have the capacity to provide independent technical advice and guidance throughout the sector. The trend in the governance of fisheries is for management functions to devolve progressively from government, without detracting from its stewardship role, to include the direct involvement of fisheries participants, the conferring of user rights and the financing of governance from within the sector. At the same time, it must be accepted that improved benefits will not be an immediate outcome from better governance. The structural adjustments that are required in many fisheries will take a long time to become effective.