From the terminology used in the post 1982 Convention instruments, it is important to distinguish between an onus for conservation and management being placed upon the States which comprise RFBs, and the RFBs themselves. It must be recalled that RFBs are not supra-national. They are only as strong and effective as their Members make them. In spite of this fact, many Governments have proven slow to tackle the issue of fisheries reform. There are two main reasons for this: benefits are slow to appear and do so only after considerable costs have been incurred for some time; and individuals who incur the costs are seldom convinced that they will reap the benefits, and so they resist what they perceive to be a re-distribution of their income.
An examination of the contemporary role and efficiency of RFBs based on correspondence received directly from the RFBs, their annual reports, FAO publications, and other relevant publications has led to the following conclusions regarding their role and nature.
Cooperation: a division between wealthy, developed States and a majority of less wealthy developing States marks Current international relations. International cooperation is therefore needed to address inequities and fulfil the provisions of the world order envisaged by international agreements such as the Charter of the United Nations, the 1982 Convention, and the subsequent international fisheries instruments reviewed. RFBs can play a significant role in pursuing regional cooperation for these purposes, and in particular for cooperation in the conservation and management of marine capture fisheries.
Incongruent Fisheries Interest of Contracting Parties: Despite this notion of cooperation, within many RFBs there is a conflict of interest among contracting parties which very often leads to an inability to agree on the parameters necessary for management. For example, many RFBs contain both developed and developing States, coastal States, distant water fishing States, and coastal States with an interest in becoming more active high seas fishing States. For some contracting parties, fisheries constitute a vital economic interest, while for other States, they constitute a middle or low-level economic interest. Such diversity results in varied commitments, levels of participation, and expectations regarding the objectives of the RFBs. All States can potentially contribute, be it financially, intellectually, ideologically, or politically to the work of a RFB and it must be remembered that the diversity of contracting parties underpins the notion of the need for cooperation.
Management: Funding difficulties prevent greater contracting party participation in many RFB programmes, and such constraints severely weaken the ability of some secretariats to function effectively. Furthermore, according to the relevant mandate given to each RFB, many are empowered to make only advisory recommendations concerning conservation and management. Consequently they are unable to regulate the fishing activities of contracting parties.
Political Will: The effectiveness of many RFBs is further undermined by the failure of members to accept and/or implement those international instruments described above which are central to the better conservation and management of world marine capture fisheries. Until and unless the issue of enhancing political commitment to the implementation of the legal regime, and conservation and management measures is addressed, the expectation of strengthening the role of RFBs is unlikely to be realized.
The international community, by means of the post-1982 fishery instruments, has opted to give an increasingly important role to RFBs for the management and conservation of world marine capture fisheries. Despite frequently operating in adverse circumstances due to inadequate mandates or terms of reference, incongruent fishery interests of members, funding and staffing difficulties, and lack of political commitment by members, RFBs play a primary role in the sustainable utilization of fisheries by means of facilitating regional cooperation. However, more substantial attention must be given to the implementation of the post-1982 fishery instruments which clearly envisage a more proactive role for RFBs in the conservation and management of fisheries.
A review of information provided by RFBs shows that very few bodies have started to implement the conservation and management measures provided for in the post-1982 fishery instruments. This conclusion is perhaps not surprising. The instruments present complex scientific, managerial and political considerations that cannot be resolved quickly.
The result of this state of affairs is that despite international expectations for RFBs to take effective measures to conserve and manage marine capture fisheries, there is little facility for this to occur unless their roles and functions are strengthened as presented in these fishery instruments. The deficiencies apparent with regional fisheries management must be addressed in a more comprehensive and rational manner if sustainable utilization is to be achieved. This is important because under existing international law, and within the current paradigm for the management of straddling, highly migratory and high seas fish stocks, RFBs provide the only realistic mechanism for the enhanced international cooperation in their conservation and management.