Origins of the Fishery Resources Monitoring System (FIRMS)

General background

World marine capture fishery landings began to level off after 1970 and are now slowly approaching the forecast ceiling of conventional resources at about 100 million tonnes. Overall, about 50% of the world resources for which data is available are fully exploited and about 25% are overexploited while 25% could still apparently produce higher level of landings. A few fisheries have collapsed but many of them are in a state in which the risk of collapse is not negligible.

Widespread concern is being expressed about the state of many fishery resources and their non-sustainable use, especially since the UN Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED, 1992). This has led to questioning of present performance of production and management systems and to the adoption of new important international instruments as well as to a growing process of change in governance at national and lower level.

This concern has often been exaggerated and the situation misinterpreted because of the lack of scientifically adequate and easily available information. While fairly detailed information is available for a number of important stocks, a large but unknown number of stocks and species are in an unknown state. There is a particular lack of information on the status of resources in coastal areas (especially for many small islands), resources exploited by small scale fisheries, and resources subject to rapid environmentally-induced fluctuations.

With the entry into force of UNCLOS and the adoption of the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, the Code of Conduct, the Compliance Agreement, as well as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the legal framework for enhanced resources conservation has improved, but there is a growing feeling that public opinion is destabilized and often misinformed because of the lack of clear, easily understandable and verifiable information on the state of the resources and their habitat, based on the best scientific evidence available, from objective sources. Similarly, policy-makers, confronted to tremendous implementation challenges lack clear information on alternative solutions and pathways to management or rebuilding of stocks as well as to ecosystem-based fisheries management.

The monitoring of the implementation of the recently-agreed instruments and the assessment of management performance call also for the development of harmonised and integrated information systems of indicators on the resources and their habitat. The formidable challenge created by rising demands for timely, verifiable, high quality, integrated information, at the appropriate level of aggregation and resolution (from national to global levels) is being tackled by FAO through development of FIGIS (the Fisheries Global Information System).

The main objectives of FIGIS are to raise awareness of policy issues relating to fisheries and their environment, to promote standards and improved practices in the conduct of fisheries and fisheries-related activities, and to provide comprehensive and coherent fisheries information.

The need to cooperate globally to improve the information was recognized in principle at the first Meeting of FAO and non-FAO Regional Fishery Bodies or Arrangements (Rome, 11-12 February 1999). The FAO Advisory Committee on Fisheries (ACFR) recognized the unequal distribution of scientific knowledge across regions and species groups and the various processes needed to monitor status and trends of resources where the following situations can be encountered:

1. stocks assessed regularly in cooperation

  • in the framework of management commissions (IATTC, ICCAT, NAFO; CCSBT; FAO Commissions under Article XIV, etc.)
  • in the framework of scientific commissions (ICES, PICES, SPC, FAO Commissions under Article VI)

2. stocks assessed regularly at national level

  • in a national fishery management institution or fishery research agency

3. stocks not assessed regularly

  • by university academics (in the framework of thesis, etc). formal assessments published in refereed journals
  • informal assessments given in other reports (consultants, NGOs, industry) in newspapers, magazines
  • other types of information of value for assessment (market supply, prices, sector information, etc.)

For many of these situations, the information quantity, quality, availability and integration could be significantly improved through a global undertaking to develop a global fishery resources monitoring system interactively maintained by a network of partners facilitated by FAO. ACFR concluded that progress towards a global system of status and trends reporting on marine fishery resources should be achieved through:

  • increasing completeness by including information on some fisheries and fishery resources currently under-represented in FAO data;
  • expanding the scope of current reports, broadening them to the economic social and ecosystem aspects; and,
  • enhancing quality assurance.

For those fisheries/resources falling under mandates of Regional fishery body or national centres of excellence, such an information development strategy is specified in a Partnership Agreement between FAO and Regional Fishery Bodies as well as national centres of excellence, to promote information exchange on stocks status and trends.

Target beneficiaries

The immediate beneficiaries of FIRMS will be the Fisheries Regional Organizations which will receive greater consideration from their member countries from being able to manage their wealth of information with greater availability, responsiveness and transparency of process, as well as FAO in its efforts to promote global means to strengthen resources conservation and promote implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

However, the real final beneficiaries will be the global fisheries community, relying heavily on the accuracy of stock and yield assessments.

  • Fishers need it - to enable them to receive allocations and plan their businesses and activities.
  • Fishery managers require it - to define and make fishery allocations in respect of their management plan or regime.
  • Policy makers rely on it - to formulate plans and legal instruments in support of public objectives.
  • The public demands it - to have a basis upon which to judge whether there is appropriate stewardship of both renewable resources and the environment.
  • Fisheries scientists will use it - to understand effectiveness of approaches and methods thanks to facilitated comparative research.
  • Future generations will appreciate it - to keep the flow of information going, and for refining the techniques as a result of the 'hindsight' methods that will continue to be the basis of predictive fish yield assessments.

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