St. John’s Conference – Summary Report of Plenary
May 2, 2005
The Honourable Geoff Regan, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
The Honourable Geoff Regan welcomed participants and underscored Prime Minister Paul Martin’s welcome to the delegates and ministers from 45 nations.
"Moving from words to actions" is more than a clever tag line, said Regan—it represents the expectations of the world. Despite the international treaties and instruments developed over the past 16 years, "implementation has been agonizingly slow. There is a disconnect between what we say and what we do." Comparing the myriad policies to "a Gordian knot that defies unravelling," Regan said he believes the problem lies in implementation and enforcement. Regional regimes need to be modernized, incorporate scientific evidence, factor in ecosystem deliberation and the precautionary approach, and be transparent. There should be zero tolerance of IUU fishing.
"If there was ever a time for leadership on global overfishing, it is now," concluded Regan. "History will determine if this is the beginning of the end of practices that decimate the ocean’s resources."
Dr. Art May welcomed participants to his hometown, noting that the Grand Banks supported fishers for centuries until the early 1970s, when technological advances outpaced resources. More progress in developing international law of the seas and regional fishery organizations was made from the 1960s to the 1990s than at any other time, yet this same period witnessed the degradation of one of the world’s great ecosystems. "Time is running out," noted May. "The right words have been in place for a quarter of a century. We need to go from words to actions. The tragedy of the Grand Banks is the tragedy of the world."
Ambassador Hasjim Djalal of Indonesia reiterated Dr. May’s words of welcome and noted that the mismanagement of fish resources is a serious problem aggravated by the damage that has been done to fish environments. Fish is a food resource increasingly seen as beneficial to human health at a time when destructive fishing techniques and gear, and IUU fishing are contributing to its exploitation. Education and assistance to developing countries must be part of the solution.
Compliance and Enforcement in Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs): Rosemary Rayfuse, Australia
Rayfuse argued that enforcement—the act of compelling compliance—is necessary to ensure fulfillment of international agreements and targets. The target date of 2004 set in the International Plan of Action to Deter, Prevent, and Eliminate IUU Fishing has come and gone, and IUU fishing continues. The likelihood of meeting the 2015 target to restore depleted fish stocks seems unlikely.
The first challenge is to ensure that all high seas fish are subject to international regimes, which might require extending the mandates of existing regimes or adopting new ones. It is imperative to adopt conservation and management measures based on sound scientific data and precautions, for there is nothing to enforce in the absence of management measures. Rayfuse suggested the problem is not what flag a vessel flies, but the alacrity with which a flag state exercises its rights—open registries alone are not the problem. As IUU fishing operations become more complex, ever more ingenious and comprehensive measures are needed at the front and back ends of compliance and enforcement operations. This requires effective international cooperation and centralization, using every possible tool available. RFMOs and their contracting parties must not hold non-contracting parties to a higher standard than they hold themselves. It will be important to make the difficult political decisions and put the legal framework in place before any more fish stocks are irretrievably lost.
Ecosystems Considerations in Fisheries Management: Scott Parsons, Canada
There is worldwide move to negotiate ecosystem considerations in fisheries management. Many international agreements in recent years stressed the need for an ecosystem approach. The UN Fish Agreement refers to the need to take ecosystem considerations into account, but, unlike the precautionary approach it does not include a specific definition or guidelines on how to do this. Many countries/entities have also endorsed ecosystem-based fisheries management, e.g., Australia, Canada and the EU. It is agreed that we are not talking about managing ecosystems. Rather, we are talking about managing human activities that are part of, or impact on, marine ecosystems.
The FAO in 2003 published technical guidelines for an ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF). These guidelines emphasized that:
- fisheries should be managed to limit their impact on ecosystems to the extent possible;
- ecological relationships between harvested dependent and associated species should be maintained; and
- management should be compatible across jurisdictions.
Three examples illustrating how ecosystems considerations are currently being taken into account in fisheries management: CCAMLR, Gully of Alaska, and the Northeast Atlantic.
In summary, it is clear that there is a growing move to incorporate ecosystem considerations into fisheries management. This is critically important if we are to make progress in achieving more rational fisheries management. Nonetheless, there is at the moment no consensus on how best to do this. The precautionary approach which is a major advance in UNFA is integral part of an ecosystem approach.
The best way forward may be to move to an ecosystem approach incrementally, starting with more rigorous (usually more cautions) application of existing tools. While it is important to make progress on an ecosystem approach, we should be careful not to use ecosystem considerations as a crutch or excuse for failing to take painful but necessary single species decisions. It is also necessary that we move forward aggressively to address the worldwide problem of excessive fishing capacity. Unless we can reduce substantially the killing powers of the worlds fishing fleets, then it will be difficult to make real progress towards implementing an ecosystem approach to fisheries.
Fishing Aspirations and Fishing Capacity: Rebecca Metzner, FAO
The recognition of both fishing aspirations (the desire to fish and to make money doing so) and fishing capacity (the amount of fish that can be produced over a period of time by a given vessel or fleet, for a given resource condition) is key to successful fisheries management. Implicit in this is the understanding that management efforts to limit the catch will only be successful if harvesters are motivated to comply.
Two management tools are available to fisheries managers: incentive blocking programs, and incentive adjusting measures. The former include limited entry programs, moratoria, buyback programs, and gear and vessel restrictions. These measures do not prevent over-capacity—they create incentives to increase capacity by encouraging fishers to over-invest capital to maximize revenues via catch quantities, at any cost. Incentive adjusting measures such as group fishing rights, area-based Territorial Use Rights, and individual fishing quotas, on the other hand, can be successfully used to manage capacity because they transform the fishing effort from competitive hunting to conscientious production. To be profitable within established catch limits, fishers must minimize costs. Fishers with user rights invest in the future, and align with sustainability. Despite the discomfort of applying this approach, it is the only durable and automatic self-adjusting management tool for managing capacity.
In order to apply this regime to the high seas, the open access condition of the fishery must be eliminated through binding international agreements.
Decision-making Processes of RFMOs: Ted McDorman, Canada
The challenge respecting RFMO decision-making processes is to respect state sovereignty while minimizing the scope of states to hinder the adoption of measures that science and the state of stocks require.
The trend in formal decision-making procedures for the adoption of management decisions among RFMOs is to adopt consensus; the more state-sensitive the decision, the more important is direct state consensus. The burden of explanation for using objection procedures could be placed on the objecting state, having it indicate the measures it intends to take as an alternative. Dispute settlement procedures could be used.
The trend among RFMOs is to base management decisions on science, although it is understood that scientific advice is to inform, not predetermine management measures. The challenge is to make management decisions more congruent with scientific advice.
Management decisions by the RFMO and a coastal state regarding a shared stock should not undermine one another. That said, RFMO conventions do not clearly state the meaning of "compatibility" or how it is to be implemented.
Allocation decisions are the most contentious. The challenge is to minimize state and community grievance that may lead to non-compliance. These decisions could be adopted by consensus.
New Areas and Gaps—How To Address Them: Erik Jaap Molenaar, Netherlands
The current crisis in marine capture fisheries has many causes. Geographical and substantive gaps in governance are among these.
Geographical gaps should be filled by the establishment of new RFMOs or arrangements. In the absence of a global fisheries management organization, having a body to regulate by default would be an asset.
A substantive upgrade of RFMOs to the level of UNFA is also necessary. This can be achieved through including the constitutive instruments of RFMOs and by proactive and progressive practice.
In relation to bottom-trawling on the outer continental shelves of coastal states, the latter should exercise their sovereign right to protect the living natural resources of the outer continental shelves, such as corals and sponges.
States and international organizations should act as custodians on behalf of the broader international community in filling international substantive gaps.