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Regional Fisheries Management Organisations

High seas fisheries, straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish, like tuna, that swim throughout EEZs and on the high seas are managed through agreements that set up Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMO).

It is important to try and include all the countries involved in the fishery in the agreement, because anyone not signed up will not be bound by the RFMO’s rules.

Sometimes companies change their vessel's flag state to a country not signed up to a particular RFMO.

This means they don't have to obey the rules of that high seas fishery. Such unregulated fishing makes it hard for those trying to manage high seas fisheries, because it means they can only control and get information from some of the fishers.

Working to improve the RFMOs

There is growing concern over the state of the world’s fisheries. There is also increasing international attention on the problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and its role in fish stock depletion. In response, the international community has been making significant efforts to improve the performance of RFMOs. Key initiatives include:

  • The UN Fish Stocks Review Conference in May 2006 agreed that RFMOs should undergo performance reviews on an urgent basis. Independent evaluation was required, and results must be made publicly available;
  • The December 2006 UN General Assembly Resolution on Sustainable Fisheries also called upon countries to develop and apply best practice guidelines for RFMOs, and to undertake performance reviews of RFMOs;
  • In January 2007, an initiative began to develop a common methodology and set of criteria for assessing the performance of the five tuna RFMOs. This resulted in an agreed set of criteria being circulated in May 2007;
  • At the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Committee on Fisheries meeting in March 2007, member countries agreed that all RFMOs needed to undertake performance reviews. It was also recognised that RFMOs should themselves determine the criteria, methodology and frequency of such reviews;
  • The Ministerially-led Task Force on IUU Fishing on the High Seas, which included the New Zealand Minister of Fisheries, launched its final report in March 2006. This included a proposal to develop a model for improved governance by RFMOs.

Recommended Best Practices for RFMOs

The model for improved governance by RFMOs, as proposed by the High Seas Task Force, was developed by an independent panel hosted by Chatham House in London. It was managed by a director from the Round Table on Sustainable Development at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The panel comprised experts from relevant disciplines of law, economics, science and policy.

The model RFMO report, entitled Recommended Best Practices for Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, outlines current best practices that RFMOs can use to tackle the core challenges of international fisheries management.

The model RFMO report is intended to complement ongoing work to improve the performance of RFMOs. RFMOs continue to struggle with issues including:

  • Excess capacity in the world’s fishing fleets;
  • Allocation of fishing opportunities on an equitable and sustainable basis;
  • The adoption of ecosystem-based management of fisheries.

The report provides guidance for RFMOs to address these and other issues by recommending a more systematic approach to the governance and management of fish stocks.

The recommended best practices are outlined in the report under nine main subject areas:

  • General practice;
  • Conservation and management;
  • Allocation;
  • Compliance and enforcement;
  • Decision making;
  • Dispute settlement;
  • Transparency;
  • Special requirements of developing countries;
  • Institutional practices.

A full copy of this report can be found on the www.chathamhouse.org.uk/news/view/-/id/396/ website.

Updated : 16 March 2008