At the end of a conference on fishing capacity organised by the EU in Thessaloniki (Greece), the EU and representatives from Colombia, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines and the USA signed a joint statement to promote global fishing capacity management.
In her opening speech, European Commissioner Damanaki stated that “Reducing capacity is the way to go. What is advisable is a carefully designed mix of structural and conservation tools, like rights-based systems, tighter controls and incentives for diversification.” She recalled the existing rules and guidelines, including the UN Fish Stock agreement, the FAO action plan on capacity management, and the tuna RFMOs’ “Kobe recommendations” on how to reduce and transfer capacity. But “action is missing,” she said.
Concrete actions could include using advanced technology to assess and monitor worldwide capacity, such as a global record of all vessels based on a mandatory single system of vessel identification; official agreements and systems for enforcement able to impose strict sanctions; and actions to reduce global capacity-enhancing subsidies.
The conference participants, including fisheries ministries’ representatives from ACP countries such as Ghana, Mauritania, Mozambique, Seychelles and Mauritius, looked at these various issues, as well as at the transfer of (tuna) fishing capacity from developed to developing states. This was introduced by a presentation of the International Sustainable Seafood Foundation (ISSF), which has been working on this topic for several years.
Following the conference, the executive director of Oceana in Europe stated that, “This joint declaration constitutes the strongest call in years to put an end to overfishing in the world’s oceans by sustainably managing the fleet and eliminating subsidies that promote overcapacity.”
As highlighted by the signatories of the joint statement, the first step to manage global fishing capacity is to assess it – currently, the global active fishing capacity is largely unknown. A record of all vessels, based on a single vessel identification system, is certainly a key objective to promote in worldwide forums, such as the FAO. Regarding tuna, the transfer of fishing capacity from fishing nations (e.g. the EU) to coastal developing nations (e.g. the ACP) as a potential solution to “freeze” global tuna fishing capacity, while accommodating developing countries’ aspirations to develop their own fleets, raises many issues. First, it is unclear whether the qualitative aspects of the tuna fishing capacity available (e.g. in terms of its capital intensity, fishing methods used) correspond to what coastal developing nations require to promote sustainable fisheries development. Coastal developing countries will also need sufficient resources to cope with their obligations as flag states, including ensuring surveillance, control and monitoring of very mobile industrial tuna vessels which are, for a large part of their operations, active on the high seas. This suggests that the EU’s and other fishing nations’ efforts to promote global (tuna) fishing capacity management should also be targeting, as soon as possible, developing coastal (ACP) countries.