Safe Conduct? Twelve years fishing under the UN Code
The Code was an important contribution to fisheries management at the time, and in fact, the Marine Stewardship Council and other initiatives to improve fisheries management are based upon it. For example, Denmark has adopted rights-based management, countries in the Eastern Pacific have initiatives to reduce bycatch, and Indonesia and the Philippines acknowledged overfishing and more recently, began championing the new Coral Triangle Initiative. However, the overall picture of compliance 12 years after the Code was published, presented in the following pages, is poor for the health of fisheries, fishing communities and the ecosystems they depend upon.
The best and worst countries in terms of compliance with the Code are identified; each country’s intentions, as revealed by its laws, legislation and practices, is distinguished from the effectiveness of its management measures. Compliance with the Code in specific measures is evaluated, including the use of reference points; the precautionary approach; fishery impacts on biodiversity, discards and bycatch; implementation of marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and no-take areas; consideration given to small-scale fisheries, coastal communities and aboriginal peoples; the control of excess fishing capacity; the extent and control of illegal fishing; and the use of flags of convenience to circumvent regulations.
As is evident from the failure of 90% of countries to address overcapacity, the current ‘fisheries management system’ has institutionalised overfishing through the low political priority given to fisheries and a lack of accountability for sustainability across the spectrum of players. Fishing is often far away, out of sight from the capitals where politicians and stakeholders make decisions that affect ocean health. It is only now with increasing scrutiny by consumers, the supply chain and retailers that the few champions of seafood security can begin to inhibit illegal and irresponsible fishing or highlight simply poor management performance.
This analysis of countries’ implementation of the Code was also used as a measure of their ability to ‘do ecosystem-based management’ (EBM), an approach to marine fisheries thought to have the elements needed to succeed where other approaches have failed. WWF has a comprehensive policy framework for EBM of fisheries and has also published case studies of EBM ‘in action’, showing that it is possible to do things differently and reverse the trajectory. This report and the ‘open protocol’ country case studies provide important baselines from which to measure future improvements in management. The country status reports are updated as new information comes to light: twelve countries have been updated to date.
Politically, it is time to link responsible fisheries with food security, legal fisheries with secure maritime borders and sustainable fisheries with stable coastal communities. Fishers and coastal communities can and should be the eyes and ears of a responsible society ‘out there on the water’ rather than an embarrassing excuse for shameful decline and a veil for criminal activity. WWF and the Fisheries Centre at UBC hope this analysis helps countries to take stock objectively of their current fisheries management situation, to seek the resources, guidance and support to design and implement improved approaches and to improve the profitability of their fisheries, the viability of their fishing communities and the health of the marine ecosystems they rely upon. This analysis clearly highlights the connection between good governance and responsible fisheries and raises the question of whether it may be time to make the implementation of the Code mandatory.