Cover Image
close this bookCERES No. 119 (FAO Ceres, 1987, 50 p.)
close this folderOther articles
View the documentConfronting environmental degradation: a problem without borders
View the documentManaging extended fisheries: a decade's modest progress
View the documentThe last decade for pesticides?

Managing extended fisheries: a decade's modest progress

by Gerald Moore and Gunnar Saetersdal

The extension of fisheries jurisdiction to 200 miles, undertaken mostly during the latter part of the 1970s, raised great expectations for improved resource management and a more equitable sharing of the oceans' wealth between developed and developing nations. This article examines the extent to which the expectations of improved resource management have been fulfilled. A subsequent article will consider questions of the transfer of resource wealth. Since most of the changes cannot be expected to take full effect in the short term or even in the medium term, any assessment, barely seven or eight years after the event, may be premature and certainly will be incomplete. Nevertheless, it may be possible at this time to discern certain trends.

The extension of national jurisdiction followed a 20-year period when the world fish catch more than tripled as a result of the rapid expansion of industrial fisheries, rising from about 20 million tons in 1950 to about 65 million tons in 1970. The technological basis of this remarkable development included the increased use of synthetic fibres and the introduction of large stern trawlers and high-powered deck machinery. The expansion initially centred on highly productive areas of the North Pacific and North Atlantic. By 1970 it had spread throughout these regions into areas of rich coastal upwelling in the Eastern Central Pacific and Eastern Central Atlantic.

In most of these regions, concern for the resource base had accompanied the expansion of fisheries almost from the beginning. Many of the international regional fisheries bodies established to manage and conserve these resources were unable to perform adequately in part because fisheries science lagged behind the rapid technological developments in the industry. By the early 1970s, however, new advances made it apparent that the main obstacle to efficient management lay more in the design of the international management machinery and the premise underlying that design, namely, open access. In the area served by the Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), for example, an evaluation of major stocks carried out in 1975-76 classified two stocks as underexploited, one as fully exploited, 28 as overexploited, and two as depleted. Much the same situation of excessive uncontrolled effort occurred in the Northwest Atlantic following the expansion of long-distance fleets operating in the area.

The combined effect of such pressure was a sharp decline in the annual growth rate of the total world catch - from an average of seven per cent prior to 1970 to an average between one and two per cent in succeeding years. The open access nature of existing fisheries regimes was identified as a major obstacle to achieving improved management and, from this, the extension of national coastal state fisheries jurisdiction was perceived as the key to solving, or at least alleviating, the problem.

Freedom and flexibility. The new regime created by the Law of the Sea Convention has gone a long way toward resolving, at the international level, the problem of open access. Most of the world's conventional fish resources fall under the new 200-mile jurisdiction of coastal states which now hold primary responsibility for their management. However, the Law of the Sea Convention provides few tangible guidelines for the management objectives and standards to be adopted by the coastal states in discharging these new responsibilities. Essentially, coastal states are left with a great deal of freedom and flexibility in fashioning their own national objectives and in fixing the level of utilization which they consider to be optimum.

The question thus arises as to whether this flexibility has resulted in any improved standards or objectives in regions of high fishing pressure after the extension of fisheries jurisdiction. Precise answers are possible only in a few regions with developed fisheries. In the Northeast Atlantic, for example, there is no evidence of any such shift, with the exception of Iceland, which from an early stage pursued a policy of rebuilding its exclusive stocks to a safer and more productive level. In the Northwest Atlantic, there is some evidence of improvement with the adaption of biological management criteria, approximating maximum economic yield, in a programme of stock recovery.

In the developing world, such precise assessment is not so easy. For many developing countries thinking in terms of fisheries management, as opposed to fisheries administration, is relatively new. Nonetheless, there is now widespread evidence in many developing countries of growing concern with fisheries management, even if there is as yet little evidence that precise biological standards for fisheries management have been adopted. But it is perhaps misleading to apply the same yardstick as for North Atlantic fisheries. In developing regions, with their dearth of fisheries scientists and enforcement staff, reliance on catch quotas, historically the basis of the North Atlantic management approach, is less attractive. For the most part, developing countries seem to be turning to more easily administered, if less precise, management systems, which have been able to take advantage of the shift to single state jurisdiction. Morocco and Malaysia, as examples, have recently adopted legislation requiring the formulation of fisheries management plans that would specify management objectives and standards and provide for licence limitation schemes. A number of other countries have passed similar laws. One common trend in these new systems is the increasing use of standards and objectives that, at least in theory, take into account economic as well as biological factors.

The practical impact of changes in management regimes on particular fisheries is difficult to assess, given the great natural variability of many marine fish stocks, but some broad trends may be detected. In the Northeast Atlantic an analysis carried out on more than 20 fish stocks in 1980-82, about five years after fisheries jurisdictions were extended, indicated that improvements in stock conditions were the exception rather than the rule. However, another analysis two to three years later contained more positive indications. Six important stocks were classified as recovering after periods of overfishing or depletion. At least four cases involving pelagic stocks could be directly attributed to drastic management action: complete cessation of fishing in three instances and the exclusion of foreign fishing in the fourth. Indications of recovery in two demersal stocks, Barents Sea cod and haddock, appears to have been the result of high natural recruitment, but this in turn may have been related to better maintenance of spawning stocks. It is expected that the improvements in exploitation patterns introduced under the present regime will be sufficient to bring about proper stock recoveries.

So far as other stocks in the Northeast Atlantic are concerned, there is, if anything, a tendency toward increased fishing pressure. North Sea demersal stocks are new exploited far above the maximum sustainable yield level, and the total catch of the recovering North Sea herring has been, for bath 1985 and 1986, twice the recommended total allowable catch, a result of the conflict over the sharing proportions.

No improvement. In general, one is forced to conclude that although there are some cases of successful management attributable to the simpler, more efficient regime of extended fisheries jurisdiction, there has been no generalized improvement in the state of exploitation of the resources in the Northeast Atlantic. The total catch during the 1978-83 period has fluctuated without discernible trend between 11 and 12 million tons. This lack of substantial progress is perhaps not surprising since about 80 per cent of the catch in this area comes from shared stocks still subject to international management. The prolonged period needed to develop an agreed fisheries policy for EEC countries has also contributed to the present situation.

The picture in the Northwest Atlantic is different.0 In the face of declining catch rates and stocks during the 1970s, a restrictive management policy was adopted as early as 1976-77 based on attaining maximum economic yield rather than maximum sustainable yield. With few exceptions Canada has maintained that policy and by 1982-83 had succeeded in building up stocks, particularly groundfish stocks, to the high levels of the 1960s. In contrast, cod stocks outside the 200 mile zone fished by foreign fleets and not subject to restrictive coastal state management have remained at a low level of abundance. The success of the resource restoration programme in the Northwest Atlantic can be attributed, at least in part, to a relatively simple management situation with a predominance of exclusive stocks and the fact that the principal coastal state, Canada, adopted a restrictive management policy at an early stage and adhered to it consistently. Whether Canada has made the best use in economic terms of the opportunities to improve and strengthen its fishing industry in the region is another question.

Like the Northeast Atlantic, the Northeast Pacific is characterized highly industrialized fisheries exploited by large distant water fleets. During the open access regime, however, there were fewer international fishery conflicts and those that did occur were less complicated than in the North Atlantic. Under the regime of extended fisheries jurisdiction, the dominant objective of the major coastal state, the United States, has been to reduce and control foreign fishing within the US zone. Management performance has on the whole been greatly improved for both international and national fisheries. Achievements include agreements on high seas fishing for salmon, expansion of joint management with Canada for halibut, control over the activities of foreign groundfish fleets, and the development of a considerable scale of joint venture fishing with foreign processing vessels. Some of these achievements have resulted in an improved state of resources, as in the case of halibut, where controls over foreign trawl fishing reduced the bycatch of juvenile and young fish. For the domestic ground fisheries as a whole, however, it seems doubtful whether the management system as it operates in practice is effective in maintaining the harvest at a sustained level.1 Stocks of king crab, snow crab, and deep sea shrimp have also been depleted.2 But other stocks reserved for national exploitation, such as cod, flatfishes, and herring, seem to be in an improved condition. This is perhaps more the result of the slow rate of development of coastal fisheries than of a consistent policy for the restoration of the resources.

In the Central and Southeast Pacific, trends in the state of exploitation of the major stocks have been affected and in part masked by the influence of the very strong environmental disruption caused by El Nino in 1982-83. There has been some recovery of the stock of California sardine, but this can hardly be ascribed to improved management induced by extended fisheries jurisdiction. Trends for the larger pelagic fisheries are difficult to identify. A recent increase in the much-reduced Peruvian anchovy stock may perhaps be related to improved cooperation in research and management in recent years.

In the productive Eastern Central Atlantic region, the depleted groundfish stocks in the north do not show any signs of recent recovery although foreign fishing is now being controlled by most coastal states.3 The large pelagic stocks of sardinellas, horse mackerel, and mackerel have also not shown much improvement from their somewhat overfished state, although the Moroccan sardine has responded to reduced foreign fishing and has increased in abundance. The situation in this region, as in other developing regions, is no doubt affected by the slow development of the national skills and systems for research, management, surveillance, and control, which are a prerequisite for effective management. Nevertheless there is evidence of increased concern to institute effective management, at both national and subregional levels, especially in the north of the region.

The Southeast Atlantic is a special case, since a large part of the shelf region, off Namibia, is not yet subject to extended fisheries jurisdiction and a multilateral management body (ICSAEF) is still operational in the area. The Namibian groundfish stocks have recently shown signs of a slight recovery but the clupeid stocks of anchovy and sardine are still depleted.4 If this picture is compared with the fate of the herring stocks in the Northeast Atlantic, it can be argued that the failure of any management action for the Namibian sardine stock is a consequence of the absence in practice of any extended fisheries jurisdiction.

In Southeast Asia there are conflicts between inshore and offshore fisheries and a complex problem of shared stocks that has only recently been touched upon. There are multilateral bodies for the promotion of fishery research and development in the area, but better management of shared stocks may perhaps only follow on the establishment of improved international mechanism for management. At the purely national level, however, there are encouraging indications of attempts to establish proper management systems, as for example in Malaysia.

Finally, in the Western Central Pacific, effort has reputedly been excessive in some of the fisheries.5 The management situation is complicated by the number of countries fishing in the area (27, of which 22 are coastal states), although by far the major fishing effort is by foreign distant water fleets. Although no agreement has yet been reached by the coastal states themselves on the need for management action and the type of action to be taken, with the exception of southern bluefin and some exclusively national stocks, the stage seems set for future management action. The centre piece is the negotiation of regional access agreements by coastal states, allowing for control over the total effort on the tuna stocks in the region. One such agreement has recently been concluded with the USA; it would cover fishing both inside and outside areas of coastal state jurisdiction. It seems likely that such regional agreements will be sought with other distant water fleets operating in the region, thus allowing for both economic and biological management of the fisheries in the future.

Concern for tuna. Management of tunas in other regions of the world continues to cause some concern. Although tunas account for only two to 2.5 million tons out of a world catch of almost 80 million tons, their high value and wide-ranging distribution have resulted in major international fisheries with high fishing pressures on some stocks and areas. Among international bodies dealing with tuna, only one, the InterAmerican Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) has been directly involved in management.6 Its work has recently been disrupted as a result of conflicts over the issue of coastal state sovereignty over highly migratory species. The conflict has caused the virtual collapse of the IATTC, which had been active since the 1950s. There have been several attempts to replace the Commission with a new international convention, but at the moment tuna stocks in the Eastern Pacific remain without agreed management. The general picture is now one of heavily exploited stocks (with the exception of skipjack), increasing difficulties, as a result of the extension of fisheries jurisdiction, in getting access to the detailed catch data needed for stock assessment, and a dearth of institutional arrangements through which management and allocation problems can be addressed. Until the debate over the sovereignty issue is finally resolved and new institutional structures emerge from the present uncertainties, there can be little hope for improvement.

Signs of a resolution of the tuna jurisdiction conflict in favour of recognition of coastal state sovereign rights are apparent in the new multilateral treaty agreed upon last April between certain Pacific Island States and the United States. The treaty also provides an indication of the way in which tuna management may be structured in the region in the future. Basically, this would involve management decision-making by the Pacific Island coastal states through the medium of the Forum Fisheries Agency, with the cooperation of fishing nations through the medium of regional access agreements.

While the new regime introduced by the Law of the Sea Convention has undoubtedly improved the fisheries management potential for stocks exclusive to single national jurisdictions, it has left basically unsettled the problem of the management of shared stocks, which varies in importance from region to region. In the Northeast Atlantic, for example, shared stocks account for more than 80 per cent of the total exploitable fish resources. In the other northern areas of high fishing pressure, the Northwest Atlantic and the North Pacific, the proportion of shared stocks is considerably less and the problems are correspondingly less important. In other areas, such as the Eastern Central Atlantic (from Morocco to Guinea-Bissau), the Southeast Atlantic (from Gabon to the Republic of South Africa), the Patagonian shelf, the East China Sea and Yellow Sea, the shared stock issue is potentially important. Unfortunately, the Law of the Sea Convention offers little guidance on the shared stock problem.

Given the lack of agreed and tangible guidelines, one of the first tasks has been to agree upon the principles to be followed in determining share allocations. Historical fishing patterns, though an obvious solution, have not proved a useful approach in the Northeast Atlantic for a number of reasons. First, with the extension of national jurisdiction the number of parties sharing the fisheries has decreased. Secondly, for some stocks, fishing activities have in the past been concentrated on a few established fishing grounds only within the wider area of distribution of the fish. Finally, there were also objections of principle against basing such important decisions merely on fishing patterns over recent years. The harvestable portion of a fishery resource represents only one component of a resource complex that includes reproductive, recruiting, and at times also special growth phases. The whole resource complex is itself dependent on the system of production at lower trophic levels in the sea. The geographical area of these different phases does not necessarily coincide with that of the fishable part of the population. As a matter of principle it would seem unreasonable not to take into consideration these factors when allocating access to a resource.

The coastal states of the Northeast Atlantic requested ICES, early on under the new regime of extended jurisdiction, to prepare a detailed description of the geographical distribution of the stocks during these various phases and of the fishing operations themselves as a basis for negotiations on the share proportions to be used when allocating access to shared stocks.

For highly migratory species, the problems of shared resources are in principle even more difficult. In practice, however, there are at present not many tuna stocks in the world under management schemes in which biologically based sharing formulae would form an integral part. The distribution of access to and benefits from these stocks has, up to new, been based mainly on historical and present fishing patterns. In the Eastern Pacific, for example, quotes for yellowfin tuna were originally allocated on the basis of historical fishing activity, though with some quotas reserved for coastal states under the Eastern Pacific Ocean Tuna Fishing Agreement adopted as an interim replacement for the IATTC Convention any permanent regime for the Eastern Pacific Ocean tuna fisheries would include equitable guaranteed quotas for coastal states based on, among other criteria, the concentration of the tuna resources. The agreement counterproposed by other Latin American coastal states provides no immediate objective criterion for allocation of resource shares. It would give pre-eminence to the establishment of national quotas by the individual coastal states, leaving open future negotiations on resource allocation among those coastal states. In either case, the issues will become of increasing importance in the future.

In the Southwestern and Central Pacific no regionwide biologically based management measures have yet been applied. In any event the predominance of the foreign distant water fleets in the region and the regional approach adopted to access licensing make the problems of allocation more tractable. The distribution of financial benefits from regional access agreements have up to now been based for the most part on the geographical location of actual fishing operations.

The continued problems of open access posed by shared stocks constitute a significant flaw in the otherwise much simpler regime based on coastal state jurisdiction. The issue has complicated the efficient establishment of the new regime and threatens its future execution, to an extent probably not foreseen the UNCLOS negotiations. It is perhaps not surprising that of the concrete examples given of improvement management, most have arisen in situations with a predominance of exclusive stocks.

The problem of shared stocks also raises the issue of institutional arrangements required for international management. As expected, the extension of fisheries jurisdiction has caused a shift away from multilateral fisheries commissions to more restricted and for the most part bilateral commissions, providing forums for an ongoing process of negotiation and agreement. In the Northeast Atlantic this has resulted in a management system that functions more efficiently and in a more timely fashion than the previous NEAFC regime.7 The main reason is that fewer parties are now involved in the negotiations. The change is probably symptomatic of management regimes for coastal fisheries throughout the world, at least in so far as fisheries bodies with real management powers are concerned. Even with regional fisheries bodies having only a recommendatory role with respect to management and general functions of coordination and development promotion, such as the FAO regional fisheries bodies, there has been a movement toward the establishment of management forums with membership restricted to coastal states, in recognition of the new sovereign rights of those states. For research, stock assessment, and purely advisory functions, multilateral regional organizations in which both coastal states and significant noncoastal fishing interests are directly or indirectly represented remain the most effective and preferred form.

One striking consequence of the extension of national fisheries jurisdiction has been the increasing interest shown by regional economic and political groupings in the management and development fisheries. Examples, in addition to the European Community, are the South Pacific Forum, which in 1979 set up its own regional Forum Fisheries Agency; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is becoming increasingly involved in fisheries matters; the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), which recently established a regional fisheries desk; the Caribbean Economic Community (CARICOM), which is embarking on a programme for the development of a common fisheries policy; and SELA (Sistema Econa Latina Americana), which has recently established its own fisheries agency, OLDEPESCA. The movement is hardly surprising, given that the extension of jurisdiction has now brought marine fisheries within the mainstream of coastal states' economies.

In summary, the picture of fisheries management almost a decade after the extension of fisheries jurisdiction is still unclear. Quantitatively, there have not been many concrete examples of improved management reflected in improved stocks directly attributable to the changes in the legal regime. There have been some failures and a number of missed opportunities. But there have been some successes. And more important, there does appear to be a growing awareness in both developing and developed countries of the need for fisheries management and an increasing commitment to plan for and carry out that management. The results cannot yet be measured objectively. But the importance of the change in thinking in fisheries circles should not be underestimated. To obtain concrete results will take time, but it does seem that the process has already begun.