Communication is essential to modernize fisheries management
Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) are mandated to act in the public interest by protecting the long-term sustainability of international fish stocks such as tuna, marlin and sharks. However, governments participating in RFMO meetings often negotiate annual fish catch limits based on the interests of a small but powerful number, and often do not sufficiently represent the needs of the various stakeholders. Under the traditional management approach, these often lengthy negotiations too often result in quotas that exceed scientifically advised levels and decisions that delay critical conservation actions. This approach has contributed to overfishing and species depletion, harming marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on these fish for their food and livelihoods.
Fortunately, a better and more modern approach to the management of international fisheries is gaining ground – one that holds decision makers accountable to all those affected by their decisions, promotes greater transparency in fisheries management, and focuses on planning. and long-term sustainability. This system, known as operating strategies or management procedures, is a set of science-based and precautionary fishing rules agreed in advance by all members of an RFMO and tested to ensure efficiency through a computer simulation called management strategy assessment (MSE).
Establishing groups of scientists, managers and stakeholders to lead the process is critical to the successful development of harvesting strategies. These so-called “dialogue groups”, which are in place in some RFMOs but need to be used more widely, constitute an essential forum for developing a transparent and collective vision of the future of fisheries and ensuring high catches and populations. healthy, among others. Goals. Now is the time for RFMOs, especially those overseeing tuna fisheries, which cover 90% of the ocean, to establish dialogue groups that ensure the timely adoption of inclusive and evidence-based fishing strategies. Science.
Bring inclusiveness to fisheries management
Dialogue groups create an iterative exchange between scientists, managers and stakeholders, increasing buy-in for the general approach and specific harvesting strategy and promoting better results on the water. This exchange is one of the hallmarks of the Harvest Strategies approach, allowing the expertise and perspectives of a range of important actors to be incorporated into the process. Scientists oversee the modeling of the dynamics of a fishery and the simulation of the performance of potential catch control rules that guide the amount of fish that can be caught. Stakeholders — including different segments of the industry, from fishing vessels to others along the supply chain; civil society and non-governmental organizations; and representatives of communities dependent on these fisheries — provide experiential knowledge and public perspectives on the future vision and goals of the fishery. In some cases, stakeholders also provide the impetus to initiate an exploitation strategy, perhaps out of concern for the future of the stock and the fishery, or in response to market demand. Fisheries managers ultimately make the final decisions and set medium and long term goals for the fishery and the actions they want to take to achieve them.
Dialogue groups are essential to adopting harvesting strategies, and their benefits are clear. When the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) undertook a fully tested fishing strategy for turbot in 2017, for example, the work was completed in less than a year, largely thanks to the multiple meetings of their dialogue group.
It’s time for RFMOs to meet their commitments
The five tuna RFMOs are committed to developing catch strategies, but dialogue groups are in place in only three: the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission ( IOTC) and the International Commission for Conservation. Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). It is time for the two Pacific tuna RFMOs to establish dialogue groups. In the Eastern Pacific, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (CITT) has already organized several workshops and developed a strategic scientific plan to develop MSE as a central component of harvesting strategies, but it needs to take the next step by creating a formal structure to support its discussions on harvest strategy. Members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which manages more than half of the tuna caught globally, agreed on a work plan for developing skipjack and albacore catch strategies Pacific in 2022, but they must heed the call of their own scientists to establish a dialogue group at this year’s meeting and schedule its first session for 2022. Both at the IATTC and at the WCPFC, the scientists leading the MSE process need more feedback from managers and stakeholders to ensure that models reflect their priorities for fisheries and stocks. And without greater cooperation and involvement from managers, the results will not seem suited to their interests.
Non-tuna RFMOs and other fisheries management bodies should also follow suit. For example, the North Pacific Fisheries Commission, which oversees commercially important small pelagic fisheries, should expand its planned working group of scientists, managers and technical experts to include stakeholders during the review. rules for controlling potential catches and the future capture strategy for Pacific saury species.
Fisheries strategies bring fisheries management into the 21st century by being more transparent and science-based and by ensuring that governments are accountable for their international commitments. Although RFMOs have adopted Harvest Strategies as a concept and created work plans and timelines to move some elements of the approach forward, the pace of work needs to pick up. Implementing a fisheries strategy can put a fishery on a path to a sustainable future, and a dialogue group is an initial investment in that future.
Rachel Hopkins is Project Director and Ashley Wilson is Head of The Pew Charitable Trusts International Fishing Project.