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Brussels, 29 June 2009

Questions and Answers on Regional Fisheries Management Organisations

What are Regional Fisheries Management Organisations?

Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) are international organisations dedicated to the sustainable management of fishery resources in international waters, or of highly migratory species, such as tuna. The statutes and operational modes of each RFMO are adapted to its specific geographical circumstances and priorities. They typically bring together coastal states with other parties who have an interest in the fisheries concerned.

There are two types of RFMOs. One deals with highly migratory species (tuna and swordfish), the other with pelagic and demersal species.

What powers do RFMOs have?

While a few are purely advisory, most RFMOs have management powers.

They tend to take four kinds of regulatory decisions, determining:

  • fishing limits (total allowable catches, maximum number of vessels, duration and location of fishing);

  • technical measures (definition of how fishing activities must be carried out, permitted gear and technical control of vessels and equipment); and,

  • control measures (monitoring and surveillance of fishing activities).

  • Measures to fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing

These decisions are binding on their members and, in the case of the EU, must be enacted into European law. RFMOs also carry out scientific research, and can assist their members with such issues as capacity building, external cooperation, and/or fisheries development.

How important are the RFMOs to the EU tuna industry?

EU vessels are active in the waters regulated by all five existing tuna RFMOs, though not to the same degree. The European presence ranges from some 2 000 vessels fishing in the Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean waters covered by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), to a dozen vessels fishing in the waters covered by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), or the four vessels which take tuna as by-catch in the waters regulated by the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT). Around 100 EU vessels fish under the auspices of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), and some 30 vessels are licenced to operate in the waters of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC).

What role does the EU play in tuna RFMOs?

The EU is an active contracting party to ICCAT, WCPFC, IOTC and a cooperating non-contracting party to the IATTC and CCSBT. As in all RFMOs where its fleet operates, the EU is keen to promote better governance of international fisheries by strengthening RFMOs and ensuring they have the necessary powers and resources to regulate and conserve fisheries in their area, including the power to act against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. It also shares its experience in RFMOs where the Union does not have a direct fishing interest and encourages their creation for areas and fisheries that are hitherto unregulated.

What progress has been made with implementing the Course of Action set out at Kobe 1?

In a word, not as much as might have been hoped. Three of the five tuna RFMOs (CCSBT, ICCAT and IOTC) have implemented independent performance reviews, and there have been meetings to discuss the implementation of a global record of vessels and a model catch documentation scheme. But in general, follow-through has been disappointing. The European Commission hopes that Kobe 2 will give new impetus to the process, and will be proposing that the 2009-2011 Course of Action should culminate in a ministerial-level meeting to serve as platform for the launch of even bolder initiatives.

What concrete measures have been taken to help developing nations comply with RFMO regulations?

The EU has been working with developing nations around the world to improve their capacity to participate in tuna RFMOs and apply their regulations, in particular in the areas of scientific research, monitoring, control and surveillance. The EU has been doing this not only through its involvement in the relevant RFMOs, but also through its bilateral agreements with particular nations. However, much still remains to be done, which is why the European Commission felt it was vital to invite representatives of 24 developing coastal states to attend Kobe 2 and contribute to this week's debates.

How great is the overcapacity of the global tuna fleet? Are there reliable figures for how many vessels are involved?

Overcapacity is a function of two factors: fleet capacity, and the biological status of the resource. In so far as both these factors are known, it is clear that most tuna stocks are fully exploited, and some are overfished, most notoriously in the case of Eastern bluefin tuna.

One of the European Commission's goals for Kobe 2 is to start work on an accurate assessment of the global overcapacity situation, so that by the end of 2009 all the information should be in place to set meaningful political targets for bringing global fleet capacity into line with the real productive potential of the resource.

What else can be gained through greater coordination between the tuna RFMOs?

One clear advantage of better coordination would be to streamline the workload of these organisations, whose responsibilities are already ambitious in relation to their resources. The European Commission believes that it should be possible to eliminate duplication of work, while maintaining the independence of each RFMO.

See also IP/09/1053

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