Global problems facing the marine fisheries sector, including overfishing and the marginalization of the small-scale sector, are leading to increased international awareness of the need to improve transparency in fisheries governance.
Data collated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that since the early 1980s total landings of fish from the sea have decreased steadily and the majority of commercially targeted fish stocks are fully exploited or overexploited. The global commercial fishing fleet is now estimated to be at least twice the size needed to catch marine fish sustainably, and many forms of industrial fishing cause high levels of by-catch and discards. The World Bank has estimated that, due to subsidies, waste and unsustainable management, losses from marine fisheries exceed $50 billion per year (World Bank, 2009).
The inability to stem overfishing represents a profound failure of governance on national and international levels. Lack of transparency and government openness is increasingly recognised as part of the problem. In many coastal and island states, basic information on which companies are allowed to fish, how much these companies can catch, how much revenue is being generated from fisheries and how this is being spent is obscured from the public. Commercial fisheries tend to be secretive, aided by the fact that they operate ‘off-shore’ and out of sight. Studies on illegal fishing in Africa, which has been conservatively estimated to be worth $1 billion each year, claim that levels of illegal fishing are closely related to proxies of good governance, including transparency, media freedom and the rule of law (MRAG, 2005).
Citizens living in Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America disproportionately feel the negative impacts of governance failure, corruption and overfishing. This is partly due to the importance of marine fisheries to national incomes, diets and livelihoods in many poorer coastal and island states. Lack of transparency is not only undermining the effectiveness of fisheries management and denying national revenues; it is also obscuring the true value of marine resources, as well as the social and economic cost of losing them. Less than half of African countries publish data on fish catches and exports, and illegally caught fish may account for up to 30% of fish trade worldwide (FAO, 2010). A commitment by governments, in all regions, to be more open about the management of fisheries would lead to improved knowledge about the actual and potential contribution of fisheries, which in turn may stimulate political will to better address the threats caused by overfishing and the further degradation of marine ecosystems (Standing, 2011).
Examples in Practice
Gabon publishes its registry of fishing licences on the internet
Gabon published a full list of fishing licences online for the first time in 2010.
The EU has released data on fishing subsidies amounting to 1 billion Euros
Having responded positively to a request for information, the EU released comprehensive data on fisheries subsidies in 2008, amounting to approximately 1 billion Euros. An NGO initiative http://fishsubsidy.org has made this information publicly available through a searchable website. Subsequent analysis of the data by fishsubsidy.org and other organisations, including Greenpeace and UN Environment Programme, has greatly enhanced debates on EU subsidy reforms, including raising awareness of where capacity-enhancing subsidies have been given to boats targeting overfished stocks, and where subsidies have been given to boats known to be engaged in illegal fishing.
The EU started publishing details of fisheries access agreements with developing countries in the early 1990s
All contracts signed between the EU and third countries are available on the EU’s website, as well as some meeting notes from the joint committees that oversee the implementation of these agreements. Certain other documents, such as ex ante and post ante evaluations of these agreements commissioned by the European Commission (EC) were considered confidential until 2012, but through advocacy campaigns and formal requests for information sent to the EC, these are now being published by the EC and NGOs.
The fisheries authorities of Madagascar publish complete details of fishing licences in local newspapers
In Madagascar, all details of fishing licences started to be published in local newspapers during the late 1990s, and information on the contribution of fishing companies to the economy was made public. This enhanced transparency resulted in central government receiving more fees from fishing licences, and fishing companies that were performing poorly were exposed. By 2003, the value added by the commercial fishing sector had increased by 4.5 million Euros.
The government of New Zealand publishes regular updates on cases of illegal fishing
The website of the Ministry of Fisheries, www.fish.govt.nz, provides regular updates on cases of illegal fishing. The Ministry also publishes statistics on penalties and fines in its annual reports.