The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

Initiated in 1995 by the FAO, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries defines the principles of responsible fishing, taking into account all relevant biological, technological, economic, social, environmental and commercial aspects.

In fact the Code's approach is holistic. Global in reach, but optional, it tackles conservation and the planning and development of all fisheries, including aquaculture. The Code also covers “the capture, processing, and trade of fish and fishery products, fishing operations, aquaculture, fisheries research and the integration of fisheries into coastal area management.”
From a methodological standpoint, the Code includes management based on ecosystems, an approach integrating the complexity and dynamics of ecosystems, the economic and social needs of communities, and the maintenance of the diversity, operation and health of ecosystems.

Intended for state entities, it encourages transparency and consultation. Although it advocates effective participation by the industry, sector workers, environmental organisations and other organisations concerned, it never addresses the artisanal fisheries or small-scale fisheries in which most fishermen work. On the contrary, with respect to developing countries, the Code emphasises massive fishing, calling on every actor to enhancing these countries' “ability to develop their own fisheries and participate in high-seas fisheries.”  The point is briefly made although 50% of fish worldwide comes from developing countries.
The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries was intended to become a reference document. It is. It inspired the MSC and the CFP (Common European Fisheries Policy) and continues to feed into strategic documents. 

Gilles Hosch, Fisheries planning and management expert
 

The FAO's Code of Conduct has been in place for 14 years and fishery resources are still being badly managed. Has the Code it failed?

The FAO Code of Conduct is an extremely important instrument and its impact has been considerable. It is a structuring political instrument and the only international one to define the minimal requirements for a responsible and sustainable approach to fisheries management. There are no other databases that are so universal, applicable and authoritative.

Although it is intended for all those involved in fishing, we must be realistic. The Code will not be able to implement a solid regulatory framework that guarantees economic and ecological sustainability for fisheries when governments have failed to do so. National governments are the main players in this challenge. For 14 years now, they have used the Code to define and implement coherent fisheries policies. Nearly all binding documents from 1995 on refer to the Code. If pressure tactics had been used in 1995, the Code would probably have been sent packing. Its non-binding "wise man" approach is one of its greatest strengths. The apparent slowness of its application and the global crisis in the fishing industry should be blamed on governments that are unable to do their jobs.

 

But doesn't the Code forget to state the South's social and cultural dimensions in its principles?

No. It mentions the rights and interests of small-scale fishermen in its first chapter defining basic principles. Admittedly, the Code was written with deep-sea fisheries in mind. At the time of writing, they were growing out of control and one of the Code's goals was to gain control over this phenomenon. However, the principles of good governance are as valid for industrial fisheries as for subsistence, small-scale, and continental fisheries. This is not a North-South problem: there are no fewer social and cultural dimensions in France or in Iceland than in Senegal or in Tonga. Application of the Code is disagreeable everywhere because it tries to break with the past, the culture of free access, and the “gold rush” mentality. The goal is to bring fisheries under a Cartesian approach to properly managed resources and to get players to change certain aspects of yesterday's "fishing culture" - both in the North and the South.

 

Monitoring of the oceans is still a challenge. Can binding technical measures, such as exclusive small-scale fisheries zones, be implemented and are they even desirable?

If we want sustainable fisheries, we will need structured and verifiable management frameworks. The real issues are those of traceability, monitoring, and supervision.  In 2007, the European Court of Auditors stated that Member States had not implemented basic structures and processes enabling effective monitoring of TACs and European quotas. These are essential elements of the CFP. Countries like Mozambique and Madagascar set exclusive zones for small-scale fishing - in the case of these two countries, 8,000 kilometres of coastline, that is, one fifth of the circumference of our planet! These countries do not have the ability to enforce this measure. Yet, a measure that only exists on paper weakens the entire framework. This is a warning about good intentions. Yes to controls, but to structured and realistic ones. 

 

  Gilles Hosch, Fisheries planning and management ex

The FAO's Code of Conduct has been in place for 14 years and fishery resources are still being badly managed. Has the Code it failed?
The FAO Code of Conduct is an extremely important instrument and its impact has been considerable. It is a structuring political instrument and the only international one to define the minimal requirements for a responsible and sustainable approach to fisheries management. There are no other databases that are so universal, applicable and authoritative.
Although it is intended for all those involved in fishing, we must be realistic. The Code will not be able to implement a solid regulatory framework that guarantees economic and ecological sustainability for fisheries when governments have failed to do so. National governments are the main players in this challenge. For 14 years now, they have used the Code to define and implement coherent fisheries policies. Nearly all binding documents from 1995 on refer to the Code. If pressure tactics had been used in 1995, the Code would probably have been sent packing. Its non-binding "wise man" approach is one of its greatest strengths. The apparent slowness of its application and the global crisis in the fishing industry should be blamed on governments that are unable to do their jobs.

But doesn't the Code forget to state the South's social and cultural dimensions in its principles?
No. It mentions the rights and interests of small-scale fishermen in its first chapter defining basic principles. Admittedly, the Code was written with deep-sea fisheries in mind. At the time of writing, they were growing out of control and one of the Code's goals was to gain control over this phenomenon. However, the principles of good governance are as valid for industrial fisheries as for subsistence, small-scale, and continental fisheries. This is not a North-South problem: there are no fewer social and cultural dimensions in France or in Iceland than in Senegal or in Tonga. Application of the Code is disagreeable everywhere because it tries to break with the past, the culture of free access, and the “gold rush” mentality. The goal is to bring fisheries under a Cartesian approach to properly managed resources and to get players to change certain aspects of yesterday's "fishing culture" - both in the North and the South.

Monitoring of the oceans is still a challenge. Can binding technical measures, such as exclusive small-scale fisheries zones, be implemented and are they even desirable?
If we want sustainable fisheries, we will need structured and verifiable management frameworks. The real issues are those of traceability, monitoring, and supervision.  In 2007, the European Court of Auditors stated that Member States had not implemented basic structures and processes enabling effective monitoring of TACs and European quotas. These are essential elements of the CFP. Countries like Mozambique and Madagascar set exclusive zones for small-scale fishing - in the case of these two countries, 8,000 kilometres of coastline, that is, one fifth of the circumference of our planet! These countries do not have the ability to enforce this measure. Yet, a measure that only exists on paper weakens the entire framework. This is a warning about good intentions. Yes to controls, but to structured and realistic ones.

Gilles Hosch, Fisheries planning and management expert

 

The FAO's Code of Conduct has been in place for 14 years and fishery resources are still being badly managed. Has the Code it failed?

The FAO Code of Conduct is an extremely important instrument and its impact has been considerable. It is a structuring political instrument and the only international one to define the minimal requirements for a responsible and sustainable approach to fisheries management. There are no other databases that are so universal, applicable and authoritative.

Although it is intended for all those involved in fishing, we must be realistic. The Code will not be able to implement a solid regulatory framework that guarantees economic and ecological sustainability for fisheries when governments have failed to do so. National governments are the main players in this challenge. For 14 years now, they have used the Code to define and implement coherent fisheries policies. Nearly all binding documents from 1995 on refer to the Code. If pressure tactics had been used in 1995, the Code would probably have been sent packing. Its non-binding "wise man" approach is one of its greatest strengths. The apparent slowness of its application and the global crisis in the fishing industry should be blamed on governments that are unable to do their jobs.

 

But doesn't the Code forget to state the South's social and cultural dimensions in its principles?

No. It mentions the rights and interests of small-scale fishermen in its first chapter defining basic principles. Admittedly, the Code was written with deep-sea fisheries in mind. At the time of writing, they were growing out of control and one of the Code's goals was to gain control over this phenomenon. However, the principles of good governance are as valid for industrial fisheries as for subsistence, small-scale, and continental fisheries. This is not a North-South problem: there are no fewer social and cultural dimensions in France or in Iceland than in Senegal or in Tonga. Application of the Code is disagreeable everywhere because it tries to break with the past, the culture of free access, and the “gold rush” mentality. The goal is to bring fisheries under a Cartesian approach to properly managed resources and to get players to change certain aspects of yesterday's "fishing culture" - both in the North and the South.

 

Monitoring of the oceans is still a challenge. Can binding technical measures, such as exclusive small-scale fisheries zones, be implemented and are they even desirable?

If we want sustainable fisheries, we will need structured and verifiable management frameworks. The real issues are those of traceability, monitoring, and supervision.  In 2007, the European Court of Auditors stated that Member States had not implemented basic structures and processes enabling effective monitoring of TACs and European quotas. These are essential elements of the CFP. Countries like Mozambique and Madagascar set exclusive zones for small-scale fishing - in the case of these two countries, 8,000 kilometres of coastline, that is, one fifth of the circumference of our planet! These countries do not have the ability to enforce this measure. Yet, a measure that only exists on paper weakens the entire framework. This is a warning about good intentions. Yes to controls, but to structured and realistic ones.