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ABPmer discusses international fisheries agreements in the Faroe Islands

With the UK poised to leave the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and become an independent coastal state under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), increasing attention is being paid to the international arrangements for fisheries management and access.

The CFP has absorbed much of the attention of industry, policy makers and campaigners over recent decades, with the annual negotiations on setting total allowable catches and quotas, efforts to achieve maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and eliminating discards.

The majority of commercially-exploited fish stock in the UK’s waters are shared with other countries (other EU Member States, Norway, Faroe Islands, Iceland), and UNCLOS requires states to cooperate on the management of shared and straddling stocks. Agreements provide a framework for the management of stocks that are shared between two (or more) countries’ waters, agree on the sharing of TACs between the parties, provide reciprocal access to each other’s waters, and sometimes also include provision of additional quota (either through mutual quota swaps or in return for a financial payment).

The prospect of the UK leaving the CFP therefore throws a light on these international agreements, including potentially the need for the existing EU agreements to be updated and revised. It was against this background that the European Association of Fisheries Economists (EAFE) held a workshop on 15-16 May 2018 in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands to discuss international fisheries agreements.

The challenges to developing coalitions

Being a meeting of fisheries economists, there were a number of presentations on the use of game theory to explore the challenges to developing stable coalitions for sustainable resource management. Dr Pedro Pintassilgo from the University of Algarve highlighted that higher numbers of countries involved in an agreement, increasing levels of technological development, and changing stock dynamics and distributions, all act together to make stable cooperation less likely.

The benefits derived from agreements can be unequal. This was explored in Arina Motova’s presentation of Seafish’s analysis of the utilisation of the EU–Faroes Agreement. The quotas exchanged under the agreement and access entitlements are of similar value, but the Faroese have utilised their access entitlements to a much greater extent than the EU, with the benefits realised from the agreement worth £9.1m to the EU overall, compared to £36.6m for the Faroe Islands.

7 recommendations

Suzannah Walmsley from ABPmer presented on the governance arrangements for the North East Atlantic region, based on work carried out for the Environmental Defense Fund. This highlighted seven recommendations for international agreements in fisheries:

  • An over-arching framework for agreements is needed, with all relevant parties involved;
  • Agreements should be long-term to provide stability, but with periodic review or dynamic quota allocation mechanisms, to allow for adjustments in the light of changing stock distributions;
  • There should be costs associated with withdrawing from an agreement, to ensure the benefits of being part of it outweigh the potential benefits that can be derived outside of it;
  • Agreements are more stable with fewer parties involved, but incorporating more stocks into an agreement (in contrast to the single-species agreements that exist for herring, mackerel and blue whiting) may provide increased resilience as benefits can be traded off between stocks;
  • Transferability and flexibility can help to match fishing opportunities with fish availability on the ground;
  • Effective dispute resolution mechanisms are needed
  • Agreements should be underpinned by responsive, robust science.

Are regional fisheries bodies the answer?

Piero Mannini from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlighted the increasing number of Regional Fisheries Bodies (RFBs) and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) around the world. Their effectiveness and performance depend on the commitment and political will of their members. RFBs and RFMOs should have sufficiently forceful institutional structures to achieve their management objectives. This includes the need for a secretariat, financial regulations, rules and procedures, and contributions from members. However, despite the increasing number of these organisations, there are still major gaps in coverage, particularly the eastern and western central Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

Common themes in international fisheries agreements

A number of common themes on international fisheries agreements emerged from the range of presentations at the meeting:

  • Combining multiple stocks in one agreement may help the resilience of agreements. At the same time as the workshop was taking place, coastal states were in London discussing the possibility of a combined agreement for pelagic stocks.
  • Incorporating other aspects can help make agreements work, such as reciprocal access to waters, providing opportunities to fish their own quota in other areas, and trade.
  • Incentives or legal requirements may be required to help make agreements work – the EU’s CFP is an example of such a legal agreement that achieves the cooperation of 23 Member States.
  • Game theory can shed important light on some of the aspects that can facilitate or hinder international agreements, but it isn’t the real world – there are other factors (political, economic, market, historical) that influence countries to be part of agreements, or not.

Faroese fishing industry – case study

The workshop also gave participants the opportunity to explore the Faroese islands and understand its fishing industry. The Faroese catch is 700,000t per year, and together with fish processing and aquaculture, provides 22% of Gross Domestic Product. This high dependency on fisheries requires that they manage their fisheries sustainably and this year a new Fisheries Act has been introduced, reforming management of the sector, introducing quota-based management for the demersal fisheries (which were previously managed under effort-based controls), and establishing a resource tax and the auctioning of fishing rights.