The Need for Transparency and Participation
There is a widely shared understanding of the need to achieve sustainable and responsibly managed marine fisheries. But coastal states and fishing nations face a complex challenge: ensuring that fishing and fish trade contribute to income, employment, Food and nutrition for millions of people, while also conserving marine biodiversity for future generations.
While there are many aspects to achieve sustainable fisheries, the public availability of credible information is essential. Indeed, the need for governments to share information on fisheries is already described in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the subsequent FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Since then, the importance of collating and sharing Information with all stakeholders has been a message conveyed in other landmark documents on fisheries reforms, such as the 2012 Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests and the 2015 Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication. Intergovernmental bodies, such as the European Union and the African Union, have also put forward transparency as an aspect of fisheries reforms that must be strengthened. This contributes to stronger demands for governments to disclose information on a range of issues. Large-scale commercial fishing companies are also experiencing growing public scrutiny about their economic, environmental and social impacts.
However, even with a greater public interest in the fisheries sector, basic Information still often remains out of the public domain. Such information includes the status of fish stocks and marine ecosystems, conditions attached to fishing authorisations, the contracts of fishing access agreements signed between fishing nations and coastal states or the amount of fish taken from the ocean. But without such information, the quality and credibility of decision-making can be undermined, while the prospect of effective oversight and accountability diminishes.
Transparency is therefore a prerequisite for informed public debates on fisheries policies and for achieving meaningful participation in fisheries decision-making. But it is not only the availability of information that counts; it is also essential that it is accessible and that citizens have the assurance that the information provided by governments and fishing companies is credible. This challenge is unlikely to be met by a single actor or a stakeholder group alone. Instead, it needs a collective effort by all relevant stakeholders to incorporate a variety of perspectives and enhance transparency and trust over time.
The Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI)
In this context, the Fisheries Transparency Initiative has been developed as a unique effort that complements and supports other national, regional and global efforts for achieving responsible fisheries governance. The purpose of the FiTI is to increase transparency and participation in fisheries governance for the benefit of a more sustainable management of marine fisheries. The FiTI is not owned or operated by one organisation nor does it represent the work of a single interest group. Instead, the diversity of different stakeholders is a central feature of how the FiTI works, for national implementations as well as international governance.
- The FiTI is a global initiative. The initiative does not focus on a single country or a region. It seeks to establish a global level playing field among fisheries countries. The more participating countries, the more power this initiative will get!
- The implementation of the FiTI is country-centered. The intention to join the FiTI and the initiation of the official process must come from a country’s government. For this, a country’s government must demonstrate active support for the implementation of the FiTI. This includes – inter alia – the commitment to an enabling environment, the establishment of a National Multi-Stakeholder Group and the publication of timely information.
- The FiTI is a voluntary initiative with mandatory requirements. The implementation of the FiTI is voluntary; however, once a country has decided to participate, mandatory requirements must be followed.
- The FiTI in built on a multi-stakeholder governance structure, ensuring that stakeholders from government, companies and civil society are equally represented.
- This multi-stakeholder governance will be applied at an international level through an International Multi-Stakeholder Board as well as in all participating countries through National Multi-Stakeholder Groups.
- The FiTI will provide clear procedural guidelines for gathering, verifying and disclosing relevant information on fisheries. A key deliverable of this process is the timely publication of a FiTI Country Report.
Benefits for all stakeholders
Stakeholders, such as governments and the fishing industry, are increasingly aware that improvements in transparency are not only expected of them, but will be beneficial to their interests. By making fisheries management more transparent and inclusive, the FiTI yields benefits for all stakeholders. The FiTI also helps tackling other issues which impact all actors in the fisheries sector, including contributing to food security and nutrition, and social stability, underpinning the sustainability of marine ecosystems, supporting the fight against corruption as well as Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing. Furthermore, levels of accountability and openness can have a growing impact on the decisions of consumers and investors and it will become an ever-increasing factor for intergovernmental cooperation in trade and regional fisheries management.
These general benefits can be further specified for each stakeholder group:
- Governments of host countries benefit from an enhanced political reputation by demonstrating a clear commitment to good governance for responsible fisheries. This can lead to increased trust and an improved contracting, trade and investment environment.
- Governments of host countries as well as their fisheries partners benefit equally by demonstrating that the country is getting a fair deal for its fishery resources, contributing to greater economic and political stability and food security.
- Industrial fishing companies benefit from an enhanced reputation in the market and a ‘level playing field’ where all companies provide information according to a coherent framework.
- Small-scale fishers benefit from an increased recognition of their contribution to the country’s food security and development, while improved transparency supports responsible governance of tenure that is needed for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries.
- Civil Society Organizations, workers and consumers benefit from an enhanced ability to hold governments and companies accountable through an increased amount of information in the public domain. Furthermore, civil society organizations will benefit from greater involvement in the production of credible information on fisheries, being recognized as an equal stakeholder in the country’s national Multi-Stakeholder Group.