Transparency alone is not enough, Sven Biermann says at LDAC conference

17 Septembre 2015: Mr. Biermann, Program Director of the FiTI, presented the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI) at the Conference of the Long Distance Advisory Council (LDAC) on the External Dimension of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in Las Palmas / Gran Canaria.

LDAC

Credit Picture @LDAC & MWC

As Mr. Biermann pointed out, transparency was often mentioned during the first two days of the conference. This resonates very well with developments all over the world, as there is probably not a single industry which is not trying to improve its transparency these days. This means that new initiatives can learn from existing approaches and their challenges, he added.

And this is what the FiTI is about: a new transparency initiative for fisheries, inspired by successful ways of how transparency has improved in other sectors. Yet Mr. Biermann made it clear that the underlying idea of the FiTI is not new. In fact, many fisheries experts that are present at this conference have been elaborating about this approach for quite some time now, he said.

 

Mr. Biermann divided his brief presentation on the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI) in 3 sections:

  • What is the FiTI trying to achieve?
  • What are the FiTI’s defining characteristics?
  • Where does the FiTI stand?

What is the FiTI trying to achieve?

The FiTI is based on the theory of change, according to which an increase in transparency will stimulate demand for accountability, thus resulting in improved fisheries management. This makes one important point clear: Transparency cannot be an end in itself, Sven Biermann declared. As he explained:

  • If you put out information nobody cares about, it will obviously not do any good.
  • Similarly, if you put out information out that is relevant (i.e. people care about), but the information is perceived as biased, incomplete, or wrong, there will always be people to contradict it.
  • And finally, if you put out information that is relevant and credible, but no one can use it, again an initiative will not make any impact.

This is exactly where the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI) is trying to make a difference, Sven Biermann said. The FiTI seeks to provide information which is relevant to improve fisheries management to allow for better and more democratic decision making, he explained. Mr. Biermann also emphasized that, as a starting point for its discussion, the FiTI would for now focus on increasing transparency on the access to marine fisheries. This includes:

  • Who has the right to fish (partners, beneficial ownership, vessels)?
  • What is paid for the right to fish?
  • How much is extracted?
  • And potentially some other conditions of access arrangements.

Sven Biermann then went on to explain in more details how the FiTI works:

All this information will be provided in a report. A report that aims at providing a realistic picture on the previous mentioned questions. Thus, one of the tangible outcomes of the FiTI is a report; to be more precise: in a country report. But as he said, this report in itself will not make things better. It needs to be credible and it needs to be used. And here comes one of the defining characteristic of the FiTI into the picture: and that is its multi-stakeholder orientation. Information that will be made public must be reviewed and approved by all three stakeholder groups: the country’s government, the companies that do business in the country and the civil society. The civil society plays a particularly important role here, as the involvment of notoriously critical civil society organizations will ensure the credibility of the reports. The report must provide a clear and complete picture for the entire country. Mr. Biermann emphasized that under the FiTI, a government cannot decide to only publish information from its fisheries partnership agreement with the EU and to leave out information from other existing (maybe private) arrangements. Civil Society would then object and state that important information is missing. And without the agreement from all three stakeholder groups, the report cannot be published and a country cannot reach its FiTI status.

What are the FiTI’s defining characteristics?

The FiTI is rooted in core characteristics, Sven Biermann added. The implementation of the FiTI is country-centered. The intention to join the FiTI 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 establishment of a national Multi-Stakeholder Group, where an equal number of government representatives, company representatives (commercial and artisanal) and civil society come together, discuss on key issues of the country’s fishery sector and approve the information that will be published. Mr. Biermann admitted that the beginning of this process is not easy. But as he said, learnings from other initiatives show that over time, such process leads to an improved understanding and the creation of trust, which is essential to tackle deep-rooted issues.

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. Otherwise, a country cannot call itself a FiTI Country.

And, the FiTI is a global initiative. The initiative does not focus on a single country or a region/continent. It seeks to establish a global level playing field among fisheries countries. The more participating countries, the more powerful this initiative will get!

He emphasized that the FiTI is currently in discussions with 4 countries: Costa Rica, Indonesia,  Mauritania and the Seychelles.

This triggers generally some initial skepticism about whether this approach is actually doable, Mr. Biermann said. But he reconfirmed that such a process is already applied in other sectors – that are potentially as difficult as fisheries. In the oil, gas & mining sector, with a lot of money involved, illegal mining, artisanal mining, coupling of access rights with infrastructure investments, in-kind contributions, etc., this process works. There are almost 50 countries globally that follow this process, publishing regular information.

So where does the FiTI stand now?

The FiTI is currently in its conceptual phase, defining how this initiative should be governed, how transparency should be achieved (process) and what kind of information should be disclosed (content). This work is led by the FiTI Secretariat, supported by an International Advisory Group, that met already once in Berlin and is meeting again in October in Rome (hosted by the FAO).

Mr. Biermann invited all participants to reach out to the FiTI Secretariat in case of questions, feedback or ideas for further collaboration.

Finally, the FiTI will conduct the 1st International Conference in December in Mauritania. Registration is now open for the conference.

In summary, Mr. Biermann highlighted 3 take-aways from his brief overview of the FiTI:

    • The FiTI focuses on increasing transparency as much as on increasing participation regarding the access to marine fisheries.
 
    • The FiTI is based on a multi-stakeholder orientation, involving governments, companies and civil society as equal partners globally as well as in participating countries.
 
    • The FiTI will contribute to leveling the playing field by attracting as many countries as possible to implement this initiative.

Mr. Biermann concluded his presentation by thanking the LDAC for allowing him to speak at this important conference and presenting the FiTI to a wide range of fisheries experts.