Sustainable fisheries need transparency!
Marine fisheries have become a critical resource fulfilling the economic, food security, and nutrition needs of millions of people around the world. For millennia those that dedicated themselves to fishing either for family consumption, recreational interest or as a commercial activity needed not to worry about the sustainable management of this natural resource. Fish stocks replenished themselves with ease. That is not the case anymore.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has struck at a time when the ocean was already under increasing threat from myriad impacts, including climate change, pollution and overfishing. According to the latest report on the “State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020” from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, more than 34 per cent of global fish stocks are already fished at biologically unsustainable levels. Furthermore, according to the same report, it is likely that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target 14.4 (to end overfishing of marine fisheries by 2020) will not be achieved.
Governments have the fundamental obligation to manage fisheries responsibly, on behalf of their citizens, as a public asset. But this invokes 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 present and future generations.
While there are many aspects to achieve sustainable fisheries, the public availability of credible information is critical. But it has not been a priority. Many governments are not disclosing even basic information on their fisheries sector, such as laws, permits, fish agreements, stock assessments, financial contributions, catch data, and subsidies. Also, not all companies are reliably reporting on catch volumes, fishing practices and payments to governments. Furthermore, the data that is already publicly available is too often incomplete, outdated, unverified, or not readily accessible, affecting the capacity of governments to manage their marine fisheries efficiently and sustainably, as well as the ability for effective oversight and accountability.
The arguments for transparency in the fisheries sector stem from multiple interests and concerns. This includes growing consumer interest on the sustainability of seafood products, mounting evidence about unethical business practices in the fishing sector (e.g. illegal fishing, even in protected areas), as well as a growing acceptance that problems confronting coastal communities and small-scale fisheries are rooted in the secrecy that has characterized this industry for so long.
Many of the elements included in campaigns for transparency in the fisheries sector are already established in international agreements on fisheries reforms. The challenge has been that while these texts provide some specific requests for governments to follow, transparency is often discussed only in a fairly general way. This leaves much room for debate on exactly what information ought to be made public, by whom and why.
Furthermore, we are facing an implementation gap. Many governments are falling short of the true intent and spirit of these agreements and norms. The lack of transparency in fisheries access agreements between foreign fishing nations and developing countries, the lack of information on licensed vessels, the deficient public records on fishing quota allocations, as well as very limited data on subsidies, are just some of the most prominent examples.
Yet, coherent national policies on fisheries management can only happen in the presence of open access to all relevant data needed to ensure equitable and sustainable outcomes. Transparency is essential to any effective national dialogue.
Addressing these shortcomings and contributing to sustainable fisheries management was a key motivator in establishing the Fisheries Transparency Initiative.
The Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI)
The Fisheries Transparency Initiative (short FiTI) has been developed as a unique effort that complements and supports other national, regional and global efforts for achieving responsible fisheries governance.
The FiTI is a global partnership that seeks to increase transparency and participation for a more sustainable management of marine fisheries. By making fisheries management more transparent and inclusive, the FiTI promotes informed public debates on fisheries policies and supports the long-term contribution of the sector to national economies and the well-being of citizens and businesses that depend on a healthy marine environment.
The FiTI is not 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; it does not focus on a single country or on a region.
- The FiTI is a voluntary initiative; however, once a country has decided to participate, mandatory requirements must be followed.
- The implementation of the FiTI is country-centred; the intention to join the FiTI must come from a country’s government.
- The FiTI is a multi-stakeholder initiative, ensuring equal participation from government, companies and civil society.
A unique global framework to help coastal countries to increase the credibility and quality of national fisheries information
The FiTI does not intend to replace or duplicate existing government websites, but rather supports the further development and maintenance of these public resources.
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The FiTI Principles are the cornerstones of the initiative. They reflect the beliefs and aims of all FiTI stakeholders. They were agreed at the 1st International Conference of the Fisheries Transparency Initiative on 3 February 2016 in Nouakchott/Mauritania.
Principle 1: Sustainable fisheries contribute significantly to food security, poverty alleviation and sustainable development, and therewith to national and regional political stability and increased resilience to impacts of climate change.
Principle 2: Sovereign governments are responsible for the sustainable management of fisheries, utilizing the country’s national fisheries wealth for the benefit of its citizens, to promote the national interest, food and nutrition security, and equitable socio-economic development.
Principle 3: All stakeholders have important and relevant contributions to make, including governments and their agencies, large-scale and small-scale fisheries, multilateral organizations, financial organizations, investors, organized civil society, and academia.
Principle 4: Transparency is essential for responsible fisheries, as it can stimulate an active demand for accountability, contributing to improved decision-making in fisheries management.
Principle 5: Transparency is most effective when information is shared and verified through the active, free, effective, meaningful and informed participation of governments, business, civil society, scientists, and other stakeholders as equal partners, thereby allowing all stakeholders to ensure that information is credible and legitimate.
Principle 6: For transparency to be effective relevant information has to be made available in an accessible format and in a timely manner to society.
Principle 7: Increasing transparency and participation must be feasible and introduced progressively in order to ensure the wide acceptance of this initiative.