Performance of regional fisheries management organizations: ecosystem-based governance of bycatch and discards

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Gilman, E., Passfield, K., Nakamura, K.  2012.  Performance Assessment of Bycatch and Discards Governance by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations.  ISBN: 978-2-8317-1361-8.  IUCN, Gland, Switzerland


Status, Deficits & Priorities for Gradual Improvements in RFMO Bycatch Governance

Bycatch, including discards, in marine capture fisheries requires effective governance to avoid adverse ecological and socioeconomic consequences. Marine regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) have achieved mixed progress in governing bycatch, including discards. There are large gaps in binding measures to control direct and broader indirect adverse effects from bycatch. A lack of explicit performance standards, in combination with inadequate observer coverage and incomplete data collection, hinders assessing control measures’ efficacy. Measures are piecemeal in not considering potential conflicts as well as mutual benefits resulting from their implementation. Through regional observer programs, RFMOs are collecting only half of the minimum information needed to assess the efficacy of binding bycatch measures and understand and govern the ecological effects of bycatch. RFMOs are not collecting data and accounting for all sources of bycatch removals, including from sources of unobservable fishing mortality. Observer coverage rates are inadequate in a large majority of RFMO-managed fisheries, and international exchange of observers to maximize data accuracy occurs in a small minority of regional observer programs. There is no open access to research-grade primary or amalgamated datasets from RFMO regional observer programs. Ecological risk assessments conducted by RFMOs have focused on assessing effects of fisheries on species groups relatively vulnerable to overexploitation, including bycatch of seabirds, sea turtles, marine mammals and elasmobranchs, and effects of demersal fishing on vulnerable benthic marine ecosystems. Assessments have not accounted for broader, more complex and indirect effects of bycatch across facets of biodiversity. There are limited resources for surveillance, and thus compliance is likely low. A lack of transparency and limited and inconsistent reporting of inspection effort, identified infractions, enforcement actions and outcomes further limits the ability to assess the efficacy of binding bycatch measures in meeting explicit or otherwise implicit objectives. Tapping opportunities to better coordinate RFMO governance, including providing for interoperability of observer bycatch datasets across regions, avoiding incompatibilities in bycatch management measures, networking protected sites, and combining resources for research, monitoring, surveillance and enforcement, might address individual RFMO deficits in governing bycatch.

            There has been nominal progress in transitioning to an ecosystem approach to fisheries management, including accounting for broader, indirect ecosystem-level effects of bycatch mortality. The prevailing basis for bycatch governance by RFMOs continues to rely on single-species stock assessments and biological reference points for a small proportion of incidental market bycatch species, and mixed progress in controlling bycatch of species and groups relatively vulnerable to overexploitation and direct habitat effects from fishing.  RFMOs are far from understanding and managing broad ecosystem-level effects of fishing, including by developing control measures based on multispecies ecosystem-level models, indicators, and reference points. RFMOs have yet to implement measures to pursue balancing fishery removals across and within trophic levels at sustainable levels according to natural production capacities. Ultimately, RFMO transition to ecosystem-based management of marine resources will involve the holistic, integrated governance of all spatially explicit ocean activities across sectors, achieved by planning uses of marine areas to avoid and minimize conflicts, and to sustain ecosystem functioning and services, including the sustainable production of fishery resources.


Study Aim & Methods

A performance assessment of governance of bycatch, including discards, by 13 RFMOs, regional bodies with the competence to establish conservation and management measures for marine capture fisheries, was conducted. Findings enabled the identification of priority gaps and provide the first comprehensive baseline against which to track future progress in filling identified bycatch governance deficits. RFMOs play a critical role in global fisheries governance. RFMOs provide a formal mechanism for fishing States and States in whose jurisdiction common-property fishery resources managed by an RFMO occur to pursue their agreement and implementation of measures to sustainably govern international fisheries. A large proportion of global marine fisheries and market species, and most of the high seas, are now covered by at least one RFMO.

Consistent with international guidelines on bycatch management, bycatch was defined broadly for this assessment as being comprised of: (i) retained catch of non-targeted but commercially valuable species; (ii) discard mortality, whether the reason for discarding is economic or regulatory, or results from vessel and gear characteristics; plus (iii) ‘unobservable’ mortalities, which are sources of fishing mortality that do not facilitate direct observation and are relatively difficult or not possible to estimate in the course of fishing operations.

The criteria suite against which the performance assessment was undertaken was comprised of five broad categories. These are (i) data collection for regionally observed fisheries (bycatch data collection protocols, observer coverage rates, and regional observer program dataset quality); (ii) open access to regional observer program datasets; (iii) ecological risk assessment; (iv) conservation and management measures to mitigate problematic bycatch of species relatively vulnerable to fisheries overexploitation due to their life history characteristics and susceptibility to mortality from fishing operations; adverse broad, indirect community-level effects from bycatch losses; ghost fishing mortality; and collateral mortality from discharges of catch, offal and spent bait at sea; and (v) surveillance and enforcement.

The 13 RFMOs included in the assessment were: Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO), North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC), Regional Commission for Fisheries (RECOFI), South East Atlantic Fisheries Organization (SEAFO), and Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).  

Consulting services fisheries mangrove bycatch