After Rio+20, What Now for the Upcoming UN Fisheries Meeting?

Read Pew's Policy Statement for 30th Session of COFI in EnglishFrench, and Spanish.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Committee on Fisheries will hold its 30th annual meeting 9-13 July, 2012 in Rome. The Committee on Fisheries (COFI) works to secure sustainable conservation and management of the world's fisheries. Recommendations from COFI are addressed to governments, regional fisheries bodies, NGOs, fish workers, the FAO, and the international community.

Pew hopes that at this year's meeting, COFI members will recommend precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management and science-based decision making to sustain populations of tuna, sharks, forage fish, and other marine species.

The priority issues for Pew at this meeting are as follows:

RFMO MapLearn more about RFMOs

Target and limit reference points

Fundamental to the implementation of the precautionary approach is the idea of using two reference points for fisheries management: a limit reference point intended to constrain fishing within safe biological limits, and a target reference point intended to meet management objectives. These reference points are necessary to prevent the further decline of tuna and other economically important fish stocks.

COFI members should recommend that States and regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) implement the precautionary approach by setting target and limit reference points for all fisheries as a priority in 2012 and 2013.

Fish Aggregating Device
Learn more about Fish Aggregating Devices

Fishing-gear selectivity

Several fishing gears continue to threaten the health of ecosystems throughout the ocean. Specifically, fishing with bottom trawls, driftnets, longlines, or fish aggregating devices (FADs) catches an array of nontarget marine life and does NOT minimize waste, discards, catch of nontarget species, and impacts on associated or dependent species.

COFI members should recommend that States and RFMOs adopt basic data-collection improvements, such as requiring that exact numbers of FADs, their locations, and rates of loss be shared with fisheries scientists, and increase observer coverage on surface longline fishing vessels.

Furthermore, COFI members should recommend that States and RFMOs effectively manage deep-sea fisheries to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems through the full implementation of relevant UN General Assembly Resolutions and the International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Seas, including through a phase-out of destructive fishing practices, such as deep-sea bottom trawling.

 Little Fish, Big Impact
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Forage fish

Forage fish are species of fish and invertebrates that are prey for upper-trophic-level predators, and they provide a critically important route for energy transfer from plankton to higher trophic levels in marine ecosystems. A recent Lenfest study showed that forage fish are more economically and biologically valuable left in the water to feed predators than when caught.

COFI members should recommend that States and RFMO members explicitly consider the role of forage fish as prey for larger fish and other marine predators when making management decisions.


Silky Shark
Learn more about Pew's work with sharks

More than a decade ago, COFI members adopted the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) to ensure the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use. The IPOA-Sharks calls on States to develop national and regional plans of action to manage and conserve sharks and to cooperate through RFMOs and other arrangements. Unfortunately, this voluntary agreement has not been widely implemented, and shark fishing remains largely unregulated, often unreported, and generally unsustainable.

COFI members should recommend that shark-fishing States develop and fully implement a National Plan of Action on sharks that is in accordance with the IPOA-Sharks, as well as adopt an ongoing and transparent mechanism to monitor progress of the implementation of the principles of the IPOA-Sharks.

Combating Ilegal fishing

 Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing
Learn more about IUU fishing

Enhanced port State controls are critical as part of a broader set of instruments to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) has the potential to become a highly effective tool in this regard. If States are serious about tackling illegal fishing, ratifying or acceding to the PSMA should be a priority.

COFI members should recommend the prompt and wide ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession to the PSMA; urge States, individually and through RFMOs, to strengthen applicable PSMs at the national and regional levels; and assist developing countries in implementing the Agreement.