North Pacific Fisheries Commission’s Poor Transparency Is Hurting Sustainability

Meetings offer managers a chance to improve information sharing and stakeholder participation

North Pacific Fisheries Commission’s Poor Transparency Is Hurting Sustainability
Pacific chub mackerel
Commercially important north Pacific fish populations, including chub mackerel, would benefit from better, more transparent fisheries management.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Since 2019, The Pew Charitable Trusts and other accredited observers of the North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC), including the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and WWF Japan, have voiced concern about the level of transparency of NPFC’s deliberations. The Commission is responsible for managing fishery resources, including Pacific chub mackerel and Pacific saury. But it is violating its mandate and jeopardizing the sustainability of these stocks by, in many cases, developing fisheries management policy behind closed doors.

Specifically, NPFC has denied accredited observers access to important deliberations and has failed to share timely information on stock health, compliance with its measures, and other important aspects of fisheries management. This approach hampers both public awareness of how North Pacific fish populations are being managed and the ability of observers such as Pew to provide timely, effective input into deliberations.

So at two upcoming NPFC meetings—one of the Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) Feb. 18-20 and the full Commission meeting Feb. 23-25—the body should take immediate action to fulfill its mandate by providing observers, and the public at large, with greater access to information about our how shared resources are managed.  

NPFC secrecy is bad for credibility

According to the treaty that governs NPFC, meeting documents should be publicly available, and intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations should have timely access to draft management measures, compliance and scientific reports, and other information pertinent to Commission decisions. The only valid reasons to limit access to meeting documents are when there are exceptional, clearly defined needs to protect confidentiality or security, and NPFC hasn’t shown such needs to this point.

In fact, the Commission has made only the final meeting reports and limited publications publicly available. Additionally, NPFC restricted access to new meeting documents to observers at its 2019 annual Commission and TCC meetings. Full and timely access to important materials is vital for stakeholders, including external scientific experts, seeking to positively contribute to discussions and hold NPFC and its members accountable.

NPFC should allow observer participation in deliberations and working groups

Transparency in negotiations is proved to increase the legitimacy of management decisions and to gain buy-in across stakeholders. Observer organizations therefore should be party to the decision-making process.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), including NPFC, have held their meetings virtually. Although this approach has presented several challenges, virtual discussions provide an opportunity to improve accessibility and participation. However, even during this time, NPFC excluded observers from meetings of two small technical working groups. These meetings are held in advance of important decision-making meetings and provide an important opportunity to discuss the science and status of these fishery resources and effective practices for managing them. This exclusion is inconsistent with NPFC’s rules, as well as the standards at other international forums.

NPFC, which was established in 2015, is one of the newer RFMOs and, as such, should learn from other management bodies’ mistakes. It should honor its commitment to transparency, and ensure that it is operating in line with modern fisheries management practices already observed by many other RFMOs.

Beginning this week, NPFC should make all meeting documents public, including compliance and scientific reports. Additionally, it should allow accredited observers access to all negotiations and informal or technical sessions. The legitimacy of the Commission and the sustainability of North Pacific fisheries depend on it.

Rachel Hopkins works on Pew’s international fisheries project.

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