Faced with a marked increase in fishing on the high seas, six countries have signed an agreement covering a vast area of the South Indian Ocean in what a United Nations official has hailed as a major step forward in conservation and sustainable fishing.
The Comoros, France, Kenya, Mozambique, New Zealand and Seychelles and the European Community signed the accord, the South Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA), following two days of talks last week at the Rome headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“Much of great value has been done to ensure that fishing in these areas is conducted responsibly, but there is a need to build on the existing efforts of the industry members involved,” FAO expert Ross Shotton said.
The accord seeks to ensure long-term conservation and sustainable use of fishery resources other than tuna in areas outside national jurisdictions. It calls for effective monitoring, annual reports on the amounts of captured and discarded fish, and inspections of ships visiting ports of the Parties to verify they are in compliance with SIOFA.
Landing and discharging privileges are to be denied to those who do not comply. Other joint actions include regular studies of the state of fish stocks and the impact of fishing on the environment, joint management and conservation measures, and establishing rules for member countries to decide which operators are allowed to fish in the SIOFA area.
It is hoped that other countries will soon join the Agreement, which will enter into force once FAO, its legal depositary, receives the fourth instrument of ratification, including at least two from coastal states.
FAO Fisheries Department official Jean-Francois Pulvenis de Séligny stressed SIOFA’s importance as a major step forward in establishing new regional fisheries management organizations or arrangements to cover areas where no such mechanism currently exists. It will join the existing network of fishery commissions already established such as the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.
FAO is fully committed to supporting implementation of the Agreement, although in the end its success or failure will depend mainly upon the efforts of the Parties and those of all other relevant stakeholders, Mr. Pulvenis said.
The role of the fishing industry in ensuring responsible fishing is particularly vital in the high seas, where recent years have seen a marked increase in catches, including those of non tuna species which are caught at considerable depths.