The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Sea Around Us Project and others sponsored work to assess, 12 years on from its adoption in 1995, how countries are implementing the voluntary Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing. The verdict - abysmally so far. It's time to change!A report published by WWF analyses the facts.

Tony J. Pitcher, Daniela Kalikoski, Ganapathiraju Pramod and Katherine Short, 2008

Safe conduct? Twelve years fishing under the UN Code.

WWF, 65 p.

Read the Executive summary below:

The FAO (UN) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (“the Code”), published in 1995, is widely acknowledged to be a broadly-based, detailed recipe for the sustainable, responsible and equitable exploitation of marine resources. Here we evaluate the degree to which the fisheries management of the 53 top fishing countries is in compliance with Article 7 of the Code. These countries land over 95% of the reported world marine fish catch with more than 150,000 tonnes each per year. This study uses 44 questions designed to capture the key features of the 46 clauses of Article 7 of the Code. Each question is scored against objective criteria on a scale of zero to ten, and a statistical ordination procedure incorporates the stated uncertainty of each score.

Information available from publications, reports, web sites, national legislation and from contacts in the target countries has been employed. Each country’s scores were subjected to a formal drafting and cross-checking protocol, and most have been externally validated by independent experts from governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, research institutes and universities. The 53 detailed country reports, comprising about 1200 pages and 2500 references, are published separately and are in the form of open ‘living documents’ that are revised in the light of fresh or corrected information. Analysis here is based on revisions to April 2008.

We identify the best and worst countries in terms of compliance with the Code; distinguish each country’s intentions, as revealed by its laws, legislation and practices, from the effectiveness of its management measures; and we partition the results into six detailed evaluation fields.

Overall compliance with the Code is dismal: not one country out of the 53 achieves a “good” score of 70% or more. Only six countries (11%) have overall compliance scores whose confidence limits overlap 60% (Norway, USA, Canada, Australia, Iceland, Namibia). This means that, twelve years after the Code of Conduct was agreed, there is a great deal of room for improvement in compliance even among those countries at the top end of the rankings. At the lower end, the alarming finding is that 28 countries (53%) had ‘fail grades’ of less than 40% (Peru, Poland, India, Ghana, Taiwan, Latvia, Philippines, Brazil, Argentina, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Thailand, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, Turkey, Bangladesh, Egypt, Yemen, Nigeria, Angola, Myanmar, North Korea). In the middle range, disappointing scores from most developed European nations with the undoubted resources and know-how to implement the Code reinforce the low political priority given to improving fisheries management internationally. One encouraging finding is that some developing countries score more highly for the Code than many developed European countries, signifying that some elements of good fishery management can be achieved even with limited resources. A negative relationship with a marine biodiversity index suggests that management is weakest in the most species rich jurisdictions.

We also evaluate compliance with the Code in nine specific measures:

  • For Reference Points: Over half of the countries had fail grades for compliance with the Codes reference points; a chronically poor performance on a basic prerequisite for effective fisheries management. Even some developed countries do not appear to take the use of limit reference points seriously and disconcertingly, over half of the countries exhibit no awareness of the critical importance of limit reference points.
  • For Irresponsible Fishing Methods: over 80% have unsatisfactory overall scores for discards, bycatch, juvenile catches and damaging fishing methods. Moreover, low scores for many developed countries are of great concern: especially in the European Union where it appears that many by-catch and discard regulations are widely ignored.
  • For Ghost Fishing: Only a few nations have good performance and have regular lost gear retrieval programmes or mandate biodegradable elements in traps. For most countries, scores for the “ghost fishing” issue were the lowest of any examined and many countries do not even recognize the problem.
  • For Protected Areas: despite rather generous scoring that recognised any form of spatial management measures, only 15% of countries have reasonable scores. Some developing nations have proved able to score as well as many developed ones,
  • For Small-Scale And Aboriginal Fisheries: Small-scale fisheries issues receive good compliance scores in 19 countries, including both developed and developing nations but they are not necessarily supported by viable consultation with coastal communities. About half of the 53 countries have good scores for recognition of the rights of Aboriginal Peoples while poor compliance scores are found for those countries that do not recognise Indigenous Peoples rights.
  • For the Control of Overcapacity: over 90% of the countries are failing to tackle excess fishing capacity, arguably one of the most important recommendations of the Code,
  • For Illegal Fishing: Only a quarter of the countries have reasonable scores for IUU, while over a third have fail grades. Overall scores on this critical issue are among the worst scoring questions in the analysis and correlates with Transparency International’s country Corruption Index.
  • For Flags of Convenience: Three-quarters countries have acceptable scores but one in six countries has been awarded fail grades emphasising that it is a significant issue world-wide.
  • For Developing Countries: Developed countries could target development aid to improve compliance in focal countries.

Using the same detailed country reports for 33 countries (the top 89% of the world catch), a separate analysis evaluates the implementation of Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management according to WWF’s 3-part framework. Results, reported in detail elsewhere, show an equally poor status for the implementation of EBM. Only four countries have ‘passable’ ratings for implementation of EBM, while over half of the countries were awarded “fail” grades.

There are significant correlations between the overall Code of Conduct compliance scores and four published, independent indicators of the quality of the government and environmental management (World Bank Governance Indicators aggregate index, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, UN Human Development Index, Yale Environmental Performance Index). Moreover a negative correlation with EEZ biodiversity shows that Code compliance is weakest in the most species-rich jurisdictions, exactly the opposite of what is desired.

To address the poor implementation of the Code two key recommendations are made. First, for developing countries, fisheries aid might be beneficially focused on specifically implementing the CCRF, especially as some developing countries have found it possible to achieve middle-ranking scores. Secondly, although the Code’s origins a decade ago relied on its voluntary nature, attitudes have now changed and so, to encourage broad compliance in all countries, the time may have come to implement the essential features of fishery management, as set out in Article 7 of the Code of Conduct, in the form of a legally-binding international instrument.

Read the full report here.