Study "Towards Sustainable Fisheries - Economic Aspects of the Management of Living Marine Resources"


Statement on the Study

The OECD Committee for Fisheries, at its 78th Session 1-4 October 1996, under the chairmanship of Mr. I. Nomura (Japan) adopted the following Statement on the Study entitled Towards Sustainable Fisheries- Economic Aspects of Management of Living Marine Resources.

The Problem Today

Fisheries are an important contributor to food security and general economic activity, including employment and trade. In many OECD Member countries marine resources are over-exploited. This is due mainly to management policies that have failed to maintain harvests at sustainable levels. As a result harvest rates have often exceeded the productive capacity of fish stocks, thus driving down stock levels to the detriment of fishing communities.

The fact that marine resources have often been under a regime of free access has contributed to fleet overcapacity, resulting in too many fishers and vessels racing after too few fish. The use of inappropriate economic assistance measures, which can provide the incentive for increased participation in the fisheries sector, has aggravated the problem.

The study by the OECD Committee for Fisheries

The current state of the living marine resources is recognised as a problem requiring urgent solutions. However, the selection of effective management instruments is a difficult task, since the effect of each type of instrument depends on a number of factors. It is therefore difficult to evaluate the effect of individual instruments. But if the management instruments used and their outcomes are identified for a large number of fisheries, it is possible to draw conclusions concerning the likely effects of various management instruments. The OECD Committee for Fisheries has studied the management instruments and the outcome of more than a hundred fisheries, to the extent that the information was available, an undertaking that would have been impossible to accomplish for an individual country.

The Committee has over the period 1994 to 1996 reviewed the effects of most management measures in OECD Member countries with respect to economic, biological, social and administrative consequences. The Committee has also reviewed areas where further international collaboration might prove useful.

The study did not aim at specifying which management instruments should be used. It did not rank management instruments, nor did it attempt to evaluate the fishery management policies in individual Member countries. A main aim has been to facilitate the appropriate economic analyses, which is useful for decisions regarding fish resource management.


The Study provides an assessment of the likely consequences of different management approaches seen from an economic perspective.

Experience has shown that a regime which does not adequately limit fishing capacity may lead to overexploitation and poor economic performance. In addition management regimes which limit the total catch, or the number of fishing vessels, or which restrict the efficiency of the harvesting sector, including technical measures and TACs, have generally yielded poor results when used in isolation, i.e. without complementary measures.

The main reason for the poor results is that these regimes do not give the fisherman the incentive to account for all the costs of his fishing activity. Changes in management regimes towards sustainable and responsible harvesting methods are necessary to overcome these outcomes. The required changes may, however, not be easily accepted in the short term and often require changes at the institutional level.

The Study covered a range of management instruments. Among the new and more innovative ones covered are rights based systems and co-management.

The results of the Study suggest that in order to alleviate fisheries problems it would be useful to introduce rights based management systems (e.g. transferable individual licences, individual quotas, and exclusive area user-rights). For example, individual quotas resulted in improved stock conservation, reduction in overcapacity and race-to-fish, and hence in overall better economic performance. However, rights based systems require governments to establish and maintain a legal framework for the rights and may increase administrative costs. Furthermore, the implementation of such systems may cause structural adjustment consequences, including lower employment opportunities, and distributional conflicts.

Co-management, including community based management systems and partnering arrangements, have proven to be a successful approach to management in certain fisheries. They increase the fishers' participation in the process, inter alia, by transferring management responsibilities.

Resources which are not strictly within one nation's jurisdiction, i.e. straddling, transboundary and highly migratory stocks, require a high degree of international co-operation for effective management. The effectiveness of management by international organisations is often undermined by the fishing activities of non-contracting parties to such agreements. There is therefore a need for enhanced international co-operation to ensure that all fishing fleets comply with internationally agreed conservation and management measures.

Biological data have traditionally been the main basis for fisheries management decisions. The lack of relevant economic information, which allows for an economic analysis of the consequences of fisheries management measures, was a constraining element in the study. By the same token the Study revealed that policy decisions are often taken on the basis of limited economic analysis. This poses a serious concern for OECD Member countries, which normally base public decision making on a solid information base, and with an increasing emphasis on economic consequences. In this regard the observation and analysis of the outcomes of policies is essential to monitor the performance of management systems.

Fisheries research is an expensive undertaking and in view of limited public research funds, the best use of research resources is urged. Biological science has traditionally been the main pillar of fisheries research. Incorporating economic and social analysis can increase the value of the overall research investment by providing the relevant information to support decisions to achieve better economic performance and to attain social objectives.

General conclusions and future work

The study recognises that there is no universal solution to the problems facing fisheries. The appropriate combination of management instruments should take account of the unique combination of biological, technological, economic and social characteristics making up each fishery.

Policy actions must, nevertheless, aim at achieving exploitation levels, which will be sustainable in the long run. All too often the drive to short term benefits has been the motivation behind fisheries management actions, to the detriment of benefits for future generations. Marine living resources are a public resource and as such should be managed for the long term benefit of the community, including the fishers. The number of international fisheries agreements that have been concluded in the past few years is an indication that the international community recognises the state of marine resources as a global problem. There is a need for continued and increased international co-operation in order to improve the condition of over-exploited fish stocks.

The Committee will continue its work to promote responsible and sustainable fisheries. The Committee has furthermore agreed that this issue should be looked at in an integrated fashion, e.g. both the supply and demand side effects from a move towards a responsible fishery should be studied, and it should also look at the interface between fisheries and environment.


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