français | español | english
Online Knowledge Base
Natural Resource Governance around the World

Main transformations on the access rights to halieutic resources and the management of the fishing resources

Written by: Pauline Vuarin

Writing date:

Organizations: Association pour contribuer à l’Amélioration de la Gouvernance de la Terre, de l’Eau et des Ressources naturelles (AGTER)

Type of document: Paper / Document for wide distribution

Documents of reference

Vuarin, Pauline. Rapport de stage AGTER 2007. Principales transformations des droits d’accès aux ressources halieutiques et de la gestion des ressources de la pêche.

This article gives an idea of the main transformations that took place in the last decades, concerning the access rights, the management of the resources and the running of the fishing.

At the end of Second World War, the fishing sector showed a considerable growth. The industrial fish catches were intensifying as fishing techniques have been developed: big trawlers, sonar fish finders, more and more sophisticated fishing equipment. Worldwide fish catches has shown a regular growth since the beginning of 1990’s. Worldwide fishing during this period became a very dynamic economic sector in the food industry. With this aim in view, coastal States did their best, to invest in fishing fleets and modern processing plants to answer to the increasing international demand for fish and seafood.

Fishing sector saw then its environment deeply modifying. While seeing the sea resources exhaustion; the states began fighting for the splitting in bigger and bigger spaces of the sea beyond their inshore areas.

The pressure exerted on the stocks of fish and the conflicts between the States, caused by this dwindling resources, participated in the international community’s realization that there is a need to improve management of worldwide resources of the sea and to have international jurisdiction for the sea rights.

When fishing was traditionally practised in a the Public Domain, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea1 of 1982, settled in the 90’s, devoted a de facto jurisdiction giving primacy to the States with a sea border on the fishing sector. It particularly specified the various legal areas of the open sea space. The zoning showed a decreasing State sovereignty from the coast to the open sea (territorial waters, adjoining area, Exclusive Economic Zone, extended continental shelf, international sea). The Montego Bay Convention proposed a suitable international framework by establishing the jurisdiction of the States to increase the quality of management of sea resources, to avoid the conflicts for fishing areas and allow the coast States, especially developing countries, to claim for exclusive access to their national fishing grounds in order to guarantee the living of coastal population depending on the fishing. It also defined a legal framework2 which encouraged consultation between the States to avoid international fights for offshore fish stocks, solve bilateral problems of fishing jurisdiction or problems of fish stocks overlapping several Exclusive Economic Zones3.

This jurisdiction was accompanied by fishing management policies very different f from a State to another. Whether many agree with the importance of a more responsible management of sea resources and with a need to decrease the fishing effort, some coast states kept developing an intensive industrial fishing. Developing countries selling access rights to fisheries in Exclusive Economical Areas to developed countries or to international consortia often resulted in the implementation of joint-ventures that supported the creation of industrial fishing fleets. It did not encourage the development of small-scale fisheries in these countries.

In numerous coast States, these policies resulted in a more and more pregnant privatization of the fishing rights, in order to protect the resource and today, it takes the form of an implementation of Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQ)4 in some countries.

TIQs, by creating situation of monopoly, are the opposite of the idea of a collective management of the resource . The privatization of the fishing rights benefits the biggest fishermen and heavily bears upon the local economic systems of small-scale fisheries and fishermen communities.

While fishing, the fleets keep breaking the on-going regulations and create more and more violent conflicts between the States, and also between the fishermen. The intrusions of flags of convenience in the coast States’ territorial waters, the corruption and practices to avoid the quota are common and shatter the attempt to manage and protect the resources of the sea.

However, the Code of Conduct for responsible Fisheries enacted by the FAO5 and approved by many countries, the reinforcement of the Code by the ecosystem approach to fisheries6, the participation of civil society actors and environmental associations at the negotiating table, are as many elements taking into account the high risk of exhaustion of the sea resources and supporting the reinforcement of the capacity of small-scale fisheries, at least formally.

But these efforts are in vain if they do not find their correspondent on each territory. As a matter of fact, we cannot start a real fisheries management without the fishermen themselves.

Then, it is advisable to reinforce the ability of the artisanal fishermen to be organized and represented , for them to become stakeholders in the management of their sector of activity and to acknowledge the scarcity of the used resource. The artisanal fisheries are not spared from overexploitation of the sea resources because of the lack of scientific expertise in many southern States, the lack of training for fishermen and their slow realization of it.

The reinforcement of the organizational abilities of the artisanal fishermen7 would allow the integration of the fisheries management into “territories”. It would help fishermen to be aware of the need for a more selective and responsible fishing. It would go against the centralization of all decisions, one of the reasons why their impact on the resource sustainability is so low.

The World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers encourages a bigger involvement and representation of artisanal fishermen at an international level. It promotes responsible and sustainable fishing which preserves the resources while taking into account the social, economical and cultural implications of the fishing sector in many coastal areas around the world. In this point of view, it questions the privatization of resources as well as the management of the fisheries in a lot of States.

Since its creation, the Forum fights for a new model of fisheries management which should be negotiated between the State and the fishermen, in order to develop joint management of the sector, and encourage, through protected areas8, a responsible and artisanal fishing.


1 Commonly called Montego Bay Convention (Jamaica)

2 Creation of the International Tribunal for sthe Law of the Sea

3 The Montego Bay Convention established the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) notion which gives to coast States the right to exploit, manage and preserve resources of seawater and ocean floor beyond their territorial waters, up to 200 nautical miles from their coastline. The States should run the fisheries located in their EEZ, using in an optimal way the sea resources inside their zones, by determining maximum allowed catches as well as their own abilities to exploit these resources. When a coast State catch less fishes than what is globally permitted , it must by means of agreements allow other States to enter its fisheries in accordance with the laws and the regulations of the Convention.

4 De Sauce, Danielle, Report on the information and debate meeting about the ITQs of the Brittany Delegation for the Sea, April 2006, 2p

5 Code of Conduct for responsible Fisheries, FAO, 1995, 46p

6 Fisheries Management - 2. The Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries, Suppl. 2, Rome, 2003, 133p

7 Enabling responsible small-scale fisheries, through the creation of a supportive environment, 2Report of the Twenty-Sixth Session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI), Rome, 7-11 March 2005, 11p

8 Avendano, Pedro. La zona de reserva de la pesca artesanal, una responsabilidad nacional e internacional , 7p

Translation in English by Marie France Genèvre