Headline: New Study Ranks Transparency of International Fisheries Management Organisations

High Seas

A new study released online today in the Journal Marine Policy examines the transparency of international fisheries management organisations operating on the high seas. Transparency is a foundational principle for the commercial use of the high seas and indeed all of the ocean beyond national boundaries. Transparency is credited with a number of beneficial qualities, including encouraging compliance and increasing the accountability and responsiveness of governments. This paper is the first global study of regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) transparency.

“High seas fisheries management organisations have previously come under a lot of criticism, and transparency has been cited as a way they can improve their performance,” says Nichola Clark, lead author of the study and former IASS fellow. This research was the basis of her Master’s thesis at Duke University. “So we wanted to see just how transparent, or not, they actually were.”

International lawyer Duncan Currie, who did not participate in this study, adds “Transparency and public participation are required in RFMOs as well as across the entire framework for sustainable development. It is simply good governance.”

The results that emerged from the study are mixed, highlighting a number of good and also weak practices. No single regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) stood out as having particularly poor transparency practices. On the other hand, there were no RFMOs with exemplary transparency practices either.

“I was surprised, actually, at how similar the overall scores were,” notes Jeff Ardron, senior fellow at the IASS, who supervised the research. “However, that does not mean they are all the same. What was a strength in one organisation was often a weakness in another.”

The mixed scores suggest that improvements could be made globally if each RFMO shared its good practices, while at the same time learning from others. The collective best practices of all RFMOs combined received 49 of 50 possible points (98 per cent), suggesting that significant improvement is not only feasible, but could be significant just by sharing knowledge and best practices within the RFMO community.

“The Regional Fisheries Management Organisations have to get this right, as do other potential commercial users of the high and deep seas, including deep-sea mining. The approach we’ve taken provides a blueprint for assessing and monitoring this transparency,” commented Linwood Pendleton, senior scholar at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute.

Matt Gianni of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, who was not involved in the study, noted that there has been substantial improvement on this issue due to civil society participation in the work of RFMOs over the past 20 years, but that more transparency could still be achieved.

Clark agrees: “I was struck at how much most of these organisations have been working to address previous harsh criticisms.” But, she adds, “I would not say that they are there yet, though some have made a really good start and I hope they can keep it up. It is hoped that improving the transparency of RFMOs will lead to more effective conservation and management of the resources within their jurisdiction.”

This work was supported by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

More information: nichola.clark@duke.edu; jeff.ardron@iass-potsdam.de

Publication: Clark N., Ardron J.A., and Pendleton L. 2015. Evaluating the Basic Elements of Transparency within Regional Fisheries Management Organizations. Marine Policy, 57: 158–166. (PDF)