About transparency in fisheries

It is clear that transparency in the fisheries sector is expansive, and at the same time can be a quite diverse and potentially confusing subject.
A simple distinction can be made between three areas where the most emphasis for transparency seems is currently:

Management of fisheries by governments: As established in international documents, governments are encouraged to share information with the public on tenure and access arrangements, how much is being earned in revenues from fisheries, what is the status of fish populations, what are the laws and regulations governing fisheries and fish trade, and how is the government working to ensure fisheries is sustainable and beneficial for society, including the use of government support and transfers to different sectors and interests (i.e. subsidies and development aid). Specific campaigns for transparency have shown that many governments are falling short of these norms. Addressing these shortcomings was one of the key motivators in establishing the Fisheries Transparency Initiative.

Activities of fishing vessels: The fishing industry in many parts of the world has been subject to increasing requirements for providing information to national and regional authorities on their activities, which has led, inter alia, to the mandatory use of satellite monitoring devices and electronic logbooks for large numbers of vessels. A number of initiatives, such as Global Fishing Watch, SkyTruth, are providing (near) real-time, technology-supported information on activities of fishing vessels to identify illicit behaviour. This also joins other international campaigns for increasing transparency on transshipments at sea.

Supply chain traceability: There has also been a substantial global effort in increasing information to trace fish from their point of capture through the entire supply chain (“from sea to plate”) to strengthen consumer confidence. Arguably this has been led by third party eco-labelling schemes, such as the Marine Stewardship Council and Friend of the Seas.

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About the initiative

The FiTI is legally institutionalised as a not-for-profit association in Seychelles under Seychellois law.
No. The FiTI is a global multi-stakeholder partnership, given equal representation and voting powers to governments, business and civil society. In fact, the FiTI does not represent a single interest group or political point of view. Instead, the diversity of different stakeholders is a central feature of how the FiTI works, for national implementations as well as international governance.
Over the past two decades there has been an enormous growth in collective action for international development. This has been aided by the growing understanding that complex and interlinked global challenges, such as sustainable fisheries, cannot be tackled by unilateral actions alone, but rather through collaborative partnerships, involving multiple actors.

For this reason, the FiTI has been established as a collaborative effort among different stakeholders from governments, business and civil society. Their different interests, positions, experiences, and resources are fundamental to shape the immediate and long-term agenda for marine fisheries sustainability.

However, multi-stakeholder partnerships – such as the FiTI – do not have the authority and regulatory power of governments. Instead, their success is largely determined by whether the initiative is accepted by those directly targeted, closely related and other impacted parties. Our principles, mission and activities are important. Also, broad stakeholder representation, inclusiveness, transparency and accountability are critical in building trust and gaining legitimacy.
Implementation is funded by the countries themselves. The way it is funded differs from country to country. In many cases, financial support is provided by international development agencies and non-governmental partners.
For a country to be recognised as an official FiTI implementing country (i.e. either a FiTI Candidate country or a FiTI Compliant country), it must complete the six sign-up steps, as outlined above. This process begins with a public commitment from the government that it intends to join the FiTI.

While such a public commitment demonstrates a sincere intention of a country’s government to increase transparency in fisheries management through the FiTI, such a commitment should not be misinterpreted as official acceptance into the initiative. Only when such a commitment is followed by concrete implementation activities (such as the establishment of a FiTI National Multi-Stakeholder Group or the agreement on the country’s first FiTI workplan) and the subsequent approval of the country’s Candidate Application by the FiTI International Board will the country be formally recognised as an FiTI implementing country.
The FiTI provides a number of tangible benefits for coastal countries at the national and international level; these obviously vary depending on the national context. For countries that are already perceived as having sound levels of transparency and good governance, the FiTI can nevertheless deliver value as an internationally recognized tool to further strengthen the country's leadership position in ocean governance through a number of aspects:

1) Verification of public data: The FiTI is designed to help countries expand the publication of information on their fisheries sector, in order to support transparency, participation and accountability. However, the FiTI is not simply about increasing the quantity of government information. Studies on transparency regularly show that this, in isolation, does not necessarily lead to positive benefits. An important element of the FiTI is the verification of public data so that it is widely considered as reliable, complete and trustworthy. This is done by institutionalising the national collaboration between government, business and civil society, as well as international validations.

(2) Benchmarking against international standards: A further important element is that the FiTI supports national authorities in reviewing the extent to which public information is meeting stakeholder needs. Studies on government transparency highlight that there can be a difference between what authorities believe is important to publish, and information that stakeholders are most interested in. The FiTI places a strong emphasis on collaboration among government, the private sector and civil society and through this, can generate feedback to national authorities, provide a benchmark against international standards and give recommendations on important gaps in knowledge. This may include, for example, the economic importance of recreational fisheries, the food security contribution of coastal fisheries, or the measures to mitigate climate change for the fisheries sector.

(3) Information accessibility: Information held on government websites or in annual reports may not be presented in a way that is easily understood by the public, businesses or even parliament. Information accessibility can therefore be a challenging issue for national authorities to evaluate. The FiTI does not attempt to replace government publications or websites, but it does provide independent advice, through the country’s FiTI Multi-Stakeholder Group and the FiTI International Secretariat, on how government information could be presented in a more accessible and impactful way. This may improve the ability of national fishing authorities to better inform key stakeholders about fisheries reforms, activities and achievements. The quality of published government information is critical to ensure transparency is beneficial.

4) Regional & international information exchange: And finally, coastal and small island states understand that challenges and opportunities in the fisheries sector have also a regional and international dimension. Credible and timely information must be shared among states to support good governance and the sustainable management of fisheries, in particular migratory fish stocks. Uneven levels of transparency among countries has been identified as problematic, and has been raised at meetings of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations. Sadly, countries that initially chose to operate in a more open and transparent way may be at a short-term disadvantage. The FiTI is therefore an important tool to help promoting a level playing field, and it is important that countries leading on levels of government transparency, encourage others to follow. Implementing the FiTI provides the opportunity for countries to demonstrate that transparency must be the norm rather than the exception.

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About the FiTI Standard

Yes. The FiTI does not expect all countries to have complete data for every transparency requirement from the beginning. Instead, public authorities must disclose the information they have, and where important gaps exist, they must demonstrate improvements over time.

Where information has been collated by national authorities, but not yet published online, the FiTI Report can be used, but only as an interim mechanism.

However, the wilful use of misinformation and / or wilful withholding of information required for FiTI implementation is considered to constitute a fundamental breach of the FiTI's principles and requirements and a country may be delisted from the initiative for such a type of non-compliance.
There are two aspects that need to be considered:

First, according to the FiTI Standard section B.1.5, a country must provide an up-to-date registry of all nationally-flagged and foreign-flagged large-scale vessels authorised to fish in the country’s marine jurisdictional waters, and of all nationally-flagged large-scale vessels authorised to fish in third countries’ marine jurisdictional waters and on the High Seas. This is the first aspect that needs to be reviewed when considering whether an RFMO's vessel registry is sufficient, as nationally-flagged vessels operating outside of the RFMO's area may not be listed in this registry.

Second, for information to be considered accessible it must also be straightforward for anyone to find it (and not only fisheries experts). In this case, if the only way to locate the country's vessel registry is to go to the RFMO's website, then the information should be considered inaccessible, even though it might be easy by an expert audience. This does not mean that national authorities need to duplicate the information, but at least a clear link to the RFMO's website must be stated on the website of the national authority.

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