A core objective of the FiTI is that information published by the governments stimulates public debates on countries’ marine fisheries and allows stakeholders to participate in reforms towards better governance of the sector.

In order for the FiTI to contribute to participatory governance, there are three concrete ways in which stakeholders stand to benefit from the implementation of the FiTI:

Given the complexity of marine fisheries management, engaging in these three activities is not always a straightforward task. However, by increasing public access to fisheries information through the FiTI, governments are providing its citizens and business partners with the necessary means to participate in informed public debates and governance of the sector.

A lack of transparency in fisheries management is not always intentional. Many governments face challenges in collating information on their fisheries sectors. Yet governments with poor levels of transparency are often viewed negatively, as if driven by the desire to hide information from public scrutiny. However, what may be perceived as opacity or secretive practices can be the result of other factors, such as a lack of technical, financial or human resources. Unfortunately, these arguments can also be used as a convenient excuse to avoid scrutiny.

Annual FiTI Reports help to address this situation by supporting stakeholders to answer critical questions about their country’s fisheries sector. Just as importantly, they also reveal where gaps exist, i.e. information that has not even been collected or compiled yet.

Such information gaps vary significantly depending on the national context. However, the FiTI’s experience shows that there are several common areas where public authorities tend to lack fisheries information:

DiscardsMany types of fisheries lead to fish being discarded at sea. Discarded fish are not only a waste of a precious resource, but can also limit the contribution of fisheries to national food security. A lack of information on this topic can significantly affect fisheries management, for example, impacting the accuracy of stock assessments and the subsequent setting of fishing authorisations.
Food and nutrition security contributionsDue to their particular nutritional value, fish are a major force for combatting hunger and malnutrition. This is particularly critical in countries that face food insecurity and high levels of poverty, including in rural areas. A lack of information can lead to an underappreciation of the sector in national policies, which often need to balance economic, conservation and food security objectives.
Economic value of small-scale fisheriesNational information on the economic value of small-scale fisheries is regularly of poor quality, with fisheries not being adequately identified as an occupation in national census data. Compounding this is the fact that many people involved in fisheries are undocumented and form part of the informal economy. A lack of information means that the real value of small-scale fisheries is underappreciated and the number of people involved in the sector, particularly women, is undervalued. This often leads to their marginalisation in policy-making processes as well as inequitable flows of government support.
Labour rightsWorking in fisheries is among the most arduous and dangerous occupations in the world. There are also growing concerns that national laws protecting the rights of those working in fisheries, including national and foreign workers employed in the fishing sector at sea and in post-harvest activities, are inadequate or poorly enforced. A lack of information can undermine the governance to ensure that workers rights are respected. It can also limit collaboration between fishing authorities and those government departments responsible for addressing labour rights issues.
Beneficial ownershipInformation on the natural person who ultimately owns or controls a business, such as a fishing vessel or a processing plant, is often not collected by governments. This is despite the fact that many countries have already made commitments to beneficial ownership transparency. But often, these national endeavours are not put into practice within the fisheries sector. Opacity around beneficial ownership is an enabler for several governance challenges. These include the ability to disguise the abuse of entrusted power, to shield offenders from prosecution and liabilities, to avoid taxes and to hide excessive foreign ownership or economic concentration.

While the FiTI’s principle of ‘progressive improvement’ means that a country does not need to have complete information on all 12 thematic areas from the beginning, such information gaps clearly impede a government’s ability to manage fisheries sustainably, as well as stakeholders’ ability to properly understand their fisheries sector.

A core responsibility of a country’s National Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) is to identify these gaps and provide recommendations on how to address them over time. These collective recommendations – as well as periodic updates on their implementation status – are published in a country’s FiTI Report and can therefore be monitored by all stakeholders and appreciated by international partners.

Information published by a country’s government in line with the requirements of the FiTI Standard can help to identify knowledge gaps and to address critical questions about individual aspects of the country’s fisheries sector, such as ‘Who is allowed to fish?’.

Furthermore, by combining information from several areas of fisheries management, stakeholders can also identify inconsistencies between national fisheries priorities, public policies and actual practices. In doing so, stakeholders can contribute to the shared governance of the sector.

These inconsistencies vary depending on the national context. However, the following examples can be found in many countries:

Industrial catches for export outweigh small-scale fisheries catches for local consumption, despite national policies aimed at promoting fishing for domestic food security.
Public debates accuse the government of obtaining insufficient revenues from commercial fisheries, and of failing to contribute to public wealth. However, financial information shows that licence fees and foreign fishing access agreements contribute significantly to the government’s central budget.
Fuel subsidies are given to industrial and/or artisanal fishers, allowing them to continue targeting fish species that scientific studies show are already in a state of being overfished.
National strategies to reduce poverty through fisheries emphasise rural development, but access to fishing is restricted for small-scale and subsistence fisheries (e.g. due to Marine Protected Areas).
Publicly available information on fishing authorisations indicates a well-diversified fisheries sector where numerous individuals and organisations can participate. However, data on the beneficial owners of these authorisations shows a concentration of wealth in the hands of a small number of affluent people.
Despite a national commitment to fight illegal fishing, vessels authorised to fish in a countrys waters include those with a record of illegal fishing in other countries waters.

Transforming government information from data to insights can (and often should) be a collaborative process between government, business and civil society. Unfortunately, transparency is often narrowly viewed as exposing governments to external scrutiny, but this overlooks the fact that an important value of transparency lies in fostering partnerships and dialogue. Such collaboration is at the heart of the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI).