Without transparency, there cannot be sustainable fishing

Without transparency, there cannot be sustainable fishing

By Valeria Merino. Everyone is talking about sustainability in fisheries. Many worried, with good reason, that in our lifetime we might lose most marine fisheries. Most importantly, we must prevent the collapse of the marine ecosystem with its devastating effects on the planet and our own survival as species. As Peter Thomson, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, repeatedly emphasizes: ‘You can’t have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean.’ 

We must acknowledge that fisheries have often been managed in a short-sighted way, for example, when fish were caught much faster than stocks could be replenished. We have already seen some fish stocks so heavily exploited that they have entirely collapsed before any effective intervention could be implemented.

We are on an evident global trend toward unsustainable fisheries. Its effect will impact every citizen, whether because people who depend on fish for their survival will not be able to consume it or catch it, or because millions of jobs will be lost and a whole industry devastated. Or more self-centered, because those of us that love to eat wild marine fish will not be able to do it anymore.

The need for sustainable management of fisheries is urgent. This realization leads us to an obvious question: are we doomed to stop eating or catching wild marine fish, and when?

The truth is that we do not know the precise answer to these questions at the moment. We know for sure that it will happen; we do not know how soon. Can we prevent it from happening? We certainly can, but we have many challenges to overcome; a critical one is the lack of information about the fishing sector.

Many countries do not produce or collect the information needed to answer these questions with any degree of reliability. Also, many governments that collect such data do not share it publicly, so there is no way to verify if their decisions will lead to sustainable marine fisheries management.

Can you imagine a company CEO making decisions without complete and reliable data or sharing even basic data with its shareholders? This is what many public officials do in some fishing countries. They are not managing their fisheries; they are just managing the processes that allow people and companies to fish; and also, the public is often left in the dark. The Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI) was created to improve this situation.

An international group of experts working in governments, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, and the non-profit sector came together to find a solution. They defined the entirety of the information countries should collect and produce and make available to the public to increase sustainability in the fishing sector. The result, after two years of work, was the FiTI Standard. This standard, the first and only of its kind, defined the types of information that governments should collect, produce, and publish online. It also created a process for countries to ensure that the information they published is seen as trustworthy and continuously improved over time.

At FiTI, we know that getting started with enhancing transparency in marine fisheries management requires all stakeholders to understand what information is already in the public domain and what is missing. To support countries start a transformative journey in enhancing the availability and comprehensibility of fisheries management information, the FiTI has launched a new program: TAKING STOCK – Online Transparency of Fisheries Management Information. We recognized the need for several approaches to provoke a profound shift towards better and more transparent marine fisheries management. In addition to countries themselves implementing the FiTI Standard, our new TAKING STOCK assessments are the first global attempt to evaluate the status of a country fishing information against the FiTI Standard when a country has not joined the FiTI yet. This program is designed to accomplish several objectives:

  • accelerate global understanding of how different governments around the world – including those that are not likely to join initiatives such as the FiTI (such as China or Russia) – approach transparency in marine fisheries management by providing concrete recommendations, where necessary, to help strengthen access to information;
  • provide some countries that are in the process of joining the FiTI with baseline data to understand their current situation and assess future progress; and
  • entice countries already thinking about joining the FiTI to make that decision.

The sustainability of marine fisheries cannot and will not be accomplished without transparent and evidence-based management, and our new TAKING STOCK assessments address this need. If you are interested in the future of marine fisheries, let’s work together.

Dr Valeria Merino is the Founder of Systems Entrepreneurs Advisors and the Chair of the FiTI International Board.