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January 2001 No. 16
The European Association of Fisheries Economists


Transition to Responsible Fisheries: Economic and Policy Implications (OECD)


An important OECD fisheries study has just been released. Entitled "Transition to Responsible Fisheries: Economic and Policy Implications" the book is a unique analysis of the costs and benefits of moving to responsible fisheries.


It is well known that many of the world's fisheries resources are grossly over-exploited. That situation has come about due to poor management regimes coupled with government financial transfers that have augmented fishing capacities of the fleets to unsustainable levels. In response, but only recently, the international community has sought to address this situation and to lay out avenues for redressing the situation. One international action was the adoption by the FAO of the Code of Conduct of Responsible Fisheries in 1995. However, little international effort was invested in understanding the economic and policy implications of making the fisheries responsible.


Against this background that the OECD's Committees for Fisheries decided in 1997 to study the implications on the fishing sector, fishers and processors alike, and public policy institutions of adopting responsible fisheries frameworks. The outcome is the book noted above and a series of free documents that are available from the OECD's Fisheries Division and its website (www.oecd.org/agr/fish).


The process of transition to responsible fisheries is analysed from four perspectives:


  • Identifying the social implication of moving to responsible fisheries;

  • Discussing the role of the post-harvesting sector may play in moving to responsible fisheries;

  • Exploring the impact of government financial transfers in supporting a move to responsible fisheries;

  • Identifying the costs and gains of a move to responsible fisheries.


In addition to a chapter devoted to each of these areas the OECD's Committee for Fisheries adopted a Statement (found in the beginning of the publication), which highlights the important outcomes of the study.



Statement Highlights


In addressing the social aspects of transition the study observes that the distinctive socio-economic characteristics of the fisheries labour-force, and the households and communities in which they live, have important implications for the adjustment process. Sustainability will necessitate the creation of policy frameworks that not only ensure sustainability of the resource but also provide a coherent set of signals to fishery workers. When moving towards responsible fisheries, governments should try to better understand how their resource management, social protection and labour market policies interact. The role of short, medium and long term active educational programmes can also be important in facilitating the transition. The long-term goal for sustainable fishing should be to transform the sector into one that is largely capable of adjusting its structure automatically and autonomously.


The evidence presented in the study suggests that the post-harvesting sector of many OECD countries is larger than the supporting harvesting sectors, both in terms of value-added and employment. Based on their own experience, some countries are of the view that the post-harvesting sector can play an important role in the application of trade measures that support sustainable fishing practices and fisheries. The increasing awareness of consumers of the safety and quality aspects of food in general, and fish in particular, have prompted governments to set minimum quality standards for fish products and to encourage private industry to develop and adhere to quality control systems. A number of operators have schemes that seek to inform consumers on the products they purchase. In this regard, and complementing an early implementation of the Code of Conduct, the development of marketing practices and improvement of consumer information can enhance the move to more responsible fisheries.


Insofar government financial transfers are concerned this study shows that, in 1997, OECD countries expended USD 6.3 billion in government financial transfers to the fishing industry. A transfer is defined as the monetary value of interventions associated with fishery policies. Most transfers are general services that are devoted to fisheries infrastructure and expenditure on activities for ensuring the sustainable use of fish stocks and the aquatic ecosystem (e.g. fisheries management, research and enforcement). At least USD 4.9 billion (77 per cent of all transfers) was spent on such activities in 1997 -- equal to 13 per cent of the value of the landings. A further USD 1.4 billion was spent on support in the form of direct payments and cost-reducing transfers (e.g. modernisation grants, income support and tax exemptions) to the sector in 1997 -- equal to 4 per cent of the value of landings. The nature of government financial transfers in OECD Member countries has changed since the 1970s and 1980s, when they were aimed at developing fisheries.


On the evaluation of the costs and gains the study notes that there are no easy ways to smooth the path towards responsible fisheries. It is likely that costs will be incurred in the short-run if the decision is made to restore fish stocks. Decisions on the rate of desired restoration is also likely to involve trade-offs between economic, social and biological components of the fishery system. The need for adjustment in capacity levels may in some cases be unavoidable if long-run economic performance is to be improved and preserved. Dealing with the inherent uncertainties in the fishery system suggests the adoption of prudent and precautionary approaches in setting and executing management objectives. The possibilities for improved economic performance appear to be enhanced if management frameworks provide the sector with sufficient stability over the longer-term.


In conclusion the study observes that the benefits of responsible fisheries are long-term and should be subject to particular attention. Transition policies should address short-term social and economic adjustment costs without detracting from long-run conservation objectives. In doing so all aspects of fisheries - from harvesting to marketing to consumers - should be considered in a comprehensive way for a successful transition process to responsible fisheries. In this regard, it would seem that more effort is needed on consulting a broader set of fishing industry stakeholders.

Ola Flaaten


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