NAFO heads for reform

Published on October 6, 2005

At this year’s annual meeting of NAFO a working group was established to come up with suggestions to reform the organisation, making it more fit to deal with integrated oceans management.

When the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) met in Tallin, Estonia, 19-23 September for its annual meeting, the main highlight was an agreement to establish a working group to look at reforming the organisation. The internally appointed working group, led by Canada and the EU, has been charged with reviewing NAFO’s organisational structure and decision-making process, as well as considering how NAFO might better incorporate a more integrated approach to oceans management.

Furthermore, NAFO’s committee on enforcement has also been directed to provide recommendations on how to improve the effectiveness of the existing NAFO enforcement regime. Their recommendations are intended to outline ways to strengthen the enforcement regime, including the establishment of guidelines for sanctions, improving the vessel monitoring system, inspections (at-sea and in-port), and follow-up on infringements.

The annual meeting is a week-long session for officials to review scientific advice and determine the Total Allowable Catch of NAFO regulated species. It is also an opportunity for Contracting Parties to present proposals for amendments to the way the organization manages fish stocks in the NAFO Regulatory Area.

NAFO has been highlighted by many as failing to effectively manage fisheries in international waters. The continuing poor state of fish stocks – 8 of 15 stocks assessed by NAFO are under moratorium – and evidence of persistent illegal fishing practices have been used as examples of NAFO’s failings.

Significant public and, more recently, political pressure has led to the Canadian government leading an international initiative to improve high seas governance in general, but with a particular focus on NAFO – the north-eastern boundary of Canada’s EEZ borders by far the greatest part of the NAFO convention area compared to any other contracting party and, with fish stocks moving between Canadian and international waters, effective international fisheries management and cooperation are particularly important to Canada.

The unanimous agreement to reform the way that NAFO works has been greeted by the Canadian’s and other Contracting Parties as a significant step forward. Relations between the EU and Canada also appear to have improved. EU vessels, particularly from Spain and Portugal have often been highlighted by Canada as being regular offenders of NAFO regulations. However, improved cooperation and a commitment to improve enforcement are seen as positive steps.

WWF Canada, the only environmental NGO with observer status at NAFO, welcomed the commitment to reform but cautioned against a lengthy process. They also expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in the protection of sensitive sea areas such as seamounts – underwater mountains with biologically productive and diverse ecosystems, a result of their relatively shallow depth and nutrient rich water. NAFO did make a commitment to develop guidelines for gathering data on seamounts but this will likely be done through a voluntary agreement with fishing vessels that continue to use potentially damaging fishing practices in these areas.