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Voluntary Guidelines and Flag State Performance

April 17, 2013

The logo of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is the UN agency dedicated to ensuring food security throughout the world.

Voluntary guidelines for fishing practices produced under the auspices of the FAO tend not to be very effective on their own. Just look at the case for sharks and responsible fishing. But they are something we need. Once the guidelines are out there, they can, in theory, inspire binding rules in countries and RFMOs. Plus, by having the guidelines, the FAO tends to pay more attention to issues and might even begin to report on member countries’ compliance with such voluntary guidelines.

I bring this up because international guidelines have now been developed to improve the accountability of flag states – those countries which register fishing vessels and authorize them to fly their flags.  These Voluntary Guidelines for Flag State Performance were the product of over five years of consensus-building among FAO Member Countries. These guidelines will be presented and, hopefully, endorsed by the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) at its next Session in June 2014.

While the exact content of the guidelines is not yet available publicly, the FAO has explained that the guidelines include recommended best practices for how flag states might flag and control their fishing vessels as well as possible actions by flag states in response to non-compliance by their vessels. Further, the FAO has stated that, once the guidelines are endorsed, it will provide in-country technical assistance to countries requiring support. That support may include capacity-building measures like the development of an adequate legal and regulatory framework; strengthening of institutional organization and infrastructure needed to ensure adequate control of vessels; the development or improvement of monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) of fishing vessels, and training.

I’m looking forward to reading the guidelines next year when they are released.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2013 12:28 pm

    A colleague gave a great counter point to my ideas in this post. I share it here anonymously as it is well worth considering:

    “I know lots of folks that are totally jaded regarding the efficacy of these COFI products. Just look at all the IPOAs and then count up how many countries have actually created a national plan of action. And of those, how many actually *implemented” their plans? Even the US is way behind the deadlines on some of these. This is a massive use of time and resources by the FAO and all the countries that send delegates to negotiate these things. Millions of dollars. Not sure, dollar for dollar, that this is the best use of money.”


  1. Voluntary Guidelines and Flag State Performance – Pt. 2 | Breaching the Blue

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