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An Introduction to Risk-Based Compliance (RBC) Programs for Fisheries (part I)

January 5, 2015

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Following my recent blog on how the risk-based management paradigm might help improve fisheries compliance, I realized that indeed, in one “down under” corner of the world, this approach is the norm. Both and Australia and New Zealand have adopted risk-based approaches to reduce noncompliance in fisheries management.

So, in order to see just what risk-based compliance (RBC) programs for fisheries management might look like, let’s take a look at the case of Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries, or those fisheries occurring in federal waters outside of the jurisdiction of Oz’s six state governments (see graphic above).

Why might we consider Australian Commonwealth fisheries and not another sector with a risk-based compliance program?

For starters, this sector is relatively high value. These fisheries represent about 20% of Australia’s annual fishery production, which in 2010–11 was valued at $2.23 billion. Another good reason is that it would be no easy task to manage these fisheries. Approximately 320 vessels regularly operate in this large geographic area, and they land their catch at up to 75 ports around the country.

Over the past week, I’ve spent some time going through various documents on Australia’s National Fisheries Compliance Program. This includes the Australian Fisheries National Compliance Strategy for 2010-2015, the National Compliance and Enforcement Policy of 2013, the National Compliance and Enforcement Program for 2014-2015the Domestic Compliance Risk Assessment Methodology for 2013-2015, and audit reports of the program, like the most recent 2012-2013 audit.

As I’ve read these documents, I’ve identified four big ideas that – in my opinion – should be incorporated into fisheries management processes in other countries. They are:

  1. Comprehensive compliance programs that incorporate both voluntary compliance and deterrence motivations should be the standard in fisheries management, rather than one-sided enforcement programs.
  2. Assessments of compliance risks should be structured, periodic, and oriented to the prioritization and categorization of risks.
  3. Treatments of compliance risks should be targeted, experimental, and risk-based.
  4. Risk-based compliance programs should prioritize the collection and management of compliance data.

Now, you might think that these ideas are none-too-interesting. After all, these “big ideas” sound a lot like common sense. But the reality is that in most fisheries around the world, the role of voluntary compliance is vastly underappreciated; compliance risks are lumped into a sort of “illegal fishing” black box; and responses to illegal fishing are costly and quite likely ineffective…though we can’t know this because, after all, most of the world’s fisheries are “data poor” when it comes to rule compliance.

Given that I’ve now got a little free time, I’ll be tackling each of these big ideas in posts over the next month or so.

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