Fish might be one of the last truly wild animals that we hunt for food. Because some of the most important fish stocks cross international lines or reside in the high seas, they must be managed by groups of nations acting collectively to preserve them for future generations.
As a Knauss Fellow in the Office of Marine Conservation at the Department of State, I recently joined U.S. delegations that traveled to separate fishery negotiations in Fukuoka, Japan and Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The Department of State works closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, other agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard, and stakeholders such as the fishing industry and environmental organizations to formulate U.S. policy on shared fish stocks.
International law provides a framework for nations to form regional fishery management organizations, or RFMOs. RFMOs are generally made up of nations that have an interest in shared management and conservation of fish stocks, either because their coastal waters are home to the fish of interest during at least a portion of their lifecycles or they are so-called distant water fishing nations, whose fleets might travel many miles to harvest the stocks.
At RFMO negotiations, delegations receive presentations on the latest scientific information, and try to develop a common understanding of the science, and the condition of the fish stocks. They develop and review conservation and management measures through a consensus-based process, and establish monitoring and surveillance mechanisms to assess compliance with those measures.
Nations sign treaties to participate in RFMOs; the collective decisions are considered binding on each nation. But each nation has to develop its own domestic regulations to implement the measures agreed to through the RFMO process. It’s all much easier said than done, sometimes.
This area of natural resource policy is completely new to me. I’m thankful for the opportunity that being a Knauss fellow has provided to get a glimpse into a fascinating slice of marine conservation.
Knauss Marine Policy Fellow
(2/2013 – 2/2014)