International Governance of Fisheries Ecosystems: Learning from the Past, Finding Solutions for the Future

Chapter 1: Global Fisheries Governance

Michael G. Schechter and Nancy J. Leonard

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569995.ch1

Fisheries management has existed in some form since prehistoric times, initially arising as a response to local fishing pressures and the need for local management to assure the sustainability of the fish stock (Coull 1993). During the 20th century, fisheries throughout the world began expanding both horizontally to explore new distant stocks and vertically to harvest deeper stocks, as technological advances in vessels, fish capture gear, fish processing, and storage facilitated this expansion (Degnbol 2004). These technological advancements were associated with new threats to global fisheries including overfishing and habitat destruction. Overfishing became internationally recognized as a serious threat to the sustainability of our world fisheries during the early 1900s. It also was a major topic of discussion from the first days of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It was discussed at the FAO’s first Fisheries Technical Committee in 1946 (FAO 2006a), and was the focus of the 1947 London Conference on Overfishing.

The 1996 FAO State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report substantiated the concern for the sustainability of fisheries. This report showed that since FAO’s onset of data collection in 1950, that fishing pressures on fish stocks have been intensifying leading to a large proportion, 35%, of the world fisheries being overexploited (senescent) and 25% being fully exploited (mature) by 1994 (Figure 1). This evidence of fishing activities’ impact on fish stocks created a worldwide concern for their sustainability, and a desire to take action. The FAO called for this action by stating in its 1996 SOFIA report that over 60% of the fish stocks required management (FAO 1996). Fisheries management is defined as: “the manipulation of aquatic organisms, aquatic environments, and their human users to produce sustained and ever increasing benefits for people” (Nielson 1993). Fisheries management was seen as the tool to respond to the increasing international and global harvest pressure on fish stocks (Coull 1993). Accordingly fisheries management became more prominent during the second half of the 20th century (FAO 2006a).