Government, Industry and Civil Society Identify Three Ways to Drive Fisheries Transparency

Global Fishing Watch and Panama co-host transparency workshop ahead of Our Ocean Conference, bringing together over 80 thought leaders from around the globe to discuss the role of transparency in ocean governance

Panelists gathered in Panama to discuss how transparency, technology and innovation can help ensure sustainable fisheries. Credit: ⓒ Andrés Salazar/Global Fishing Watch

Ahead of the 2023 Our Ocean Conference and in collaboration with the Panamanian Aquatic Resources Authority, Global Fishing Watch hosted a full day event dedicated to the concept of transparency.  Government officials, industry actors and representatives from civil society gathered to discuss the growing need for political will, investment in innovation and the adoption of collaborative and transparency solutions in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The event brought together voices from different backgrounds and geographies that were aligned around the belief that to ensure transparency across fisheries we need political leadership supported by active participation from all stakeholders.

Despite the different initiatives that many countries have already implemented, participants agreed on the need for increased transparency of fisheries data—not just to help inform and implement policies but also create a global system of accountability. Here’s what was agreed:

Addressing confidentiality concerns is key to advancing transparency efforts

Increasing transparency can help improve the governance of global fisheries. But the accessibility and dissemination of fisheries data could be hindered by the sensitive nature of the information. This is especially apparent when it comes to protecting personal and commercial interests, securing information related to fishing effort, or safeguarding the location of fishing activities and preserving the methodologies applied by small-scale fisheries, indigenous people and local communities. Some actors in the fishing industry feel strongly that the public availability of certain fisheries data could generate unfair competition by allowing others access to the same knowledge.

Stakeholders also face challenges when it comes to human and financial resources, legal frameworks and technical expertise—these limit their ability to improve data collection and the analysis of confidential data. 

As the conversation unfolded, one thing became evident, the international community needed a shared definition of transparency that could support the public disclosure of data  while also respecting the desire to keep certain information confidential.

A universal definition of transparency must be adopted

The word transparency represents a great many things to those working across the global ocean—from the act of making all data publicly available to the notion that greater visibility of information facilitates more accountability. To date, there is no universal definition of transparency, even though it is a concept embedded in international treaties such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

For us at Global Fishing Watch, transparency is the act of making specific ocean and vessel data, as well as the policies and decisions that surround them, both available and accessible to those that need it and are impacted by it.

A universal definition could be based on an international data standard—which might help reduce sensitivities related to confidentiality, as it would ensure all entities use the same formats and meet the same data sharing requirements. Access to increased data will allow governments, decision makers and fisheries managers to understand what is truly happening at sea. In turn, this can help inform the development and implementation of policies, such as authorizations of fishing licenses and activities, designation of protections and identification of noncompliance.

Strengthening the engagement of all actors across a greater transparency discussion could support developing countries and local communities in improving their technical capacities to obtain, analyze and disaggregate data.

Education and training programs are essential to transparency efforts 

All actors need to have an understanding of the rationale, benefits and importance of why data should be publicly available if we’re going to make transparency the norm. And this starts with training and capacity development.  

Stakeholders must be educated on the use of new technologies to monitor and manage sustainable fisheries, as well as understand the value of automatic identification systems data and vessel monitoring systems data when it comes to improving regulations and ensuring compliance. 

These training programs could promote and incentivize the current international initiatives that aim to drive transparency, such as the FAO Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels which was highlighted as a flagship transparency initiative that is currently under-utilized. 

Government representatives from around the world outlined the need for ambitious political will to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. ⓒ Andrés Salazar/Global Fishing Watch

On the right track

Global Fishing Watch is committed to advancing ocean governance through increased transparency of human activity at sea. But we cannot do it alone. To achieve this, we must work closely with countries to strengthen their methods of monitoring and control and support efforts to meet their sustainability goals. 

We will continue to drive innovation in ocean governance by making information freely available to the global ocean community. We will support and assist countries in increasing transparency of fisheries data on vessel identification, authorization, tracking and transshipments, and we will help implement global mechanisms to improve biodiversity protection and the governance of industrial and small-scale fisheries. There is a lot of work to do, but after listening to the spirited conversations that took place at our transparency day, I’m confident that we’re on the right track.

Krizia Matthews is an international policy officer at Global Fishing Watch.

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