A technical fisheries and aquaculture paper published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in late 2018 explores ways in which catch documentation schemes (CDS) can be utilised for deep-sea fisheries (DSF) in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), to combat illegal fishing.

Written by Gilles Hosch, ‘Catch documentation schemes for deep-sea fisheries in the ABNJ: their value, and options for implementation’ discusses the potential value of CDS in DSF, and the practicalities involved to ensure the effectiveness of this trade-based tool to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The paper argues that CDS are indeed capable of directly addressing a number of IUU fishing practices known to occur in DSF, and that the adoption of such schemes would improve compliance with fisheries management rules. Key infringements that may be directly detected and addressed through a CDS include violations of closed areas shielding protected vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) in the deep ocean, and quota overfishing.

While deep-sea fisheries have been the subject of a series of UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions, CDS find their origin in voluntary instruments such as the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the 2001 International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU) – and most recently in the Voluntary Guidelines for Catch Documentation Schemes adopted by the FAO Conference in Rome in July 2017.

Hosch briefly highlights the benefits and limitations of unilateral and multilateral schemes, and considers options for multilateral CDS approaches in DSF, within the context of DSF management rules. The report highlights which management measures a CDS is able to implement directly or in combination with other monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) tools, critically discussing their value as a tool to combat IUU fishing in DSF.

The paper also establishes the notion that partial coverage of given species through a CDS at the level of individual regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) is incongruous from a trade monitoring and control perspective, and that CDS should be considered as either/or propositions with regard to species coverage. With most DSF species having broad distributions straddling many RFMOs, the most suitable option, enabling the operation of an effective CDS, is that of a centrally operated electronic CDS platform – called a super-CDS – shared by a range of institutional and state players.

Regarding the strategic outlook for CDS as a trade-based mechanism, Hosch said, “As global trade in seafood increases to meet rising demand, traceability and market-based controls stand to make further gains in importance. To deliver on the potential for CDS to play an effective role in tackling illegal fishing and the sustainable management of fisheries, a multilateral global ‘super-CDS’ is the logical way forward. By catering for unilateral and multilateral initiatives through a single platform provided by a central service provider, and covering many species throughout their global distribution ranges, a ‘super-CDS’ would provide a valuable tool to ensuring a sustainable future of the worlds’ fisheries.”

Reflecting on the many potential challenges facing future CDS systems based on current models, Hosch said, “There is a great opportunity for us to prevent the proliferation of unconnected and fragmented CDS systems operated by a variety of institutional players – unilateral and multilateral – tackling different species partially, and covering regions separately. The more that institutions and regions can work together to develop a commonly shared CDS platform, the better the outcomes will be.”

This technical paper has been prepared under the auspices of the FAO-managed deep-sea fisheries component of the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction project funded by the Global Environment Facility.

Download Catch documentation schemes for deep-sea fisheries in the ABNJ: their value, and options for implementation here: http://www.fao.org/3/CA2401EN/ca2401en.pdf