Faced with a marked increase in fishing on the high seas, six countries have signed a new fisheries agreement covering a vast region of the southern Indian Ocean. The Comoros, France, Kenya, Mozambique, New Zealand and Seychelles and the European Community signed the South Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA), following talks at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in early July 2006. It is hoped that other countries will soon join the Agreement, which will enter into force once FAO, its legal depositary, receives the fourth instrument of ratification, including at least two from coastal states. The signing ceremony followed a series of intergovernmental consultations which were attended by many of the coastal states surrounding the southern Indian Ocean. Two signatories of SIOFA, France and New Zealand, are Parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. Two other ACAP Parties that have attended SIOFA consultations are Australia and South Africa.The new Agreement seeks to ensure long-term conservation and sustainable use of fishery resources other than tuna in areas outside national jurisdictions. It calls for effective monitoring, annual reports on the amounts of captured and discarded fish, and inspections of ships visiting ports of the Parties to verify they are in compliance with SIOFA. Landing and discharging privileges are to be denied to those who do not comply. Other joint actions will include regular studies of the state of fish stocks and the impact of fishing on the environment, joint management and conservation measures, and establishing rules for member countries to decide which operators are allowed to fish in the SIOFA area.
The establishment of SIOFA is seen by the FAO as a major step forward in establishing new regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) to cover regions where no such mechanism currently exists. It will join the existing network of fishery commissions already established, such as the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. The FAO considers the role of the fishing industry in ensuring responsible fishing is particularly vital in the high seas, where recent years have seen a marked increase in catches, including those of non tuna species which may be caught at considerable depths.
The boundaries of the new Agreement extend as far as 55°S. Its southern boundaries abut those of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and thus include waters which support both ACAP-listed albatrosses and petrels and Patagonian Toothfish, a non-tuna fish species which will now fall within the ambit of SIOFA. Longline fishing for toothfish is known to have killed many albatrosses and petrels within the CCAMLR region, so SIOFA offers an opportunity to reduce such mortality to the north The involvement of Korea, an important high-seas fishing nation, with the SIOFA consultations is thus notable, as well as of Mauritius, which plays an important role in marketing fish, including toothfish, caught on the high seas. Other species that will be covered by SIOFA include Orange Roughy and Alfonsino, which are caught by deep-water trawling, often over sea mounts.
The text of SIOFA affirms that “fishing practices and management measures shall take due account of the need to minimize the harmful impact that fishing activities may have on the marine environment” (Article 4e) and notes “the need to protect biodiversity in the marine environment (Article 4f). Preventing Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is also a function of the new Agreement. SIOFA will establish a scientific committee to advise it.
ACAP looks forward to helping SIOFA and its Scientific Committee in minimising the incidental catch of albatrosses and petrels by the fisheries that it will regulate.
News in part from: www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000360/index.html.
John Cooper, Vice-Chair, ACAP Advisory Committee
Posted 31 July 2006