Fisheries are a very sensitive subject among many countries because of the varying shares of their contribution to national income and the overexploitation of stocks. Fisheries policy concepts focusing on the maintenance of populations of target species above a level which is consistent with sustainable fishing take care of the environment to a certain extent.
Given the present overexploitation, changes in fisheries policy concepts will become necessary. These changes might include a switch from fixing quotas to controlling fishing activities, restricting the number of boats allowed into certain areas, preferably through licensing or the payment of user fees, regulating the time spent at sea, reducing the nets per boat, temporary closures or restrictions for certain shellfish and fishery areas. In addition, fisheries policy will have to face new issues, such as the effects of emissions from aquaculture on marine and freshwater ecosystems, maintenance of biodiversity, the impact of climate change on inland and coastal habitats and the increasing awareness of consumers about the intrinsic quality of fisheries products.
Fisheries, including aquaculture, provide a vital source of food, employment, recreation, trade and economic well being for people throughout the world, both for present and future generations and should therefore be conducted in a responsible manner.
To compensate for humanity's lack of understanding of marine ecological processes fishing must be based on the precautionary approach. The overriding objective of the precautionary approach is to conduct fisheries activities in a manner that ensures a high level of probability that marine species or ecosystems will not be seriously or irreversibly harmed. This approach, among other things, shifts the burden of proof onto those that seek to exploit marine ecosystems, and onto those institutions responsible for fisheries management, to demonstrate that there will be minimal risk of serious or irreversible harm.
Nearly 1,000 million people depend on fish for their primary source of protein, and demand for food fish is projected to increase from about 75 million tonnes in 1994/95 to 110-120 million tonnes in 2010. With careful management, the marine catch could be sustainably increased by about 10 million tonnes a year. However, if no effective action is taken soon, production could decline.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
The Environmental Programme for Europe recommends: (1) the signing and ratification of the Agreement for the implementation of the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks; (2) supporting the work of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on the code of conduct for responsible fisheries; (3) improving international cooperation within the framework of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) in the collection and assessment of data on fisheries through better reporting to regional fisheries bodies; and (4) promoting cooperation between coastal States in sea basins to improve fisheries policies through joint agreements on codes of conduct or codes of practice for sustainable fisheries.
Effectively monitoring and managing small, multi-species, multi-method nearshore fisheries along conventional western lines has generally failed in developing countries, including those in Oceania. Despite several decades of effort, participants in the l988 SPC Workshop on Inshore Fisheries Resources concluded that there were few, if any, Pacific Island inshore fisheries which are currently managed.