Written by Nereus Senior Research Fellow Solène Guggisberg,

Nereus Senior Research fellow Solène Guggisberg presented a paper entitled ‘The role of non-governmental actors in fisheries governance – Improving compliance’ at the Transatlantic Maritime Emissions Research Network (TRAMEREN) conference. The TRAMEREN Conference was held in Copenhagen on Frontiers in Ocean Environmental Governance: Private Actors, Public Goods. For more information and the full program of the conference, please visit the TRAMEREN Conference Website

Solène presented her paper in the 2nd session focused on ‘Sustainable Fisheries and Marine Resource Use’, discussing different roles played by non-governmental actors in compliance issues. These roles include gathering evidence, at sea and through new technologies (in particular AIS), to identify vessels and States which do not respect their obligations. Some conduits exist for non-governmental actors to transmit their findings to governmental authorities, but these conduits are usually informal and States are under no obligation to report back to the non-governmental organization, which creates issues of accountability.

Non-governmental actors are also active at sea: they provide vessels to patrol the exclusive economic zones of coastal States in partnership with these States. Furthermore, some non-governmental organizations perform law enforcement activities on the high seas, independently–in what is usually coined “direct action”. These actions raise questions related to the entitlement of non-governmental vessels to perform governmental functions, the limits of authorized actions, and State responsibility if there is a problem during an inspection.

In terms of policy, this involvement of non-governmental actors is interesting and promising, since many States do not respect their international obligations and the international legal regime of exclusive jurisdiction of the flag State on the high seas is, to some extents, inadequate to ensure sufficient monitoring and control of activities at sea. In legal terms, however, the involvement of non-governmental actors brings to light the current misalignment in international law between actions to improve compliance with fisheries regulations, authority to take action, and responsibility; this misalignment needs to be rectified at the risk otherwise of eroding the rule of law.

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