Written by Nereus Senior Research Fellow Solène Guggisberg,
Nereus Senior Research fellow Solène Guggisberg (Utrecht University) organized, together with Tim Stephens from the University of Sydney, a workshop on Transparency in Fisheries Governance. The workshop took place in Utrecht on 20-21 May 2019. It was supported by a University of Sydney – Utrecht University Partnership Collaboration Award. The workshop brought together experts from both academia and practice, including another Nereus Research fellow, Matilda Petersson (Stockholm Resilience Centre), and Principal Investigators Quentin Hanich (University of Wollongong), Alex Oude Elferink (Utrecht University) and Erik Molenaar (Utrecht University).
Transparency has become the focus of much research in general international law and in environmental regimes in particular. However, this good governance principle remains understudied and under-applied in the field of international fisheries law and governance. Together, the participants presented on and discussed the role of transparency at various stages of fisheries governance and for several types of actors. Transparency should remain a tool towards one or several defined objective(s), here in particular the sustainable management of marine living resources and equity–but it should not become the objective in itself.
Internal transparency (between States or within governmental actors) and external transparency (with non-governmental actors or even the general public) may not always go hand-in-hand; for example, in regional fisheries management organizations, opening the meetings to the public can encourage closed-doors preliminary meetings, where only selected States are invited, leaving the others out of the real discussions.
Solène presented her paper in the session on actors involved in management, focusing on the role of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in relation to transparency. She pointed out the centrality of this good governance principle in one of the FAO’s main tasks, which is data gathering and sharing. This specialized agency is also active in some treaties/soft law instruments’ monitoring and serves there as a treaty secretariat. In that regard, the FAO is not faring as well, with unequal levels of transparency in publicly reporting its findings and, when information is available, apparently facing issues with States’ compliance with their reporting obligations. Finally, it was also discussed whether FAO had been at the forefront of promoting transparency–a question still unanswered–and whether the reliance on single-donor project funding threatens transparency, and more generally good governance, in light of the influence that major donors can exert, even implicitly, on the work program of the FAO.
The full program of the workshop is available below.