In a previous blog we reported on the launch of the FiTI (Fisheries Transparency Initiative). Although the idea of an “EITI” for fisheries has been discussed for some time, the demand for something concrete has come from the Government of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. They are funding Humboldt-Viadrina Governance Platform to design it and gather international support. The choice of Humboldt-Viadrina is because one of their founders, Peter Eigen, was a founding chair of EITI and Transparency International.
The first international advisory group meeting for the Fisheries Transparency Initiative was held in Berlin on the 24th of July. It brought together just over 30 people. There were government representatives from Costa Rica, Indonesia, Mauritania, and the Seychelles, as well as representatives from Germany’s Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), the World Bank and the African Development Bank. Fisheries sector representatives included those from Europe’s distant water fishing fleets (Cepesca, PFA), and CAOPA from Africa. Civil society included representatives from Bread for the World, ICSF, Greenpeace, Oceana, WWF, EJF and CFFA. Unfortunately, no representatives from distant water fishing nations governments, such as the EU, Russia, or China, were able to attend this time.
The FiTI is a multi-stakeholder initiative that takes inspiration from the design of the EITI. The FiTI will be a global initiative, implemented in each participating country. It will establish an international Multi-Stakeholder Board with equal representation from governments, the fisheries sector and civil society. It will establish principles, transparency criteria and procedural guidelines – what information needs to be published and how. Multi-stakeholder committees in each implementing country will verify information published through FiTI, which will be done on an annual basis.
If it is successful, the FiTI could produce substantial credible information on fisheries, published every year as FiTI reports. Deciding what information should be included in these reports was a key aim of the meeting – if transparency is important to help improve fisheries, then what information needs to be included?
The FiTI – dealing with initial concerns?
In our first blog about the FiTI we raised some concerns – how would a multi-stakeholder initiative work? How will small-scale fisheries be included and affected? Will the FiTI avoid having a narrow focus on combating IUU fishing? And above all, will the design of a FiTI have a positive impact for development and food security, or could it become a public relations exercise for countries and industrial fishing companies?
Such concerns, raised by CFFA and others, on transparency initiatives have been well recognized by the FiTI team and discussed during the first advisory group meeting. While a more comprehensive meeting report will be published on the Berlin meeting, I think it is useful to highlight some positive key outcomes:
1) There was a strong interest in linking the FiTI with other global commitments and policy documents in fisheries. This includes, for example, the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy and related regulations. Most significantly, however, the FiTI could help elaborate and help implement the recommendations on transparency and participatory governance contained in two landmark FAO Voluntary Guidelines - on the Responsible Governance of Tenure in Land, Fisheries and Forests and on Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries. I think this is critical as this means the FiTI is complementary to ongoing initiatives in fisheries, and is not trying to establish something entirely new and outside existing commitments and achievements. These FAO guidelines have also been developed over many years of consultations, including with small-scale fishers, so the FiTI will be familiar and based on a solid footing.
2) There was strong support for the inclusion of small-scale fisheries within the initiative. The concept of the ‘fishing sector’ is not intended to focus only on the commercial or large-scale sector. This is positive as the FiTI could help advance data gathering and awareness of the importance of small-scale fishing. At the same time, the inclusion of the small-scale sector in the governance structure of the FiTI was considered essential. Organizations such as CAOPA in West Africa will have the opportunity to play a prominent role, something that is often lacking in global ‘partnerships’ for fisheries and ocean conservation.
3) The importance of gender considerations for the FiTI was raised. This is critical given the role of women in the sector, particularly in small scale fisheries, and the fact that women are often under-represented in fisheries data and policy debates. The FiTI will be developed to ensure data is gender sensitive and that the women in fisheries are strongly represented in the governance of the FiTI itself.
4) There was an interesting exchange of views on the purpose of improving transparency and participatory governance. There needs to be more discussion and reflection on what transparency can and can not do. What emerged from our initial exchanges is that improving information sharing can only be supportive of democratic governance reforms – it is not an end in itself. The FiTI is unlikely to be a ‘surveillance’ of fishing boats, shining a spot light on fisheries to simply catch the “bad guys”. It seems to be developing into an information tool that wants to inform debates at the country level, its contribution to food security and employment, and on the effectiveness of fisheries management.
5) It was recognized that efforts to increase information sharing and participation in fisheries policy debates cannot simply focus on what fishers and coastal state governments are doing. There are other important actors that influence fisheries, many of whom are not always transparent and accountable. This includes donors, private investors, NGOs and fisheries scientists. The need for these other actors in fisheries development to be subject to transparency was highlighted by several participants.
6) Finally, it was mentioned that the ideal of transparency hinges on the ability of citizens and organizations to gather information and make sense of it. Transparency is so often thought of as a simple task – get data published by governments and companies, and then citizens will use this information to improve the situation. The problem, however, is that some data we hope to be included in the FiTI may not exist, and the stakeholders may not have the capacity to actually do anything with it, or make sense of it. It is unlikely that the FiTI will be tasked with capacity building, but it will have to identify the needs and methodologies required to generate accessible public data, and it will have to identify practical ways to help intended recipients of the information to be empowered, including coastal communities, parliamentarians, journalists, researchers and so on.
A lot of work needs to be done to finalise the design of the FiTI. The advisory group meeting was a first step in this direction, and had no ambition beyond sharing ideas. The aim is to have something more comprehensive to present at an international meeting to be held in Mauritania on the 14th of December. There will be another meeting of the advisory group before then.
Of the big challenges facing the FiTI, finalizing the transparency criteria is probably high on the list of things to do. There is a balancing act between listing everything that people want to be included, while also making sure the FiTI is feasible. There will have to be an element of compromise here, essential for an initiative based on the ideal of participation. Some may feel the FiTI is too narrow, while others may feel uncomfortable at the level of disclosure being demanded of them. It was also recommended in Berlin that developing the criteria could involve 'progressive improvements', so the scope of the FiTI could be refined overtime. It should be an interesting process to be part of.
Yet arguably the biggest challenge lies with getting political support. The advisory group meeting had a good range of representatives, although far more is needed, and it is not certain that all of those present left decided on whether to back the FiTi or not. Indeed, there has been an increasing amount of commitment by some governments and some fishing companies for the idea of transparency and accountability, but progress has been slow or avoided.
Those working on the FiTI therefore need to win over more governments, fishing sector interests and NGOs working at both the local level and internationally. Hopefully the fact that the FiTI will be a tool designed to elaborate and implement existing commitments for transparency contained in various international and regional policy statements and guidelines, will help in this process. The FiTI may fill an important gap.
But in working to make the FiTI successful, the most significant task is not simply convincing people to sign on. Rather, a more important undertaking now lies with continuing serious debate about the need for political reforms in fisheries, for which transparency and participatory governance is an essential component. There is still a shortage of discussion and support for this, which makes the underlying motivation for the FiTI potentially unfamiliar, or considered less important than it should be.
This is what could make the FiTI appealing to more people - it is an entry point into a bigger set of issues that will require a combination of initiatives. If the FiTI can go on to produce credible information that has remained obscured or confidential until now, then hopefully it will be a catalyst for positive changes in behaviors and attitudes. At the very least, the FiTI should help supply more people with information and opportunities to deliberate on fisheries policy decisions in their countries, and perhaps wonder why it has taken so long for this to happen.