Regional fisheries management organizations and sustainable development goal 14 : opportunities and challenges
Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) play a key role in promoting sustainable international fisheries management. They are influenced by internal dynamics and external initiatives, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a global initiative, comprising 17 goals and hundreds of targets that support a sustainable future by linking social, economic and environmental actions. The SDGs recognise the importance of the ocean for the livelihoods and food security of millions of people. SDG 14 – Life Below Water specifically addresses the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean, seas, and marine resources. As a goal-based governance approach, the SDGs are non-binding and rely on the actions of existing state and non-state actors. This thesis explores how the work of RFMOs could contribute to achieving the targets of SDG 14, and highlights the opportunities and challenges of RFMOs’ engagement with SDG 14. As goal-setting governance approaches become increasingly popular, it is important to better understand how regional and sectoral organisations can contribute to globally agreed goals. This research into RFMO engagement with SDG 14 uses a qualitative approach that provides important and novel insights into the dynamics between RFMOs and global goal-setting initiatives, such as the SDGs. Well-performing RFMOs are the key to achieving sustainably managed fisheries and, thus, the targets of SDG 14. A desktop analysis of documents and conservation and management measures assesses the current performance of RFMOs, their potential for improvement, and how their work can be linked to the various targets of SDG 14. The results of this analysis reveal that RFMO performance is improving in areas such as bycatch regulation and management practices and identified best practice examples. The results of the analysis also show that RFMOs’ current work and their implementation of conservation and management measures might provide an important contribution to attaining SDG 14. Interview analysis, which gathered the perspectives of 39 key stakeholders on the work of RFMOs and how they think RFMOs could contribute to SDG 14, reveals that RFMOs face several hurdles in engaging with external initiatives such as the SDGs. Key hurdles include time constraints during RFMO meetings, as well as a lack of capacity and resources among RFMO members to effectively implement new conservation measures. Another important issue identified by stakeholders is that the existing workload of the RFMOs’ administrative bodies limits their ability to take on further tasks, which, in turn, impacts the RFMOs’ potential engagement with SDG 14. These hurdles have not yet received detailed attention in the peer-reviewed literature, even though they profoundly shape RFMO activities. The results of the desktop and interview analyses are supported by participant observation of two RFMO Commission meetings, which highlights the important role of underlying institutional dynamics within RFMOs. Member states are the main drivers of RFMO activities and determine which topics receive attention during annual meetings. Thus, member states need to acknowledge the important role of RFMOs in achieving SDG 14. Observations from the two RFMO Commission meetings reveal the importance of ‘champion’ states taking the lead on key issues and working with other members, as well as the leadership ability of the Chairperson to steer and coordinate negotiation on management issues, which are key to achieving the targets of SDG 14. This research aimed to answer the question of the potential contribution of RFMOs to SDG 14. Even though RFMOs are not officially engaging with the SDGs, the results show that their work makes an important contribution to the targets of SDG 14, as it is directed towards achieving more sustainably managed fisheries. Moreover, a new agreement for biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), which is currently under negotiation, might foster further development towards topics addressed by the targets of SDG 14. This new agreement is likely to impact RFMOs due to overlapping areas of interest which might also have implications for attaining SDG 14. In summary, this work shows that, while goal-based governance strategies are a widely used tool to pursue global objectives, the lack of acknowledgement and recognition of the role of existing actors in contributing to goals related to their objectives might constrain their success.