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Helping Fisheries Managers Better Monitor and Enforce Requirements for Member States

What good are regulations if they’re not followed? Why adopt policies without a strong plan to monitor adherence to them?  

In an era of greater expectations regarding transparency and accountability, these are the questions stakeholders are increasingly asking of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) — the governing bodies that oversee many global fisheries resources. And for tuna fisheries, a vital, global food source and economic engine, those expectations are especially heightened. Now, a group of policy experts is stepping in to help tuna RFMOs continue strengthening their compliance processes. 

RFMOs and Compliance Processes

RFMOs are established by international instruments to promote cooperation among member States for the conservation and management of shared fisheries resources. Compliance by these member States with agreed management measures is essential for RFMOs to carry out their mandates, meet their objectives, and perform effectively.

All tuna RFMOs have an annual mechanism to monitor and assess the compliance of members with the RFMO’s conservation and management measures. All RFMO compliance processes are broadly composed of three steps: 1.) information gathering; 2.) review and assessment; and 3.) feedback and/or application of corrective remedies — by the RFMO and/or through its member States. But disparities and weaknesses exist amongst RFMOs in these areas. 

Compliance Tools for Tuna RFMOs 

ISSF has developed a set of recommendations to improve tuna RFMO compliance processes, which would strengthen the ability of an RFMO to:

  • Assess the degree to which its measures are being implemented
  • Aid nations as needed
  • Identify those RFMO members that are undermining the effectiveness of conservation and management measures through non-compliance, and incentivize them to improve
  • Promote clarity in RFMO obligations and measures 
  • Improve trust, fairness, and transparency 
  • Enhance RFMO performance 

Bringing Experts Together: Workshops Identify Challenges and Solutions 

To build on efforts to analyze and support improved compliance mechanisms, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) is partnering with the Pew Charitable Trusts on a series of Expert Workshops on Best Practices in Compliance in RFMOs

Convened virtually in September 2020, March 2021, and November 2021, the three workshops brought together over 40 experts from RFMO Secretariats, RFMO Compliance Committees, international organizations, academia, NGOs, and civil society. The group identified challenges and potential solutions for strengthening compliance assessment processes, improving overall member compliance and RFMO performance.  

Some of the challenges identified include: 

  • Lack of clarity in measures that result in ambiguity or conflicting requirements
  • The large volume of data that must be reported and then reviewed 
  • Reliance on national reporting with few tools for independent verification
  • Lack of trust 
  • Minimal or inconsistent follow-up on identified areas of non-compliance
  • Lack of tools to incentivize compliance or address persistent and egregious non-compliance
  • Gaps in transparency, both in documentation and access to information
  • Capacity building needs

The expert participants then outlined initial solutions to be explored in future workshops, such as:

RFMO Measures

  • Drafting measures with audit points or other mechanisms for clarity in the obligations to be assessed and the data to be reported
  • Use learnings from compliance assessments to improve the clarity of new measures and in assessing the effectiveness of existing measures

Volume of information to Report/Review

  • Prioritizing the measures to be reviewed annually
  • Automating aspects of the reviews
  • Presenting data and information in summaries and/or aggregate tables

Data sources and quality 

  • Incorporating new data sources
  • Building capacity to process/analyze data
  • Developing online reporting tools

Capacity building

  • Focused capacity building of Secretariats and members 
  • Structuring compliance assessments toward capacity building and performance improvement, rather than being punitive


  • Tracking performance over time
  • Establishing confidentiality agreements and standardized rules for transparency 
  • Establishing clearer mechanisms to report on follow up actions 

Responses to Non-Compliance 

  • Developing “compliance control rules” — pre-agreed responses to non-compliance
  • Considering a “risk-based” approach and rank responses to types of non-compliance 

Together, the world’s tuna RFMOs are responsible for managing 23 tuna stocks that are vital sources of jobs, economic development, and food security for millions across the globe. The long-term sustainability of these valuable stocks is jeopardized without an effective and transparent process for ensuring RFMO members are complying with all conservation and management requirements.

By leveraging our collective know-how through collaborative events like the Expert Workshops on Best Practices in Compliance in RFMOs, ISSF and its partners are working to help RFMOs build rigorous and robust compliance mechanisms that meet today’s demands for accountability and transparency in the governance of shared fishery resources.


Read a companion piece to this blog published by Pew:

Review workshop outcomes in the following reports:;; and  

Review a presentation on workshop outcomes: 



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