Original publication: August 2017
Authors: Milieu Ltd (Belgium): Nienke van der Burgt, Claire Dupont, Roxana Mastor, Sabina Potestio, Nina Smith, and Sophie Vancauwenbergh,
With input from Prof. E.J. Molenaar, University of Utrecht
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2hRGpFm
Available languages:

Objective and scope
 Regional ocean governance in Europe: the role of fisheries

Download the Study

The aim of the study is to provide the Members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries (PECH Committee) with a clear description of the role of fisheries in regional ocean governance in the European regional seas. Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) and Regional Seas Conventions (RSCs) are key actors in the (direct and indirect) regulation of fisheries. The study focuses on regional ocean governance of fisheries in the four European regional seas, i.e. the North East Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. It describes the competences of regional organisations and assesses the mechanisms of cooperation and coordination among these organisations, together with their main outcomes. These descriptions are considered in view of the context provided by key EU policies such as the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the EU Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008 to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU Regulation), the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (MSPD).

The EU is well placed to shape international ocean governance given its experience in developing a sustainable approach to ocean management. With the current trend towards  increased regionalisation of ocean governance, however, many questions and issues remain, particularly relating to roles, overlapping attributes, gaps and cooperation mechanisms between key regional and international institutions.


Research for the study took the form of an analysis of relevant websites and documents, as well as a series of consultations with key actors. The research objective was most appropriately addressed by analysing documents under the RSCs and the RFMOs, including agreements, meeting documents and reports, together with the organisations websites, policy articles and other publications. Interviews were conducted with selected officials (RSCs and RFMOs) and fisheries’ stakeholders active in ocean governance in the different European regional seas (these interviews are referred to as ‘consultation’).

Conclusions and recommendations

There is significant overlap in the types of pressures and challenges across the regions. Therefore, there is much opportunity for cooperation and sharing lessons learned on common topics of interest. However, more importantly, the review of the situation in each of the European regional seas indicates that the regions significantly differ in terms of the institutional and political structures dealing with these pressures and challenges. In other words, while some best practices in terms of ocean governance can be shared across regions, this requires adaptation to the specificities of each region. In this context, the establishment of coordination and cooperation mechanisms is of utmost importance between the key actors, as they deal with overlapping objectives and regulate activities that can, positively or negatively, impact each other’s objectives. The effectiveness of regional ocean governance depends to a large extent on the manner in which content is given to such coordination and cooperation processes.

  • Complementary substantive and geographical competences.
    The key actors, directly or indirectly regulating fisheries, have complementary substantive and geographical competences, with which they aim to achieve overlapping objectives. Despite the overlap in environmental issues and fisheries issues, the many different actors, institutions, implementation mechanisms etc. there is no ‘recipe’ that fits to all four regional seas. Ocean governance of fisheries can be improved by strengthening and developing the process of information sharing, which can be done within the existing mandates. There is no human activity within the seas and oceans that is not, or cannot be, controlled by the existing mechanisms. This means that the current types of mechanisms (as the RFMOs and the RSCs) can be considered sufficient, and no new types, such as overall coordinating or overseeing authorities or organisations, are needed. This is not to say that the current organisations could not be strengthened or that gaps in certain regions could be filled.
  • Mechanisms to regulate coordination and cooperation
    The partial overlap between the overall objectives of the regional organisations, their members and/or their geographical scope points to the need to further develop coordination and cooperation efforts. Formal agreements, such as MoUs are considered a tool to enable the coordination and cooperation process, with specific organisations and institutionalise processes to improve the knowledge of the relevant activities in the region and to foster synergies, while at the same time avoiding duplication or negative impacts. From the chapters discussing the European regional seas, it follows that the organisations take an active role in institutionalising such processes. Although the MoUs reflect different levels of detail, in general they include provisions linked to conservation and management measures, data collection and exchange, monitoring, surveillance and control. The EU could encourage and facilitate the process of institutionalising coordination and cooperation through the development of global minimum standards, also relevant to non-EU parties to the RFMO, to improve their overall coherence, while leaving room for adaptation to the regional context
  • Mutual reinforcement between fisheries regulation and relevant EU policies
    The process of cooperation and coordination at the regional level should be viewed in light of the building blocks provided by key EU policies, such as the CFP, the IUU Regulation, the MSFD and the MSPD. Under the CFP Regulation, the EU has the competence to adopt relevant rules and regulations. It has itself broadened over the years, such as through the introduction of the ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. With the goals of fisheries management and the protection of the marine environment setting for larger interfaces, they have become inextricably connected and mutually reinforcing. In addition to facilitating the  process of institutionalising coordination and cooperation, the EU should maintain its important role in progressively tackling key content relevant for the governability of its environment policy, integrated maritime policy, CFP and maritime transport policy and promote the use of these EU standards at the global level.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/601-994

Please give us your feedback on this publication

Leave a Reply