Vijverbergsession Governing the oceans as a global common good – the case of the pelagic fishery

Wednesday 11 November 2013

image: wikimedia commons

Vijverbergsessies are small, private seminars (maximum 25 participants) in which academics, politicians, and experts of government, ngo’s, and business discuss current issues around the global food problematic. Aim is to come to conclusions that are relevant for policy makers. The seminars are organised by Socires (, on behalf of the foodFIRST platform. The Chatham House Rules apply to the discussions.

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Introduction: Erik Molenaar, NILOS Netherlands Institute Law of the Sea, associate professor Tromso University and lector Universiteit Utrecht, and
Pavel Salz, directeur van Framian BV, ex LEI-Visserij, ex-FAO.
Moderator: Doeke Faber
Resume: Hans Hoogeveen, Economic Affairs DG Agri and Fisheries (tbc)



The pelagic fish stock is framed as a common good, and its governance problem as a case of the commons dilemma, in which people's short-term selfish interests are at odds with long-term group interests and the common good (which in this case is maintaining the regenerative capacity of the fish stocks). This is commonly referred to as ‘the tragedy of the commons,’ the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one's self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group's long-term best interests.

This framing makes the case similar to climate change and global warming, the WTO/ Doha negotiations, and environmental degradation: the problem is known, the data and figures are all there, we know what is the only rational thing to do for each and all; what we need is the willingness and the capacity to give in and reach to agreements on pressing common problems.

This framing would apply to the oceans as well. Insights generated from the specific case of pelagic fishing might very well be of use for The Global Oceans Action Summit, not only with regard to fisheries, but to watershed, pollution and coastal habitat management and coastal and maritime industries as well: Governing the oceans as a global common good.

Pelagic fishery as a case

The pelagic fishery presents an interesting case because the governance issue here is quite clear and straightforward. Both the number of pelagic fish stocks and the number of countries involved in this fishery are relatively limited (8, 10?), and the challenge thus is to agree amongst the parties involved on quota that sum up to the maximum amount captured without affecting the regenerative capacity of the stocks of the different species (joint management).

Its relative simplicity makes pelagic fishery an interesting case for the governance problem of the commons in general, because it might provide insights and experiences to build on, promoting sustainable fishery which again can provide incentives for a global ocean and ecosystem stewardship.

The case can be further complicated and refined by adding the fact that most small-pelagic species are so-called straddling and migratory stocks, that migrate in and out the EEZ (exclusive economic zone, 200nm) of coastal states.

The problem and ways of addressing the problem

The joint management of fish stocks is regulated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international treaty that provides a regulatory framework for the use of the world’s seas and oceans, which has been ratified, acceded to, or succeeded to, by 164 states.

The problem is that repeatedly this framework proves to be ineffective and inconclusive. For this framework to be effective, the following attributes are lacking:

Cf. the actual fishing quota disputes with Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, who unilaterally ramped up their fish take of mackerel and – in the case of the Faroe Islands - of herring.

Faced with this impasse-like situation, it is useful to reflect on the options that are available with regard to the governance model to be applied; i.e. centralized versus decentralized / horizontal (see below).

What are the experiences in this specific field? Actors, interests, view- and standpoints, developments, opportunities, constraints?

Lessons to be drawn for Governing the oceans as a global common good?


16.30h coffee and tea
17.00h Start Vijverbergsession
Introductions by
Erik Molenaar, NILOS Netherlands Institute Law of the Sea, associate professor Tromso University and lector Universiteit Utrecht, and
Pavel Salz, directeur van Framian BV, ex LEI-Visserij, ex-FAO.
Moderator: Doeke Faber
Resume: Hans Hoogeveen, Economic Affairs DG Agri and Fisheries (tbc)
19.00h End
Refreshments and light snacks


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