General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM)

25 October 2012 | Article



The Conference of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) [1] approved the creation of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) in 1949, under the provisions of article XIV of the FAO constitution. The Agreement went into force in 1952 and has been amended on three occasions, in 1963, 1976 and 1997. The most important modifications were made in 1997, when the role of the GFCM, previously a Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) for the Mediterranean, Black Sea and connecting waters, was reinforced, giving rise to its name being changed to "Commission" and introducing new obligations for the Contracting Parties (including their contribution to an autonomous budget intended to lessen its dependence on credits from the ordinary Programme of the FAO). These new obligations went into force on April 29th, 2004. Today, 23 countries and the European Union are Members of the GFCM, which benefits from its own Secretariat headquartered in Rome [2].

With the aim of effectively promoting the development, conservation, rational management and best utilization of living marine resources, the structure and functioning of the GFCM were reorganized immediately after the amendments were adopted in 1997. The Commission set up a Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) and four sub-committees [3] to handle scientific consultation procedures and enable it to formulate effective measures for fisheries management, taking into account the four aspects of sustainability (ecological, economic, social and institutional) as identified by the FAO in its Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries of 1995. To guarantee sustainable fishing in the region covered by the Agreement, the recently restructured Commission decided that, generally speaking, the introduction of a regime controlling fishing efforts would be preferable to that of a regime focusing on restrictions on catches. Furthermore, given the multi-specific and multi-vessel nature of fisheries in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, as well as differences between the biological, ecological, physical and socio-economic characteristics of the various sub-regions, the management of fisheries by sub-zones and sub-groups of fishing fleets gave rise to intense discussions. This point of view evolved over time, and an approach to management was developed whereby the fishing effort is envisaged by categories of vessels, known as Operational Units, each one attributed precise parameters for their fishing efforts and regulated on that basis. Within this context, the GFCM strives to estimate the relative impact of Operational Units on diverse resources in order to determine control regimes for fishing efforts which are appropriate for each unit (while giving, as much as possible, the same importance to ecological, socio-economic and governance aspects) in accordance with Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF) [4].

Over the past decade, the GFCM has adopted several management measures concerning limitations on fleet capacities, the establishment of open and closed fishing seasons and areas, restrictions on fishing gear, minimum landing sizes and control of the overall fishing effort. In addition, requirements for follow-up, control and monitoring of fisheries management (MCS), including those related to controls carried out by Port States and satellite systems for the tracking of vessels, have been developed, together with pluridisciplinary data acquisition programmes. The protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems and species whose conservation status is of concern has frequently appeared on the GFCM agenda. It has also been the subject of binding regulations including the banning of bottom trawling at depths below 1000 m., the adoption of restriction measures in zones that are ecologically sensitive (Fisheries Restricted Areas, FRAs), and protection of marine mammals such as monk seals.

The GFCM has quite indisputably become a really successful RFMO and is the main regional instrument for governance [5], carrying out reflection and international negotiations on fisheries. It still, however, faces considerable challenges when it comes to ensuring effective application throughout the region of the decisions taken and the measures adopted, or when verifying that its members are applying them accordingly. Since the dawn of time, and still today, the region has played host to a considerable number of cultures and political regimes, a configuration which frequently makes all shared processes for implementation a highly complex matter. While it is usual for the European Union to incorporate management measures and other decisions taken by the GFCM into its legislation, and to check that its Member States conform to them, it is harder to ascertain how, and to what extent, other Members fulfill their obligations and observe the Commission's policy and measures. The group of EU Member States should grow over the coming years, and some candidates already receive significant assistance from the Union to enhance their capacity to monitor, develop and manage their fisheries. However, the possibility of their not being an equal footing with other countries in the region still remains, either because they do not have the political backing to meet their obligations with regard to the GFCM's regional policy and measures, or because they simply have neither the resources nor the capability to do so. Even if these countries have benefitted from the FAO's sub-regional projects over the years, more closely targetted long-term assistance will be necessary to hoist them to the level attained by the others in the development and management of responsible fisheries.

While it is the responsibility of GFCM members to try to introduce mechanisms and develop their capacity to comply with measures approved at regional level, international fisheries-related instruments and the law of the sea, it is just as important for the GFCM to create an operational programme for follow-up and inspection, with the support of its Application Committee, which would enable it to evaluate its Members' performance more precisely, assess the effectiveness of its management measures and be in a better position to supervise the governance of fisheries within the region. In addition, the GFCM could also continue to count on the healthy collaboration it has developed with other intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which, in many cases, could also play a part by helping the GFCM to reach its objectives. As indicated above, the GFCM not only manages the exploitation of living marine resources, but is also involved in the conservation of ecosystems and controlling the impact of fisheries on them. In this respect, it is clear that the GFCM must collaborate more closely with intergovernmental organizations specifically addressing conservation of the marine environment, with the goal of working towards the establishment of a common framework for governance, while maintaining the GFCM's full authority over fisheries governance within the region, and taking both the ecosystems, human well-being and fairness into consideration, in accordance with the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF).



[3] Sub-Committee on Stock Assessment (SCSA), Sub-Committee on Statistics and Information (SCSI), Sub-Committee on Economic and Social Sciences (SCESS), Sub-Committee on the Marine Enviroment and Ecosystems (SCMEE).


[5] The Convention Area of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) also extends to the Mediterranean and Black Sea. The GFCM and ICCAT collaborate closely on the management of tunas and other large pelagic species, including sharks. It is also customary for the GFCM to review and adopt ICCAT recommendations of relevance to the Mediterranean and Black Sea region.

Mediterranean landscape