Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement

The Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) is a legally-binding treaty with the objective of ensuring the long-term conservation and sustainable use of non-highly migratory fish stocks in the high seas of the southern Indian Ocean.

Background

In 1999-2000, stocks of orange roughy were discovered in the high seas of the southern Indian Ocean. because there were no cooperative management arrangements in place to manage the stocks, the stocks were significantly depleted by unregulated fishing activities. Fishing in the high seas of the southern Indian Ocean is now based on alfonsino and boar fish, which are less susceptible to overexploitation, harder to fish and have lower market values than orange roughy.

Australia, New Zealand and South Africa cosponsored the negotiations for the Agreement text.  which included four intergovernmental meetings between 2001-2006, prior to the Agreement’s adoption at a conference on 7 July 2006 in Rome, Italy. Australia signed the Agreement on 29 December 2006 and deposited an instrument of ratification on 23 March 2012.  The Agreement entered into force on 21 June 2012.  The current Parties to SIOFA are Australia, Cook Islands, European Union, Mauritius and Seychelles.

The Agreement establishes a mechanism for Contracting Parties to cooperate to manage and conserve non-highly migratory fishery resources in the high seas of the southern Indian Ocean. The Agreement promotes the long-term conservation and sustainable use of fisheries resources in this area through applying principles such as the precautionary approach, ecosystem based approaches to fisheries management and effective monitoring, control and surveillance measures to ensure compliance.

Unlike other regional fisheries treaties, SIOFA does not automatically establish a Commission, rather the matters of substance will be discusses at an annual Meeting of Parties. The functions of the Meeting of the Parties will include reviewing the state of fishery resources, promoting research and cooperation, adopting generally recommended international minimum standards for fishing, developing rules and procedures for monitoring of compliance by vessels and developing measures to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing..

Fisheries Issues and Impact in Australia

Fish stocks of the southern Indian Ocean are important to the Australian fishing industry which has been fishing in the area since the mid-1990s.  It is likely that some fishery resources under the mandate of SIOFA also straddle the Australian exclusive economic zone and may be important to other domestic fisheries. As a coastal State, it is important for Australia to ensure consistent and responsible management arrangements are used across the Indian Ocean to safeguard the interests of industries that harvest these stocks. As a Party to the Agreement Australia can influence regional management measures adopted in SIOFA, seeking to ensure that these measures are compatible with Australia’s domestic management arrangements and secure access for the Australian fishing industry. Australia has also played a key role internationally in promoting strengthened environmental standards for fishing on the high seas and SIOFA provides another regional forum through which these measures can be implemented.

Regional Engagement

The Agreement provides a cooperative management framework for Contracting Parties to develop arrangements to effectively manage fisheries resources within the Area. The SIOFA Area of Competence covers the high seas between eastern Africa and Western Australia. SIOFA is adjacent to the Convention Area of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in the south, the SPRFMO Convention Area in the east and South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO) Convention Area to the west. SIOFA draws upon the principles of sustainable use, long-term conservation, ecosystem based fisheries management, the precautionary approach and effective monitoring, control and surveillance, which are fundamental to responsible fishing practices.

SIOFA applies to non-highly migratory fish stocks in the high seas areas of the southern Indian Ocean only. It is likely that some stocks that fall under SIOFA’s mandate may straddle Australia’s waters.