Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement

The Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) is a legally-binding treaty. The objectives of this Agreement are to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of the fishery resources in the Area through cooperation among the Contracting Parties, and to promote the sustainable development of fisheries in the Area, taking into account the needs of developing States bordering the Area that are Contracting Parties to this Agreement, and in particular the least developed among them and small-island developing States

The Agreement promotes the long-term conservation and sustainable use of fisheries resources in this area by applying principles such as the precautionary approach, ecosystem based approaches to fisheries management and encouraging the development of effective monitoring, control and surveillance measures to ensure compliance.

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 now primarily targets 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 to facilitate cooperation in managing these resources to preclude further overexploitation. The negotiations  included four intergovernmental meetings between 2001-2006, prior to SIOFA’s adoption at a conference on 7 July 2006 in Rome, Italy. Australia deposited its instrument of ratification on 23 March 2012. SIOFA entered into force on 21 June 2012. The current Parties to SIOFA are Australia, Cook Islands, European Union, France, Japan, Mauritius, the Republic of Korea and Seychelles. SIOFA will be headquartered on the French island of Réunion.

Australian priorities

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. Some fishery resources under the mandate of SIOFA may also straddle the Australian exclusive economic zone and may be important to 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 domestic industries that harvest these stocks. As a Contracting Party to the Agreement, Australia can influence regional management measures adopted by the Meetings of the Parties to SIOFA, seek 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 annual Meetings of the Parties to SIOFA provides another regional forum through which these measures can be implemented.

Meetings

Unlike other regional fisheries treaties, SIOFA does not automatically establish a Commission. Instead matters of substance are discussed at Meetings of the Parties.

Australia hosted the first Meeting of the Parties to SIOFA in October 2013. The second Meeting of the Parties was hosted in Mauritius in March 2015; followed by an Extraordinary meeting in October 2015 in Belgium. The third meeting of the Parties will be held in La Réunion in June 2016.

The functions of the Meeting of the Parties 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. Meetings of the Parties will be held annually with Mauritius hosting every second year and rotating between the Parties in other years.

SIOFA will also hold annual meetings of its subsidiary bodies, including its Scientific Committee. The first meeting of the SIOFA Scientific Committee will be held in Fremantle, Australia in March 2016.

SIOFA provides a cooperative management framework for Contracting Parties to develop arrangements to effectively manage fisheries resources within the SIOFA Area of Competence. 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 South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) Convention Area in the east and the South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO) Convention Area to the west.