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We need a new legal framework to ensure that all countries exploit fishery resources responsibly, say Tony Pitcher and colleagues.

The voluntary UN Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, developed in 1995, sets out the internationally-agreed rules for exploiting fishery resources scientifically, sustainably and equitably.

But a study by the authors measuring countries' intentions to abide by, and effectiveness in adhering to, the code suggests that compliance is poor and could improve at every level.

The authors find that, on average, developed countries perform twice as well as developing nations — African, Asian and Latin American countries "fail" to comply in nearly all aspects of fisheries management.

But there are some exceptions — Malaysia, Namibia and South Africa all scored better than many European countries. The key, suggest the authors, lies in targeted development aid, which has for example, improved surveillance in Thai, Moroccan and Malaysian fisheries.

A new legal framework is also needed, suggest the authors. Mandatory instruments should be established to echo the UN code's requirements and tailor aid for developing countries.

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