Fisheries Committee reviews state of world fisheries and aquaculture
Delegates from over 100 nations, UN bodies and specialized agencies, as well
as other international governmental and non-governmental organizations, gathered
at FAO Headquarters March 17 for the 22nd session of FAO's Committee on Fisheries
the four-day session, the Committee was scheduled to review a newly released FAO
study, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 1996 (SOFIA). The study reports
record fish production and says that increasing demand for fish could be met through
better management of capture fisheries and further expansion of aquaculture, despite
pressure on top marine fish resources.
FAO estimates that the world's harvest from capture fisheries could increase by
at least 10 million and perhaps as much as 20 million tonnes if:
- degraded resources are rehabilitated;
- underdeveloped resources in all oceans are exploited further, without overfishing
either previously underexploited resources or those that have already reached or
exceeded the highest level of sustainable exploitation;
- discarding and wastage are reduced.
SOFIA puts 1995 fish production at a new record of 112.3 million tonnes, up from
the previous high of 109.6 million tonnes in 1994. The increase is mainly the result
of continued rapid growth in aquaculture production, particularly in China, and rapid
expansion of highly fluctuating harvestable stocks of surface-dwelling open-sea species,
such as anchovies, off South America. (More details on SOFIA
In addition to reviewing the new report on the state of the world's fisheries,
the agenda for the 1997 COFI session features discussion on several other major issues,
- wastage caused by discarding of unwanted species captured along with the target
fish (referred to as by-catch);
- pollution and modification of the aquatic ecosystem;
- biological diversity; and
- compliance with international conservation and management measures for fishing
vessels licensed to fish on the high seas.
Assistant Director-General Moritaka Hayashi, who heads FAO's Fisheries Department,
told the meeting that threats to the long-term capacity of fisheries to supply food
and livelihood cannot be solved solely by market forces. "In the particular
issue of overfishing, history shows that therein lies the road to overcapitalization
in industrial fisheries and excessive pressure in the case of small-scale fisheries
and a headlong chase in pursuit of greater harvests. This has led to the collapse
of some fisheries and fish stocks."
SOFIA, examining the dynamics of the world's top 200 top marine fishery resources,
demonstrates the rapid increase in fishing pressure. The report indicates that the
estimated number of stocks requiring management has gradually increased from almost
none in 1950 to over 60 percent in 1994, underlining the urgent need for effective
measures to control and reduce fishing.
"For the resources which are presently below their historical peak levels
of production, it might be possible to return to these levels, by reducing fishing
effort and, in most cases, simultaneously improving yield-per-recruit," said
SOFIA. "This can be achieved by increasing significantly the age at first capture,
prohibiting the exploitation of juveniles, increasing mesh sizes, and closing temporarily
or permanently areas of concentration of young fish."
"Although supplies of seafood may keep pace with demand worldwide, this does
not mean that the needs of all consumers will be satisfied," Mr Hayashi said,
referring to the important role that fisheries play in food security, highlighted
by the recent World Food Summit in Rome. "It is conceivable - although not inevitable
- that the chronically poor and food-insecure will be worse off in the short run
as price increases and distribution problems could keep seafood, and other protein-rich
food, out of their reach." Mr Hayashi urged the Committee to examine a combination
of technological, economic and legal solutions to these issues.
Interview with Moritaka Hayashi, Assistant
Director-General of FAO's Fisheries Department
17 March 1997