Excess capacity and illegal fishing: challenges to sustainable fisheries
The problem of illegal fishing continues to grow, and world fishing capacity needs to be controlled
World fisheries are a major source of food and employment, providing the world's growing population with 16% of its animal protein intake and serving as a source of employment for an estimated 35 million full- and part-time fishers.
But a growing number of challenges are calling into question the future of this important food production sector and its ability to continue making these contributions to world food security.
Pollution, climate change and irresponsible fishing are all taking a toll on the world's marine resources.
Globally, reports FAO, 25 percent of major marine fish stocks are underexploited or moderately exploited.
Forty-seven percent are fully exploited and are therefore producing catches that have reached, or are very close to, their maximum sustainable limits.
Another 18 percent of stocks or species groups are overexploited, while 10 percent of stocks have become significantly depleted or are recovering from depletion.
Envisioning responsible fisheries
To help improve matters on the fishing front, FAO and its members worked together to produce the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, which was adopted in 1995. The Code provides a detailed roadmap to responsible and sustainable fishing. It is non-binding, but by endorsing the Code governments have publicly signaled their intention to operate according to its principles and standards. Many of these principles and standards have also already been incorporated in national legislation and regulations, as well as in other international agreements and instruments.
Two important challenges flagged for action by the Code are fishing overcapacity and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
IUU fishing includes a range of illicit activities: fishing without permission or out of season; harvesting prohibited species; using outlawed types of fishing gear; disregarding catch quotas; or non-reporting or underreporting catch weights.
Fishing capacity, in the simplest terms, refers to the ability of a boat or fleet to catch fish.
When existing capacity is greater than what is necessary to sustainably harvest a given fish stock, the result is overcapacity. This, in turn, often leads to overfishing and in some scenarios, to illegal fishing.
IUU fishing can also result when steps to reduce fleet sizes are taken and displaced vessels look for alternative fishing areas.
Together, overcapacity, overfishing and IUU fishing can in turn lead to economic waste and harmful reductions of fish populations.
A plan of action
Following the Code's adoption, four supplemental international plans of action addressing specific key issues -- managing fishing capacity, IUU fishing, conservation and management of sharks, and accidental catch of seabirds -- were also negotiated and adopted.
This week, FAO convened a four-day meeting at its Rome headquarters to assess progress towards implementation of two of these action plans: IUU fishing and management of fishing capacity.
According to FAO reports presented during the consultation, the problem of IUU fishing continues to worsen, and while global fishing capacity has started to level off -- at least in terms of the number of vessels and their combined tonnage -- overcapacity is still present in a large number of fisheries, with negative consequences for commercial fish stocks.
Read the related articles listed to the right to learn more about these two key issues, what was discussed at the recent meeting, and what FAO and its member countries are doing to promote a more responsible global fishing sector.
Published 1 July 2004
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