FAO Committee on Fisheries debates management challenges, old and new
Marine protected areas, deep-sea fishing, tsunami-relief on the agenda
8 March 2005, Rome - Responding to management challenges posed by new fishing practices, considering the potential contributions of marine protected areas to sustainable fishing, and finding ways to responsibly rebuild fisheries in tsunami-struck countries are among the issues being discussed by FAO's Committee on Fisheries (COFI), which is meeting this week at the Organization's Rome headquarters.
Over 300 participants are attending the meeting, which opened yesterday and runs through 11 March. Attendees include governmental delegations, representatives of other UN agencies and observers from inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations.
COFI is one of the committees of FAO's Council and oversees the work of the Organization's Fisheries Department. It also makes recommendations to governments, regional fisheries bodies and others involved in fisheries management, and has served as a forum for the negotiation of global instruments related to fisheries management.
Ten years towards responsible fisheries
Discussion on COFI's first day centered on implementation of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, a set of guidelines for responsible fishing adopted by FAO's membership in 1995. COFI's theme this year is "Ten years towards responsible fisheries."
Currently, most FAO members report having national fishing policies or legislation in place that either totally or partially conform to the Code, according to an FAO presentation made yesterday.
Yet while more advanced fisheries management practices are being more widely used worldwide, the presentation added, many fish stocks continue to be either fully- or over exploited, as described in a new FAO report launched yesterday, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture.
Deep-sea fishing: a new management challenge
Also on the agenda this week: emerging fishing practices that pose new management challenges -- for example, deep-sea fishing of bottom-dwelling stocks, only recently possible on a commercial scale as a result of new technologies.
According to an FAO report to be presented tomorrow, deep-sea fisheries resources are particularly vulnerable to overexploitation due to their low productivity - the fish reproduce slowly and take a long time to grow to maturity.
The report also says that not enough is known about the population biology of deep-sea stocks and the impacts of fishing on sea-bottom habitats, making responsible management difficult. Compounding matters is the fact that many deepwater species are found on the high seas, where governance is particularly complex.
Marine protected areas
Meeting participants will also discuss the pros and cons of marine protected areas (MPAs) in fisheries management.
MPAs are marine reserves where fishing and other human activities are either prohibited or strictly controlled.
Both the 1992 Convention for Biological Diversity and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development called for the creation of MPAs as a means of protecting underwater biodiversity and maintaining high productivity in fisheries.
According to a report prepared for COFI, the currently available scientific information does suggest that MPAs could help achieve some management objectives -- but only if they expressly address fisheries-specific goals and constraints and are implemented alongside, not instead of, conventional measures.
The report cautions that "if designed with incomplete scientific understanding and lack of attention to the needs of fisheries and to existing management measures, MPAs could be ineffective or even counter-productive."
Still, the potential of MPAs as a complementary measure for fisheries management is very high, the report concluded, adding: "It is urgent to test MPAs scientifically across a large range of situations in order to clarify potentials, shortcomings and conditions of success for fisheries."
FAO will also brief COFI participants on the situation of fisheries in countries hit by the 2004 Asian tsunami and efforts to rebuild them.
The Organization is emphasizing the need to target assistance to small-scale fishers and aquaculturalists as well as to avoid building up fishing overcapacity as a result of relief efforts, which would be detrimental to the sustainable use of the resources.
Ministerial meeting to follow COFI
Following COFI, a group of national fisheries ministers will take part in a Ministerial meeting on 12 March to further discuss tsunami-relief as well as how to deepen international cooperation on combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
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