Fishing policies need to look at the big picture
Management plans should cover much more than just single fish stocks
26 September 2006, Rome - Pesticide run-off from farms creates dead zones where fish cannot survive. Turtles and dolphins accidentally tangle themselves in nets and die. So do fish not intentionally targeted for capture. Erosion caused by construction of coastal tourist resorts ruins spawning grounds. When dumping ballast water, cargo ships introduce alien invaders that outcompete local fish. Over-fishing of one popular species leads to the collapse of others further up the food chain.
"Fishing, as we understand it today, is a lot more complicated than it used to be," says Serge Garcia, Director of FAO's Fishery Resources Division. "Complex fishery systems are affected not only by fishing, but also by a wide range of seemingly unrelated human activites, shifts in global consumption trends, climate change, and more. As a consequence, good management isn't just about dealing exclusively with targeted fish species anymore."
"There are no easy answers to this complexity of interactions," Garcia adds, "but clearly we need to look at fisheries from a broader perspective and strive to create fisheries management plans that look at the multiple effects of fishing and how other human activities and the environment affect fish stocks. It is not sufficient to look at just one small piece of the puzzle."
Experts call this the 'ecosystem approach' to fisheries management. The key idea is to incorporate broader considerations into fisheries management plans so that the wellbeing of not only target species but of the overall ecosystem -- including human fishing communities -- is promoted. At the same time, it also means doing more to deal with the impacts that other human activities or external phenomena like climate change have on marine ecosystems and fish populations. And all of this should be done in a participatory way, with full participation by affected communities.
Conference in Norway to explore putting theory into practice
This week the Nordic Council of Ministers has brought a group of over 160 international experts to Bergen, Norway to discuss how to move the world towards putting into practice the principles that underlie the ecosystem approach to fisheries management.
The Conference on Implementing the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (26-28 September) -- organized by the Nordic Council in cooperation with FAO and the governments of Norway and Iceland -- is a follow up to an earlier summit on the same subject held in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2001 and to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa, where countries agreed to implement an ecosystem approach by 2010 and restore the world's depleted fish stocks by 2015.
“Ecosystem-based management for sustainable use of marine resources represents an important tool for meeting the commitments made at Johannesburg,” according to Vidar Ulriksen, State Secretary of the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs. “We see the Bergen Conference as a big step forward towards sustainable and ecosystem based management of international fisheries,” he says.
Conference organizers say that accelerating implementation of the ecosystem approach in order to meet the WSSD goals will require major efforts in capacity-building, research, and strengthening fisheries administration as well as cooperation with other relevant agencies and stakeholders. These needs are particularly critical in the developing world, where in recent years fisheries research capacity has grown weaker in recent years at the same time that growing fish exports have begun to put local fishery resources under serious stress.
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