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Press Release 98/62


Rome, 26 October - Excessive fishing capacity is largely responsible for the global degradation of marine fisheries resources and for significant economic waste, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said today. According to FAO, world fishing capacity has continued to expand during the 1990s. Fishing capacity should be drastically reduced to rebuild stocks of main high value fish species such as Atlantic cod, Haddock and temperate tunas on the high seas. The fishing capacity of artisanal fishers must be controlled in order to protect coastal resources, FAO said.

The FAO assessment was made on the opening of a five-day international conference in Rome (26-30 October) on fleet capacity, sharks and seabirds. Representatives from around 80 countries are expected to adopt "Elements of an International Instrument for the Management of Fishing Capacity." It will be submitted to the next FAO Committee on Fisheries meeting in February 1999.

According to FAO, of the 200 major fishery resources, 35 percent are showing declining yields, 25 percent have reached a plateau at a high exploitation level and 40 percent still show increasing catches. "This indicates that around 35 percent of the major world fish resources are in urgent need of management action to rehabilitate damaged resources," said FAO Assistant Director-General, Moritaka Hayashi, head of the Organization's Fisheries Department.

Overfished stocks that require urgent attention are among others: Atlantic cod, Atlantic Redfish, Haddock and Redhake, Pilchard and Anchovy in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Orange Roughy, Swordfish and temperate tunas such as Bluefin, Bigeye and Albacore.

Total world fish production amounted to about 122 million tonnes in 1997, (1996: 121 million tonnes), according to preliminary FAO data. Total landings from marine capture fisheries have continued to increase but at a much slower rate (1.6 percent per year since 1990 compared to 2.9 percent during 1984-89).

Preliminary FAO data tend to show that the world fishing fleet has been relatively stable since 1989.

The world fishing fleet is currently estimated at 1.2 million decked vessels, most of which operate in Asia. After two decades of rapid growth, the number of decked vessels in the world showed only a slight increase of 0.9 percent per year from 1990 to 1995 compared to 3.6 percent per year in the previous two decades. Total tonnage of decked fishing vessels is estimated at 24 million tonnes compared to about 22 million tonnes in 1990.

Most of the increase in Asian fishing vessels since 1980 is attributed to the Chinese fleet which increased up to more than 450 000 vessels, now constituting about a third of the global fleet of decked vessels. China's fishing fleet totalling about six million gross tonnes in 1997 is by far the largest in the world, followed by the fleet of the Russian Federation with a tonnage of about 3 million, FAO said.

"Without global action, the combination of over-fishing and excess fishing capacity in conjunction with population increase will place great strains upon the marine fishery resources", Hayashi said.

"When removing surplus vessels from one fishery, care must be taken that those vessels are not transferred to fisheries where they create over-capacity," FAO said. Over the past years vessels that were taken out of the market in industrialised countries were often transferred to developing countries with already overfished resources or diverted to fishing on the high seas.

The draft "International Instrument for the Management of Fishing Capacity" calls for an "efficient, equitable and transparent control of fishing capacity by the year 2005." The voluntary agreement should ensure that states "confronted with an over-capacity problem endeavour to initially limit at present level and progressively reduce the fishing capacity" and that other states "exercise caution in any eventual increase in their capacity."

It also proposes national, regional and global assessments of capacity; preparation and adoption of national and regional plans to effectively control and reduce fishing capacity to be published by the end of the year 2001 and an effectiveness report once every two years.

Although the amount of capacity-creating subsidies is decreasing, their progressive elimination would remove one of the causes of excess fishing capacity, according to the Instrument, which is also proposing that immediate specific steps should be taken to reduce substantially the fishing capacity of vessels involved in temperate tunas and other overfished high seas resources. It also calls for a common approach against the growing number of vessels that are using flags of convenience.

"The international community has to acknowledge that fleet capacity has to be adjusted according to the state of stocks," FAO said.

Decked fishing vessels: Top five countries by tonnage (1995)


Tonnage (millions)

China 5.55
Russian Federation 2.99
Japan 1.51
United States of America       1.40 (FAO estimate)
India 1.08 (FAO estimate)


For further information please contact the FAO Homepage ( or
Erwin Northoff, Media Officer, tel: 0039-06-5705 3105; fax: 0039-06-5705 4975; e-mail: Erwin.Northoff@FAO.Org.


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©FAO, 1998