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Press Release 01/02


Rome, 25 January 2001 . - With more than 70 fatalities per day, fishing at sea may be the most dangerous occupation in the world, according to a new report released today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The annual death toll among fishermen, estimated at 24,000 worldwide by the International Labour Organization, may be considerably lower than the true figure because only a limited number of countries keep accurate records on occupational fatalities in their fishing industries, says the report.

More than 97 percent of the 15 million fishers employed in marine capture fisheries worldwide are working on vessels that are less than 24 meters in length, largely beyond the scope of international conventions and guidelines, according to The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2000, which will be presented to FAO's Committee on Fisheries meeting in Rome, 26 February-2 March 2001.

Where inshore resources have been overexploited, fishers have to work farther away from shore, sometimes for extended periods, and frequently in fishing craft designed for inshore fishing or not complying with security regulations, FAO says.

Among the main reasons for the occurence of fatal accidents, the report mentions that an international legal instrument on safety at sea has yet to be ratified. It also cites lack of national regulations or, where they exist, their enforcement, lack of experience of offshore fishing operations and lack of knowledge about essential issues such as navigation, weather forecasting, communications and the vital culture of safety at sea.

"Many of these causes can be rectified and FAO is involved in a number of such activities in the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific," FAO expert Jeremy Turner said.

In developing countries, poorly designed and built fishing craft, lack of safety equipment and inappropriate, outdated and inadequately enforced regulations are the main causes of fatalities. In one night, in November 1996, during a severe cyclone, more than 1,400 fishers perished in the State of Andhra Pradesh, India due to poorly designed trawlers and lack of awareness of the intensity of the danger.

In developed countries, rapid progress in vessel and fishing technologies and the application of more stringent regulations have not always led to a significant decrease in fatalities. "It seems that, as vessels are made safer, operators take greater risks in their ever-increasing search for good catches," the report points out.

For example, in the United States the fatality rate among fishers is 25 to 30 times the national average in other occupations. In Italy, it is more than 21 times the national average, and in Australia it is 143 per 100,000, compared with the national average of 8.1 per 100,000.

In 1981, Norway was one of the first countries to offer safety courses for fishers. They became obligatory in 1989. The other Nordic countries followed, and all of them established safety education when Finland introduced safety courses for fishers in 1999.

The FAO report also tackles the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing that the FAO ministerial meeting on fisheries in March 1999 had pointed out as a major fisheries management issue. It calls for "concerted international cooperation towards greatly reducing or eliminating IUU catches which account, in some important fisheries, for up to 30 percent of the total catches."

Consequences include failure to achieve fisheries management goals and the loss of social and economic opportunities. "In extreme cases, IUU fishing can lead to the collapse of a fishery or seriously affect efforts to rebuild fish stocks that have been depleted," FAO emphasizes.

Reviewing trends in production, utilization and trade, the report underlines that fisheries and aquaculture remain very important as a source of food, employment and revenue in many countries and communities.

"Reported global capture fisheries and aquaculture production contracted from 122 million tonnes in 1997 to 117 million tonnes in 1998. This was mainly owing to the effects of El Niño on some major marine capture fisheries. However, production recovered in 1999, for which the preliminary estimate is 125 million tonnes," the report says.

"During the past decades, per capita fish consumption has expanded globally along with economic growth and well-being. However, growth will not go on forever. There is a limit to how much food - including fish - each individual will consume, and long-term ceilings for consumption will develop. While in OECD countries, the image of fish is changing from the basic food it once was to a culinary speciality, in the developing countries, fish is still very much an essential food contributing an important part of the animal protein in many people's diet," the report also says.


For further information, please contact FAO media relations branch, tel. 0039.06.57053625, or FAO experts Jeremy Turner (tel. 0039.06.57056446) and Ulf Wijkström (tel.: 0039.06.57053156).

The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2000 is available on FAO's website:

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