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Press Release 01/58

The Reykjavik Conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem (1-4 October 2001)

Reykjavik/Rome, 1 October 2001 - Countries could get more fish from the oceans if they allow overfished stocks to recuperate, reduce wastage and manage fisheries resources better, said FAO Director-General, Dr. Jacques Diouf, in Reykjavik (Iceland) today.

Dr. Diouf opened the "Reykjavik Conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem", jointly organized by the Government of Iceland and FAO and co-sponsored by the Government of Norway. Over 400 delegates from 70 countries are participating in the meeting.

"The Great Oceans are exhaustible. Despite the fact that the majority of all resources are now fully exploited, access to these resources remains open in far too many fisheries around the world. Consequently today there are too many vessels chasing too few fish,"Dr. Diouf said.

"This has been caused by significant over-investment in fishing which has led to overfishing. Coupled with ever improving technology, that is becoming available to ever smaller fishing operators, man is really not giving the fish in the sea much chance of escaping the fishing gear and allowing time to grow and reproduce."

"The task at hand is to examine how to manage the fisheries with a view to ensuring sustainable utilization of the food available in the oceans for the benefit of present and future generations without harming the ecosystem's capacity to support human life," he said.

The objectives of the Reykjavik Conference are: to gather and review the best available knowledge on marine ecosystem issues; to identify means by which ecosystem considerations can be included in capture fisheries management, and to identify future challenges and relevant strategies.

A final declaration is expected to be submitted to the FAO Conference in November this year and to the 10th Session of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED+10) in September 2002. Participants include policy-makers and administrators in fisheries and ocean management within national and international institutions, scientists, and representatives of the industry, NGOs and other interested parties.

According to FAO, about 50 percent of the world marine fishery resources are fully exploited, 25 percent are overexploited and about 25 percent could support higher exploitation rates. Despite warning, the trend towards more overfishing observed since the early 1970s has not yet reversed.

Global fish production has increased from 19 million tonnes in 1950 to about 130 million tonnes in 2000; this includes 36 million tonnes produced by aquaculture. Most of the capture fisheries (estimated at 85 million tonnes) come from the oceans. Bycatch and discards are estimated at about 20 million tonnes per year.

The main challenges facing fisheries today include: overfishing; overcapacity; environmental impact of fishing; illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; poor selectivity and discarding and the environmental state of the coastal zone; fish trade and ecolabelling.

"Despite some apparent success stories, fisheries governance failed to maintain stocks at their level of maximum productivity," said Serge Garcia, Director of FAO's Fishery Resources Division, in a paper presented to the meeting. "It is generally agreed that the fundamental reason for the failure is in the free and open access to the resources and the lack of specific fishing rights."

Total fish catches from the Northwest and the Southeast Atlantic are levelling off after reaching their maximum levels a decade or two ago," Garcia said. "In the Eastern Central Atlantic and the Northwest Pacific, total catches are increasing again, after a short decline following their maximum production levels of a decade ago. Most of these changes result from increases in landings of small pelagic species."

In the Northeast Atlantic, the Western Central Atlantic, the Northeast Pacific, the Mediterranean and Black Sea, the Eastern Central Pacific and the Southwest Pacific, annual catches have stabilised or are declining slightly, having reached their maximum potentials a few years ago. In the Southwest Atlantic and the Southeast Pacific, total annual catches have declined sharply only a few years after reaching their all-time highs. These areas have been seriously affected by the decline, and in some cases the serious depletion, of important stocks (shortfin squid, hake, anchoveta and horse mackerel).

During the last few years, the number of fishing vessels tended to decrease in developed countries and to increase in some developing countries. After years of fast growth in the 1960s and 1970s the total fleet has tended to stabilise. Technological developments, however, have increased the fishing capacity of individual vessels. The pressure from over-dimensioned industrial fleets on stocks and small-scale fisheries has grown significantly, according to FAO.

Despite limited progress in some areas, on a global scale, marine degradation has continued and even intensified in most places, FAO said. Aside from overfishing, the main problems are: alteration and destruction of wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs through landfill, sedimentation, pollution from sewage, river runoff and atmospheric contamination.

As alterations increase, the most resilient species are selected. As these are rarely the most appreciated on the market, this leads to loss of market value. There is a danger that seafood safety is reduced through contamination by toxic algal blooms, human pathogens (cholera and typhoid), sewage, harmful chemicals (pesticides, antibiotics, fungicides, dioxins).

"A focus on the entire ecosystem and not only on individual stocks is urgently needed to protect and utilize marine resources," Garcia said. "Governments should take the problems of fisheries more seriously and industry should be more involved in the sustainable management of the sector. In addition, the instruments already at hand need to be applied to better protect fish stocks at risk."


For more information on speeches, conference documents etc. contact the following website:

or contact: Erwin Northoff, FAO Media Relations Officer, Tel: 0039-06-5705 2232/3105, Mobile: (+39) 348 2523 616; E-mail:

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