Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, it is my pleasure to welcome you to this Technical consultation on sea turtles conservation and fisheries.
The meeting is a good illustration of important developments that have taken place during the last decades in the field of fisheries management, specifically with regard to broadening its scope to include ecosystem and conservation concerns. These developments are also reflected in a number of international conventions and instruments.
The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) brought into focus the strong interdependence between the environment and people, and the need to assure sustainability for future generations. The concept of sustainable use of aquatic ecosystems – requiring that fishing is conducted with due regard for the environment – became a key element of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, adopted in 1995. The Code specifically addresses biodiversity issues and conservation of endangered species and, in so doing, calls for minimizing catch of non-target species, both fish and non-fish species. This notion of a broader ecosystem approach to fisheries was reiterated and reinforced in the 2001 Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The expansion in fishing activities in coastal areas and in the high seas during the second half of the 20th century is believed to have contributed to important changes in marine ecosystems, not only as regards target species, but also other ecosystem components that are directly or indirectly affected by fishing activities. Because of these developments, and because of the increased awareness of indirect effects of fishing, FAO has initiated a number of global initiatives aimed at facilitating the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. As an example, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement requires states to minimize catch of non-target species, in particular endangered species, through measures including, to the extent practicable, the development and use of selective, environmentally safe and cost-effective fishing gear and techniques. Other instruments, such as the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, the International Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries, directly address catches of vulnerable species.
Sea turtles are also affected by fisheries. These animals have traditionally been exploited for their meat, eggs, shell and skin, in some cases resulting in local overexploitation and the need to introduce management measures to restrict or prohibit exploitation and trade. However, sea turtles also get caught as bycatch in many fisheries that take place within their distribution range, i.e. in many coastal areas as well as in the high seas, from temperate to tropical regions of the world oceans. They are caught in bottom trawls, get entangled in line gear and gillnets and are hooked in longlines. As all species of sea turtles are considered endangered by The World Conservation Union (IUCN), any international trade in sea turtles or sea turtle products is prohibited given that they are included in CITES Appendix I.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is only recently that the issue of sea turtles conservation and interaction with fishing operations was brought to FAO’s attention. It was raised at the 24th Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries in 2001 and received great attention at its 25th session last year which agreed that “while taking into consideration existing work on sea turtle interactions and conservation, a technical consultation should be held in Bangkok, Thailand in 2004 [.…]". FAO has therefore organized this meeting and – as a preparatory step – has also held an expert consultation on Interactions between sea turtles and fisheries within an ecosystem context. The report of that expert consultation contains most of the technical background for our present meeting. In the working documents, recommendations are presented for your consideration dealing with priority regions and fisheries to be considered in relation to sea turtles, appropriate management measures that may be implemented and legal and socio-economic aspects. In this connection, the outcome of this consultation will, in no doubt, directly contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goal 7—ensuring environmental sustainability, especially Target 9—integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the losses of environmental resources.
I am confident that your professional expertise coupled with diverse backgrounds and a genuine dedication to sustainable fishery management are necessary and sufficient guarantees for high quality consultations and the consequent formulation of comprehensive recommendations which will contribute constructively to progress in addressing the issue of sea turtle conservation and fisheries. These recommendations will be forwarded to the Committee on Fisheries for its consideration at its Twenty-sixth Session in March 2005.
Finally, I should like to thank the governments of Japan and the United States of America for their generous contribution towards the cost of this technical consultation, allowing the FAO secretariat to organize and hold this important meeting as mandated by the 25th session of COFI.
Our gratitude also goes to the government of Thailand for kindly accepting to host this important event.
I wish you all a very successful meeting and pleasant time in the beautiful city of Bangkok.