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Day 3 of COFI Fish Trade, focus on small-scale fisheries and decent work

Members of the African delegation in plenary
Fish trade is an important driver of economic growth, especially for many developing countries

The third day of FAO’s COFI Sub-committee on Fish Trade concentrated primarily on social issues related to fisheries and aquaculture issues. This was following two intensive days of discussions of papers on Sub-committee agenda items, led by country delegations and observers. To read the wrap-ups of those sessions, you can see our earlier posts on day 1 and day 2.

This past October, FAO celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

As the celebratory events in Vigo, Spain made clear, environmental and conservation considerations of fisheries management have improved tremendously over the past two decades.

Although much work still needs to be done, there are now solid instruments, tools and knowledge in place to continue working towards sustainable growth of our fisheries and aquaculture sector, with consumers and the general public increasingly aware of the need to make choices that will protect our environmental resources.

However, as we witness the growing demand for fish and fishery products and see opportunities for the millions of people working in the fisheries sector, particularly in developing countries that currently account for 61% of the global total exports of fisheries products when measured by volume, we should be carefully examining the social and economic aspects of the sector and how they impact rural communities dependent on work in the sector.

How can we best ensure that the men and women working throughout the entire fisheries value chain have access to decent livelihoods? How can we ensure they have adequate access rights to natural resources?

What opportunities can we create for rural youth in their villages and coastal communities so that they find decent local employment without being forced to migrate to urban areas or abroad to seek work?

How can we assure the final consumers of fish and fishery products that the fish on their plates have not only been fished or farmed through sustainable methods, but that the workers who fished and processed that fish enjoy decent working conditions and sustainable livelihoods?

Observers play an important role in the COFI sub-committee on fish trade. Shown here, Alistair MacFarlane of the International Coalition of Fisheries Association (ICFA), who also serves on the board of the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI)
FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department’s Lahsen Ababouch with African delegates. FAO is pleased to have the largest-ever African delegation at a COFI Fish Trade meeting

These were the important topics of discussion at the COFI Sub-committee’s Wednesday session.

The morning opened with an update on the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries.

FAO’s Nicole Franz introduced the agenda item, speaking about work undertaken since the Voluntary Guidelines were adopted at the last COFI meeting in 2014.

Lahsen Ababouch, Director of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, stressed that the importance of the Voluntary Guidelines is to transform small-scale fishers from users to stewards of natural resources.

He reminded delegates of Norway’s observation that that one size does not fit all when it comes to Voluntary Guidelines implementation, and that many factors must be taken into consideration, including economic, social, environmental and also cultural considerations.  “Passing the Voluntary Guidelines was an important milestone, but now we’ve raised expectations, especially for developing countries. We need to step up implementation.”

With this in mind, FAO also invited countries to actively participating in Norway’s umbrella program for implementing the Voluntary Guidelines.

Country discussion was supportive of speeding up the implementation process, and also called for member countries to share experiences and practices of successful implementation efforts.

Delegates also urged participants to consider the needs of small-scale fisheries for inland fishing communities, an area often overlooked but often comprised of extremely vulnerable populations. The afternoon’s sessions wrapped up with a side event entitled ‘Decent work in fisheries: What are the implications for seafood value chains’.

Audun Lem, Deputy-Director of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department noted that “Decent work in the fisheries sector is now high on the international agenda.  It affects the image and perceptions of the seafood sector, and is a topic we are increasingly examining in this sub-committee and in other FAO activities.” He suggested that members may want to consider including decent work as a regular agenda item for future sessions.

FAO’s Uwe Barg noted that all of FAO’s work in the sector is in keeping with the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Decent Work Agenda in the Seafood sector, and that FAO works in close collaboration with ILO and with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for all safety at sea issues.

The European Union is an important FAO Member Organization, and collaborates closely with FAO on much of its work

Panelists spoke about efforts to improve conditions of work for the seafood sector, noting that the sector suffers from a lack of clear, international standards

They welcomed more involvement by FAO and ILO to create a system of incentives for member countries to enact good practices within their own national fisheries sectors.

Day 3 sessions ended on a celebratory note, recognizing the outstanding commitment of Lahsen Ababouch, Director of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, who is retiring this year.

Mr. Ababouch fondly recalled his long involvement with COFI’s Sub-committee on Fish Trade, calling the committee “FAO at its very best. I have constantly been impressed by the dynamic nature of these sessions and how concentrated the membership is on finding clear solutions to complex problems.” Delegates were enthusiastic in their praise for his tenure of COFI work, appreciating his enthusiasm, his great knowledge of the sector, his friendship, and his ability to always lead the committee to positive solutions to the challenges at hand.

It was an excellent way to wrap up Day 3 of our Agadir meetings, and we’ll be back in sessions tomorrow morning.

The panel from Wednesday’s side event on decent work in the fisheries sector
Chair of the Fifteenth session of the COFI Sub-committee on Fish Trade, Youssef Ouati, of the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture and Maritime Fisheries, alongside FAO Fisheries’ Stefania Vannuccini
The Indonesian delegation to the COFI Sub-committee on Fish Trade
Coffee breaks under the warm Agadir sun offered a pleasant atmosphere in which to continue plenary discussions
Norwegian-American bilateral discussions over coffee
Our host city, Agadir, Morocco

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