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Future challenges in fisheries and aquaculture

Recent reviews on the state of world marine resources by FAO showed that, among the major fish stocks, an estimated 44 percent are fully exploited and are therefore producing catches that have reached or are very close to their maximum limit, with no room expected for further expansion. About 16 percent are overfished and another 6 percent appear to be depleted, with a resulting loss in total production, not to mention the social and economic losses derived from the uncontrolled and excessive fishing pressure. The main areas where total catches still follow an increasing trend and where, in principle, some potential for increasing still exists are the Western and Eastern Indian Ocean, the Western Central Pacific and the Northwest Pacific. However, these areas are also the ones with largest incidence of stocks whose state of exploitation is unknown or uncertain and for which production estimates and stock assessments are consequently less reliable (FAO, 1999a).

For inland capture fisheries, the top ten producer countries account for about 62 percent of world landing and six of them are in Asia. China, in particular, produces 23 percent of the world total and nearly three times as much as the second large producer, India. Based on total inland capture for the period 1984-1996, it is clear that increasing use is being made of inland fishery resources. However, most major inland fisheries are fully exploited and there are no large inland fisheries with a confirmed potential for significant expansion (FAO, 1995a). In addition, inland fishery resources are affected by destruction and fragmentation of aquatic habitats, aquatic pollution, impoundment and channelization of water bodies, soil erosion and manipulation of hydrological characteristics of rivers, lakes and flood plains. Any increase of the yield from capture fisheries in the future could be derived only from fishery enhancement activities, i.e., the effects of direct human intervention in the production processes of aquatic environments.

The approaching limit of maximum fishery production has been issues of concerns by global community for decades. As early as 1945, the UN Technical Committee for Fisheries had pleaded that benefits of stock recovery in European waters during the Second World War should not be lost once normal fishing activity resumed and stressed the essential need for fisheries conservation. Attempts have been made to estimate the limit, e.g., by Gulland (1971), Garcia and Newton (1994) and Grainger and Garcia (1996), but fisheries continued to develop rapidly with the result that there are now few underexploited resources and increasing number of overexploited ones. Grainger and Garcia (ibid.) employed trend analysis and predicted that world fishery resources might be fully fished in 1999. Similarly, those in the Western Central Pacific and Eastern Indian Ocean could be fully fished by 2003 and 2037 respectively (Table 7).

To reverse these alarming trends, a number of internationally initiated instruments and arrangements has been in effect to properly manage fisheries and aquatic environment in the last decade. These include the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Agenda 21 of UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, the 1995 UN Agreement on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the recent International Plans of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity, Shark Fisheries and Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries.

The Ministerial Meeting on Fisheries, held in Rome in March 1999, expressed concerns that many of the world’s major marine fishery resources were subject to overfishing, destructive and wasteful fishing practices and excess capacity, resulting in reduced yields and economic returns. It was similarly concerned at the growing amount of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activities being carried out. The Ministers agreed to work together, through FAO and in collaboration with all other organizations concerning fisheries, to seek the optimum and sustainable use of the world’s fishery resources, to reduce wastage and destructive fishing practices by promoting responsible fisheries practices, effective and integrated fisheries monitoring, an ecosystem approach to fisheries management and encouraging the further growth in sustainable aquaculture, thus securing the contribution of fisheries to national economic and social goals and to the attainment of world food security.

Given effect to the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and other international fishery instruments will be the major challenge facing countries in the region in their efforts to secure long-term sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. The political will to take steps to accept and to implement these instruments, to adopt well conceived national policies, and to take action required to operationalize those policies, are fundamental to facilitating the required structural change in the fisheries sector in Asia and the Pacific in the next millennium.

Achieving structural change will not be an easy task but necessary in the face of increasing pressure on fisheries and aquaculture. These pressures come both from within the sector (primarily due to increasing participation rates and consequent higher resource depletion rates) and from outside (competition for space in the coastal zone and impacts such as those generated by environmental degradation and climatic variability). Moreover, rising real prices for fish have the effect of encouraging new investment in the sector, thereby creating additional pressures on stocks and their management. Small-island developing States (SIDS), and the poorest among the developing countries, are likely to be most disadvantaged groups in terms of obtaining and maintaining access to fish as a consequence of these price-led pressures. This complex array of internal and external pressures impacting the fisheries sector call for responsible, timely, coordinated, and comprehensive responses by national fishery administrations and regional fishery bodies if fishery governance is to be strengthened. This is especially the case where, for national policy or other reasons, the relative importance of the fisheries, vis-a-vis other sectors of the economy, is assigned a lower priority.

In assessing future challenges for the fisheries sector, FAO (1999c) has identified a number of key issues that span the entire sector, and which are of primary policy importance. These challenges include:

While some increment in marine capture fishery production may be anticipated in the longer run as the benefit of improved management is secured and production from under- and non-utilized resources is increased, the primary goals for marine fisheries in the medium term is to ensure that production, and the aggregate contribution marine fisheries make to global food security, is at least maintained.

In the medium to long term, the major challenge facing marine fisheries is improved and responsible management of stocks. Such management requires the regulation of production (ideally, taking account of both inputs and outputs in a fishery) in a precautionary manner so that excessive effort, leading to overfishing, is not applied to target stocks. In addition, ecosystem management, that takes account of fishing impacts on non-target stocks, is becoming more common, and will add a further complicating dimension to the management process.

Within the context of marine fisheries management, challenges that have been highlighted by the international/national community include:

In artisanal and small-scale fisheries in developing countries, the promotion of traditional or community-based management practice is now being fostered as the most appropriate means of management. This approach builds on customary and traditional practice using the concept of territorial use rights in fisheries (TURFs). In fisheries where there are thousands of fishers, hundreds of fishing communities and a plethora of landing points, contemporary management through the use of local institutions and traditional practice is the most viable option for achieving sustainability in artisanal and small-scale fisheries.

In commercial and industrial fisheries, advances in fisheries management through individual transferable quotas (ITQs), which provide greater incentives for sustaining and optimising economic performance of fisheries, have re-focused attention on quota management. ITQ management draws on biological, economic and financial considerations as part of an integrated management system approach. Several factors can be identified as being critical to the successful implementation of ITQ management systems: transparent management policies and the political will to take difficult decisions concerning management; legislation that is easily enforceable; efficient administration (particularly with respect to capacity for stock assessment, statistical collection and real-time analysis, and monitoring, surveillance and enforcement); and limited numbers of fishers and landing points. However, the introduction of ITQ management, which has been practiced to some extent in Australia and New Zealand, should be considered on a fishery-by-fishery basis since it does not provide a universal panacea for the management of all fisheries.

A major challenge for aquaculture and inland fisheries will be to maintain and, where sustainable, enhance the contributions made to regional fish supplies. In Asia-Pacific region, yields from inland fisheries in 1996 reached a record of 4.4 million tonnes, or 58 percent of world inland capture fishery landings. Aquaculture contributed 91 percent of total world aquaculture production. Moreover, aquaculture makes a major contribution to global food security and more opportunities still exist to further expand its role. For example, small reservoir fisheries has potential to develop as community-based management initiatives gain greater favour.

The greatest threat to the sustainability of inland fishery resources is environmental degradation. Aquatic pollution, destruction of fish habitats, water abstraction and impacts on aquatic biodiversity are all increasing. These trends must be reversed. Other major issues to be addressed in inland fisheries include:

The potential for further growth of aquaculture in the region is promising. Such growth could be realized through improvements in technologies and resource use, intensification, integration of aquaculture with other farming activities, and development of additional areas for aquaculture. However, aquaculture will face significant challenges including:

In many developing countries in the region, there is significant scope for enhancing contributions of inland fisheries and aquaculture to food supplies and poverty alleviation. However, most fishers and fishfarmers continue to be unable to access to adequate technical information required to improve their practices to increase production. Increased fish production can be achieved through expansion, intensification, diversification, and better integration of fish production into existing land and water use schemes, but fish producers, as most rural people, often do not have access to credit. Capacity building through provision of training, extension, and advanced education to fish producers continues to be crucial for successful development.

Both aquaculture and inland fisheries suffer from insufficient institutional support and legal and political recognition as legitimate users of resources. Many policy makers are not aware of the benefits and needs of these sectors. A major future task is therefore to increase participation of producers and relevant public authorities in the allocation and management of aquatic resources and land uses. Management of river or lake basins, and of coastal areas must take account of fisheries and aquaculture.

Last but not least is the important trends that pose challenges to the post-harvest sector which include the following:

In order to face these challenges, the fisheries sector must develop the capacity to build and run effective quality assurance systems to comply with increasing stringent international standards of international markets as well as extending these to the domestic markets. Similarly, it should promote efforts to improve selective fishing gears to minimize by-catches of juveniles and non-target species and to develop technologies to make economical utilization of unavoidable by-catches.

The implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries could facilitate sustainable utilization of fishery resources and hence to overcome constraints in facing the above-mentioned challenges. In the long term, however, there is the need to develop national and regional fishery governance to ensure rational and effective fisheries management in the region.

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