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Fisheries play an important role as a major source of food for millions of people in Asia and the Pacific since time immemorial. Inland capture fisheries and freshwater aquaculture provide food security to people in rural areas while those along the coasts harvest marine fish, shellfish and seaweeds to supply nearby markets. The early records of fisheries, for example, those of Siam in 1925, stated with confidence that the aquatic resources were abundant and varied, and were adapted to all the requirements of the people so it should not be necessary to depend on any other countries for supplies of aquatic food. The richness of the resources emphasizes the activity of the force of nature in replenishing the supply and lends support to the belief that in restoring depleted waters and in safeguarding the future, it may be sufficient to invoke the minimum degree of restriction (Smith, 1925).

The pastoral scene has gone after the Second World War. Advanced technologies and improved infrastructure have driven cities further inland and fishing fleets expanded into the deeper seas. Newly open world markets absorbed more fishery products which in turn forced developing countries to search for more raw materials to satisfy the ever-increasing demand of both domestic and foreign markets. The production from Asia and the Pacific rose sharply from about 6.5 million tonnes in 1950 to more than 20 million tonnes in 1970 and 41 million tonnes in 1996. The export earnings were even more spectacular, totaling US$ 18,535 million in 1996.

This success was achieved at alarming costs. Many mangrove and coastal areas were destroyed in the search for shrimps. Most coastal resources in Asia and the Pacific were overfished. Urban and industrial development, both inland and onshore, contributed to the serious aquatic pollution that prohibited the replenishing of the supplies. Social conflicts were witnessed in many countries due to high competition for diminishing resources and by the open access regime in fisheries.

It is ironic that current difficulties of the fishery sector in Asia has been predicted more than 30 years ago. At the International Seminar on Possibilities and Problems of Fisheries Development in Southeast Asia (Berlin, 10-30 September 1968), FAO stated that:

“... it seems likely that in the early 1980’s the fishing-induced effect on the stocks in the adjacent marine areas will become much more apparent and that although the total catch will still be increasing the catch per unit of effort will be decreasing. It seems likely that although the stocks will not be exploited to their physical maximum, successive increments in the catch will by this time become so costly to take that fishing for many countries will become uneconomic. For just how many countries, and at what point the operations will become uneconomic will depend on the internal cost structures of the countries concerned but in this type of situation greater attention will have to be paid to alternative sources of fish, such as distant water operations or production from inland waters and in particular intensified fish culture. The former solution may, however, encounter difficulties of the type already described since at present the yield per unit of effort from some of the preferred high-seas species is already falling sharply. It seems therefore that in the long run increasing attention will be paid to expanding production from inland waters...”1

The declaration of the Exclusive Economic Zones by the coastal States and increasing costs in distant-water fisheries resulted in the steady decline of high sea production as predicted. The Japanese catch, for example, which amounted to about 2 mt in the early 1970s, declined to 668,000 tonnes in 1996, the lowest since 1963. Together with the reduction in fishing capacity, Japan has to depend more on the imports of fish and fishery products, valued at US$ 17,023 million in 1996. As the result, Asia and the Pacific have a deficit in fish trade in 1996 of about US$ 5 billion while producing 57 percent of world fishery and aquaculture production in the same year.

The high production in Asia contributes to the rapid development and expansion of fishing and aquaculture activities by China. In 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded, the fisheries was in poor conditions, producing only 450 thousand tonnes and the per capita consumption was less than one kg/year. By 1979, the production increased to 4.3 million tonnes. However, when the open market policy was implemented, the central government demanded local governments to put fisheries on the top agenda in their agricultural programmes. The development of fisheries accelerated with annual growth rate of 13.6 percent. The total fishery and aquaculture production (excluding seaweeds) increased from 1979 by seven folds to 32 million tonnes in 1996. It is forecasted by Chinese officials that China will end the century with 41 million tonnes production2.

It should be noted that, at present, China has the highest fishing capacity in the world, with a total capacity of 5.55 million gross tonnes and more than 450,000 vessels. The combination of overfishing and excess fishing capacity in conjunction with population increase are issues of concern by global communities as these will place great strain upon the marine fishery resources. The International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity was recently endorsed by the FAO Committee of Fisheries to prevent or eliminate excess fishing capacity. The collapse of the former USSR and the DPRK’s fishing fleets, together with the voluntary reduction of the Japanese and Korean fleets, would undoubtedly reduce the fishing pressure in the high seas. Hopefully, the Chinese and Taiwanese fleets will follow in due course.

Major target species in high sea fisheries in Indian Ocean and the Pacific are tunas. The Indian Ocean industrial tuna fisheries started in the early 1950s by Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean longline vessels. Then, large-scale purse seining began with French and Spanish fleets moving from the tropical Atlantic into the Western Indian Ocean in 1983. By 1995, the purse seine catch reached the peak of 307,135 tonnes and had fallen to 240,267 tonnes in 1997. The most important species in the purse seine catch were skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis) which constituted about 70 percent in 1997 and 30 percent by yellowfin (Thunnus albacares). The remaining 10 percent were bigeye (Thunnus obesus) and albacore (Thunnus alalunga)3. On the Eastern side, a number of international tuna fleets from Europe and East Asia also operated. The landings of these fleets at Phuket, Thailand, indicated the peak in 1994, of about 24,486 tonnes4. In reviewing the status of tuna stocks in the Indian Ocean by IOTC in November 1998, the Expert Consultation felt that none of the stocks is in critical state, except Southern bluefin tuna.

In the Western Central Pacific, the tuna catch was about 1.3 million tonnes, or 40 percent of the world tuna production. Joseph (1998) expected an increase as much as 400 thousand tonnes of skipjack and some more for yellowfin. However, there are alarming signs for bigeye tuna stocks. The rapid exploitation of tunas in the Western Central Pacific which increased from 397,743 tonnes in 1980 to more than 1.5 million tonnes in recent years created concerns and led to the need for regional fisheries management mechanism. The Second Multilateral High-level Conference on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific (MHLC2) was held in Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands, in June 1997. The Majuro Declaration of this Meeting identified major issues to be resolved in order to achieve the goal of establishing a management mechanism in three years (Morishita, 1998).

It is not likely that countries in South and Southeast Asia, as well as SIDS in the South Pacific, would expand their fishing operations into high seas beyond their national jurisdictions. Although the Thai fishing fleets have been operating in the South and Southeast Asian waters as well as in the Arabian Sea, their speciality is trawl fishery thus limiting their fishing operations only in the shelf areas. The Philippine fishing fleets also operate tuna fisheries in Western Central Pacific while the Indonesian fleets operate in the Eastern Indian Ocean. The major fishing areas for these countries in the near future, however, would be mostly in the waters under their national jurisdictions due to high costs of operations.

As most coastal resources are fully fished and many have already been fished, an increase in marine capture fishery production from the region is not likely to occur in the next millennium. The most urgent task for all States is to reform the out-moded legal and administrative systems to conform with the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries as well as other international instruments and arrangements. The authorization to fish should be clearly defined and implemented to ensure sustainable utilization of aquatic resources in both inland and marine areas. To avoid serious socio-economic impacts on fishing communities, parallel action programmes should be promoted, inter alia, community-based fishery resource conservation and management, promotion of integrated coastal area management, culture-based inland fisheries, rural aquaculture, etc. Such programmes should be formulated based on participatory and precautionary approach with the involvement of all stakeholders to ensure effective implementation and compliance.

It is difficult to forecast specific scenario for the next millennium, say in the year 2025, without any indication on action to be undertaken by the States concerned in the context of the Code of Conduct and its related technical guidelines. Although most Governments agreed to the concept of responsible fisheries and sustainable aquaculture, it will require definite national policies and programmes to implement action needed. The action required could also be promoted by the existing regional fishery bodies in the regions concerned. However, as mentioned earlier, the complex role of these bodies as stipulated by many international instruments or arrangements is far beyond their current mandates as well as support currently provided by their Member States.

To attain the noble goal in achieving sustainable management of both capture fisheries and aquaculture which are of great importance for world food security and for the attainment of national economic and social goals for the well-being and livelihoods of individuals and families involved in fisheries as adopted by the Rome Declaration of 1999, States concerned should review and revise, where and when appropriate, the existing legal and institutional instruments and arrangements for national fishery governance to ensure their effectiveness in the implementation of the Code of Conduct and other instruments as required. For example, it has been pointed out that the common property nature of the fishery resources as presently recognized by most of the governments in the region has created difficulties in fisheries management both at the country and regional levels. Thus, the governments should have a strong political will to strengthen their fisheries management systems and to consider ways and means of tackling fisheries management issues which require concerted regional or sub-regional action such as the joint management of shared, transboundary and straddling fish stocks (Menasveta and Phasuk, 1996).

In order to facilitate the setting up of effective fisheries management systems for capture fisheries and to achieve sustainable development of aquaculture, there is the need to develop, at both the national and regional levels, reliable fishery information and statistical databases and to further develop methodologies and national capacities to provide better scientific evidence on the status of fish stocks and fisheries for the rational management of these stocks. The existing national fisheries management institutions should be strengthened in order to carry out these important tasks more effectively. Efforts should also be made to harmonize rules, regulations and procedures in environmental protection, capture fisheries enforcement, aquaculture practice as well as in quality assurance of fish and fishery products for domestic consumption and export.

A preliminary study on the demand and supply of fish in the Asia-Pacific region indicated a shortage of about 24 million tonnes by 2010. To ensure sufficient fish supply for the increasing population in the region, the development of rural aquaculture in the context of overall rural agricultural development should be encouraged by all States. Public and private sectors will have significant roles in promoting aquaculture to maintain or even increase household consumption of fish proteins in rural areas as experienced by China.

At the sub-regional and regional levels, national efforts could be strengthened through the sub-regional/regional fishery bodies. The framework for regional cooperation is already in existence in the region, both within and outside the framework of the United Nations system. In order to restore the state of the fish stocks in the waters under their jurisdiction and to manage common fishery resources that are transboundary and shared by neighbouring countries, technical assistance and coordination by the sub-regional and regional fishery bodies could strengthen national efforts as well as avoiding duplication and dissipation of limited development assistance funds.

The process of achieving the sustainable development of fisheries and aquaculture in the Asia-Pacific region will be long and arduous, but not at all impossible. With strong political will to resolve the current problems and concerted action by the governments of the region, such a long-term goal could be achieved even by the first decade of the next millennium.

1 Fishery Economics and Development Branch, FAO Department of Fisheries. (FAO, 1968, p. 153-154).

2 Statement by Mr. Bia Zhijian, Vice Minister of Agriculture, quoted by the Fishing News International (December 1997).

3 As reported by Bob Hastings in Fishing News International, December 1998.

4 P. Chantawong, per. com

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