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Recommendations for the Future of APFIC

Continuation of APFIC
Area of competence

28. Despite the achievements of APFIC as summarized in Annex 4, the Commission has been constrained by a number of factors, the most important being the lack of adequate financial support for its work8. Taking this into account, the study considered the following questions:

(1) should the Commission continue into the next millennium?
(2) if so, what adjustments should be made to the Commission’s functions and activities to enable it to continue with efficiency?

Continuation of APFIC

29. It should be recalled that the Commission, in response to the recommendation of the Eighteenth Session of the Committee on Fisheries in 1989, undertook an in-depth review of its structure and functions with a view to revitalizing its activities in the technical and policy fields. This led to the revision of the Agreement of APFIC in 1993, and further amendments in 1996, paving the way for the Commission to play a more action-oriented role in fisheries management and sustainable development. These amendments have now equipped the Commission to cope with new challenges confronting the sustainable development of the fisheries sector in the next millennium.

30. FAO has tried to provide technical and administrative support to the regional bodies under its aegis. However, the continued financial constraints of its Regular Programme budget have prevented the Organization from increasing its support to these bodies. There had been no specific FAO policy for resolving this problem until the Twenty-ninth FAO Conference in 1997 adopted Resolution 13/97. This Resolution inter alia invited “the Contracting Parties to Conventions and Agreements establishing regional bodies under Article XIV of the Constitution to seek where appropriate, increasingly to provide such Bodies with their own financial resources, whether through cooperative programmes or other voluntary contributions, or through the establishment of autonomous budgets financed from mandatory contributions”. In this connection, it should be recalled that FAO advised the Commission on several occasions that it would endeavor to provide support to ensure the continuation of APFIC. It reminded the Commission that the latter belonged to the Members and that the FAO role was one of a facilitator and coordinator. If the Commission’s work proved to be useful to the Members, FAO felt they should have the political will and commitment to increase their support for the expanded role of the Commission.

31. As an Article XIV body, APFIC could enjoy a considerable degree of independence: (a) an autonomous budget; (b) establishment of trust funds for its programmes of work; and (c) additional management powers and flexibility. Being aware of these advantages, the Commission (at its Eighteenth Session in 1978) proposed for the first time the establishment of both mandatory and voluntary funds to support its expanded activities. However, the response to this proposal from the member countries has been poor. A number of delegations consider that they have already contributed their share in the form of membership dues to FAO.

32. The Twenty-fifth Session of APFIC in 1996 discussed the feasibility of the Members providing funding support for the Commission’s enhanced mandate and responsibilities. However, the member countries were not ready to discuss this issue in detail. The Twenty-sixth Session of the Commission in 1998 brought up this financial contribution issue again but to no avail: nevertheless, a number of member countries stated that they would finance the participation of their delegations to the meetings of the Commission and would be prepared to consider financing some cooperative projects. The Commission, at this session, decided to set up an Ad hoc Legal and Financial Working Group to discuss ways and means of enhancing the responsibilities of the Members to enable the Commission to work more effectively under its expanded mandate. At its meeting in July 1999, the Ad hoc Legal and Financial Working Group was unfortunately not able to reach a conclusion on the financing issue.

33. The foregoing shows that there is a dilemma. The member countries still cherish the beneficial role of the Commission and want it to continue to assist them as emphasized in recent sessions of the Commission but are not willing to discuss their contributions. Some critics feel strongly that, in the light of FAO Conference Resolution 97/13, APFIC should be terminated if its Members are not prepared to share increased responsibilities in the Commission’s work. The complacent attitude and lack of financial support are interpreted by some Members as meaning that the Commission has outlived its usefulness.

34. Consideration should, however, be given to the economic difficulties being experienced by many developing Members of the Commission, particularly those in Southeast Asia. In several of these countries, there are strict regulations prohibiting any new financial commitments. Hence, the reluctance of many delegations to discuss the contribution issue should be understood in this light. It is hoped that in the foreseeable future the financial situation of many of these countries will improve and that they will be in a position to reconsider their responsibilities in the work of APFIC. It is therefore recommended that APFIC continue its activities until at least the year 2010. Within this time-frame, there should be an agreement amongst the APFIC Members on how to finance the activities of the Commission during 2000- 2010, assuming that the core support will continue to be provided by FAO, especially for the Secretariat. If after the year 2005 the Commission still experiences the same problems due to the lack of commitment on the part of its members, it should seriously consider dissolving itself by 2010.


35. Assuming that APFIC will continue until at least 2010, what should its future role and responsibilities be? The vision of APFIC, guided by the decision and recommendations of the World Food Summit, the FAO governing bodies and the collective wisdom of the member countries of the Commission, is very clear, i.e., to ensure the sustainable contributions of fisheries to food security and the economies of the member countries. To fulfill this vision, the mission of APFIC is to accelerate the self-reliance of its Members in the conservation and sustainable use of the fishery resources in the region, through its agreed programmes of action. These are already reflected in the amended Agreement establishing APFIC. Hence, this study is in agreement with Recommendation 1 of the Ad hoc Legal and Financial Working Group that the functions of the Commission should remain as stipulated in the Agreement.

Area of competence

36. Although the area of competence of APFIC could remain the same as recommended by the Ad hoc Working Group, it is recommended that APFIC’s primary focus be on three subregions of the Asia-Pacific, namely, (1) the Yellow Sea and its adjacent waters (the western part of FAO Statistical Area 61); (2) the South China Sea and its adjacent waters (the western part of FAO Statistical Area 71); and (3) the Bay of Bengal (the northern part of Area 57). The reasons for this are: (1) China, Japan and Korea (Rep. of) which are active members of the Commission have interest in the development and management of fisheries in the Yellow Sea and adjacent waters; (2) the Twenty-fourth Session of APFIC in 1994 agreed that the Commission should concentrate its activities in the South China Sea and adjacent waters; and (3) Resolution 1/116 of the FAO Council approved the merging of the functions of the IOFC Committee for the Development and Management of Fisheries in the Bay of Bengal into APFIC.

A brief description of the above areas is given below.

37. The Yellow Sea is a semienclosed sea with an area of approximately 417,000 km2 and an average depth of approximately 40 metres. It is bordered by the Korean peninsula to the east, mainland China to the north and west, and the East China Sea to the south. The Sea’s major inlets are Korea Bay in the north and the Po Hai Sea in the northwest. Several major rivers drain into the Yellow Sea, including the Yellow River, Yangtze, Huai, Liao and Yalu. The Yellow Sea is a unique marine ecosystem based on its bathymetry and marine organisms. Due to the intense vertical mixing of its shallow waters and major riverine nutrient inputs, the Yellow Sea is highly productive. In recent years, this large marine ecosystem has been impacted by a number of stressors, including pollutants such as heavy metals, petrogenic and chlorinated hydrocarbons as well as by pressure from expanding human populations in the bordering countries, especially through land reclamation. These are detrimental to the fishery resources in this ecosystem9.

38. The fishing fleets of China, Japan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan (Province of China) exploit both demersal and pelagic fishery resources in the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, employing trawl nets, purse seines, stow nets and set nets. The major species caught include such cold water demersal species as small yellow croaker (Pseudosciaena polyactis) and hairtail (Trichiurus haemula) and pelagic species such as anchovies, Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson), herring (Clupea spp.) and cod (Gadus macrocephalus). The annual demersal production from these two seas was estimated as approximately three million tons in the early nineties.

39. In the past two decades, the two seas have been heavily fished resulting in a drastic decline in the abundance of major commercial species. Yamamoto10 (1994) stated that the demersal fishery resources in the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea are shared by all countries bordering these seas. As such, effective management of these fisheries could not be achieved by one or two countries alone but only by the concerted action of all the countries that share the resources, possibly through an appropriate subregional fisheries management mechanism.

40. The South China Sea is also a semienclosed sea with a total area of approximately 3.5 million km2. It has extensive continental shelf areas and a deep basin. The shelf has a total area of approximately 2 million km2 and the deep basin is 1.5 million km2. The East China Sea to the north and the South China Sea contain approximately 20 percent of the shallow water areas of the world. The major shelf areas are the Mainland Shelf in the north and northeast and the Sunda Shelf including the Gulf of Thailand in the south and southwest. The shelf areas are generally less than 500 metres deep; however, the average depth of the South China Sea basin is about 4,000 metres. Within this basin lie the submerged banks (Macclesfield Banks or Chungsha) and island groups, including the Paracels (Hsisha), and the Dangerous Ground and the Spratly Island group (Nansha Islands).

41. Contiguous waters to the South China Sea proper are the Malacca Straits; the Java, Flores, Banda, Ceram, Molluca, Celebes and Sulu Seas and the Philippine Seas. Including these waters, the total area of the Southeast Asian waters is about 8.9 million km2, representing 2.5 percent of the world’s ocean surface. Most of the sea areas mentioned are under the jurisdiction of Indonesia and the Philippines11.

42. The South China Sea is bordered by nine countries, namely, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Fisheries play an important role in the economies and food security of these countries. More than 10 million people are engaged in the fisheries sector, of which approximately 90 percent are small-scale fishermen. The total fishery production of this subregion in 1996 was estimated at 11.5 million tons.

43. There has been a rapid development of marine fisheries in the subregion during the past three decades in response to the increasing demand from steadily expanding populations of the countries in the region and from countries outside the region. The increasing fishing pressure has generally resulted in the depletion of many fish stocks, especially in the coastal and inshore waters. There is thus an urgent need for the countries in the region to strengthen their fisheries and environmental management plans with a view to effecting fisheries and environmental sustainability.

44. The Bay of Bengal has a total area of approximately 2,170,000 km2 and is bordered by Sri Lanka and India to the west, Bangladesh to the north and Myanmar and the northern part of the Malay peninsula to the east12. The Bay is characterized by relatively shallow areas in the northern part that receive a large amount of drainage from several major river systems, including the Ganges and Brahmaputra, Irrawady and Salween in the north and northeast and Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, in the west. The Andaman and Nicobar groups of islands separate the Bay of Bengal from the Andaman Sea.

45. The Bay of Bengal also has a distinct ecosystem, with a profusion of wetlands, marshes and mangrove forests, which enhance the productivity of inshore and coastal species. The Bay fishery resources are exploited mainly by small scale fisheries. The annual fish production increased from approximately 878,000 tons in 1970 to 3,600,000 in 1995. Although the fish production continues to rise, the Advisory Committee of the Bay of Bengal at its Twenty-fourth Meeting in Phuket, Thailand, in October 1999 pointed out that there were enough indicators to suggest that several fish stocks were close to overexploitation and under stress. Concerted action at both the national and regional levels to develop practical and more effective fisheries management information systems to support fisheries management was strongly recommended.


46. The technical areas covered by APFIC in the past have been broad. They include: marine fisheries development and management; fisheries information and statistics; fisheries policy and planning; aquaculture development and management; and post-harvest technology development. Considering the regional issues which remain to be resolved and the anticipated continuing financial constraints expected by the Commission, it is recommended that the activities of APFIC be reduced to a few high priority areas. Taking into account the directives of the 1998 FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific and global initiatives concerned with fisheries, it is proposed that the Commission concentrate on the following priority areas which have a regional focus:

1. Information and data management as well as fishery research;
2. Marine Fisheries management;
3. Fisheries policy and planning; and
4. A consultative forum.
47. Fisheries information and statistics are important components in the formulation of fisheries policy and planning as well as in the development of effective fisheries management schemes. Almost all of the developing countries in the region still need cooperation and assistance in the development and management of their fisheries information and statistical systems as well as in capacity building. The Commission has collaborated with a number of regional bodies in the region, such as NACA and SEAFDEC, to assist the member countries in improving their national fisheries information and statistical systems including the development of databases. The Commission, at its Twenty-sixth Session in 1998, approved a project proposal developed by the Secretariat for the establishment of an APFIC information network. Unfortunately the project has not yet been launched due to lack of funds and manpower. It is recommended that the Commission endeavor to implement this project.

48. It is understood that fisheries management is a national issue and the formulation and implementation of fisheries management plan is the prerogative of the governments concerned. Nevertheless, there are many issues related to marine fisheries management that require regional or subregional cooperative efforts. Regional fishery bodies such as APFIC can serve as useful instruments in the provision of relevant fishery data and information, transfer of required technology and techniques in the acceleration of capacity building.

49. The three subregions can be considered as separate natural management areas or ecosystems. The priority programme(s) of work in each natural management area should be decided by an ad hoc working party to be established by the Commission, comprising experts from the countries in each subregion. The interested countries in each subregion will finance their experts’ participation, whilst the APFIC Secretariat will provide administrative support and coordination, and if feasible, FAO expertise. The Secretary of the Commission should assist in finding extrabudgetary funds to finance the implementation of priority programmes of work formulated and agreed upon by the ad hoc working parties.

50. It is also understood that fisheries policy and planning is another national issue which is the prerogative of the governments concerned. The role of regional fishery bodies is to promote, coordinate and/or harmonize those policy issues the require concerted action at the subregional or regional level, e.g. those concerning the management of shared or transboundary fish stocks. Member countries will continue to look to the Commission for advice and support in the area of fisheries policy and planning, recognizing the excellent contributions that APFIC and FAO have offered in the past. Several member countries in the region are in the process of updating or revising their respective fisheries laws and regulations, with a view to ensuring compatibility with global instruments and initiatives concerned with fisheries and environment. It is recommended that FAO and APFIC collaborate with regional bodies and arrangements in the region such as SEAPOL in organizing a regional workshop aimed at harmonizing fisheries policy and legislation of the countries in the region.

51. It is further recommended that the activities related to the development and management of inland fisheries and aquaculture be referred to NACA, as the latter’s membership (with the exception of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and New Zealand) is similar to that of APFIC. SEAFDEC also has programmes and projects concerned with various aspects of aquaculture development and management and the Commission should continue to maintain close liaison with it. An eventual alternative is to consider establishing a new inland fisheries and aquaculture commission within the aegis of FAO as proposed by Marashi (1996).

52. As regards the development of post-harvest technology, this subject includes many regional issues which need to be resolved through regional cooperation. These include bycatches and fish discards at sea and the development of low-valued species for direct human consumption. Considering the constraints of APFIC, it is proposed that the Commission coordinate this work closely with INFOFISH and SEAFDEC. Another alternative is to reactivate research under the network of institutions in the region with extrabudgetary support from an interested donor such as Australia or several donors, as this network has produced a positive contribution to the development of post-harvest technology in the region in the past.

53. Finally, in order to reduce the overlapping of activities and duplication of effort, it is recommended that the Commission maintain close liaison on a regular basis with regional bodies and arrangements in the region, especially those that have a broad range of fisheries management and development activities such as APEC, ASEAN and SEAFDEC. An informal consultation should be initiated with these organizations to ascertain their interest in the creation of a consultative forum. SPC, FFA and IOTC believe that such a consultative forum is not necessary as there is adequate consultation in their individual subregions. However, in particular, those with secretariats located in the South China Sea area, such as ICLARM, NACA, SEAPOL, UNEP-EAS/RCU, support the idea of the consultative forum and indicate their general support for APFIC to play the role. The forum might be attended initially by the Secretariats of the bodies and arrangements that are interested in the forum such as FAO/RAP/APFIC, APEC/Fisheries Working Group, ASEAN, SEAFDEC, NACA, MRC, INFOFISH, ICLARM and UNEP-EAS/RCU, interested countries in the region, and prospective donor agencies. The informal consultation should include the appointment of a secretariat of the forum, a decision on the frequency of consultations and the appropriate terms of reference of the forum. The terms of reference of such a forum could include:

1. to keep under review the state of the fishery resources, the development of aquaculture and the status of the fishing industry of the region;

2. to identify gaps or possible areas on which all of the bodies and arrangements in the region might focus in order to strengthen their efficiency;

3. to discuss regional fisheries and aquaculture issues of interest to the countries in the region and to donor agencies;

4. to provide input and guidance for a regional programming workshop(s) involving all concerned states, partners and donor agencies;

5. to submit those regional issues that have global implications for consideration and action by the FAO Committee on Fisheries;

6. to monitor the progress in the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries in the region; and

7. to identify projects which have a high degree of overlapping and seek ways to reduce such overlapping.

54. It is recommended further that the APFIC Secretariat initiate action as soon as possible to solicit possible financial support from interested donor(s) for the meeting of such a forum.

55. To facilitate the timely input from member countries to the Commission’s work, it is recommended that the Secretariat invite the Members to appoint an official to serve as national focal points for communicating with the APFIC Secretariat.

56. To summarize the main points, the study indicates that there was a rapid development of fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region, which resulted in the depletion of many fish stocks, especially those in the inshore and coastal waters. Such development is not sustainable. This necessitates strengthening the role of regional fishery bodies by providing them clear mandates to ensure the sustainability of the resources use. There is thus a good argument for the continuation of APFIC at least until 2010. During this period, the Member States of the Commission are requested to assume an increasingly active role in the work of the Commission. If by the middle of this period, no mutual action in support of the Commission is apparent, APFIC should be terminated by 2010.

57. There are several regional fishery bodies in the Asia-Pacific region whose common goal is the attainment of resources sustainability. Hence, the duplication of activities amongst these bodies is unavoidable. The study recommends that APFIC continue to maintain close liaison with them, perhaps through a consultative forum.

58. Anticipating continued financial and human resources limitations, the study recommends that the area coverage be confined to only three subregions of the Asia-Pacific, viz., the Yellow Sea and its adjacent waters; the South China Sea and its adjacent waters; and the Bay of Bengal. The programmes of activity should be confined to the following priority areas: information and data management; marine fisheries management, fisheries policy and planning; and a consultative forum.

59. The proposal that APFIC act as a regional consultative forum has been supported, in principle, by a number of regional fishery and fishery-related organizations, particularly those whose headquarters are located in Southeast Asia. Both SPC and FFA, nevertheless, pointed out that a new mechanism for managing and conserving highly migratory fish stocks throughout the Western and Central Pacific to be established by a Convention adopted by the Multilateral High Level Conference on the conservation and management of highly migratory fish stocks in the Western and Central Pacific would serve as a consultative forum for that region.

8 See pages 36-39 of Menasveta, D., 1998. APFIC: Its evolution, achievements and future direction. FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand. RAP Publication 1998/15, 114 pp.

9 Cyr, N., H.T. Huh, Q. Tang and S. Kim (1997). Yellow Sea large marine ecosystem programme. In: Proceedings of the APFIC Symposium on Environmental Aspects of Responsible Fisheries, 15-18 October 1996, Seoul, Republic of Korea. RAP Publication 1997/32, pp. 322-326.

10 Yamamoto, T. (1994). Marine fisheries of Korea and its management-need for international cooperation of fisheries management in East China Sea and Yellow Sea. In: Proceedings of the IIFET-VII International Conference, pp. 223-233.

11 Menasveta, D. (1994). Fisheries management in the exclusive economic zones of Southeast Asia before and after Rio and Prospects for regional cooperation. Foreign Relations Journal, Vol. IX Number 2, June 1994, pp. 104-105.12 Indian Ocean Fishery Commission, Committee for the Development and Management of Fisheries in the Bay of Bengal (1997). Status of Fisheries in the Bay of Bengal. IOFC Committee for the Development and Management of Fisheries in the Bay of Bengal, Tenth Session, New Delhi, India, 24-25 September 1997, document IOFC/DM/BB/97/2, 9 pp.

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