The date of 18 April 2002 will be an historic day for aquaculture, as we commence the First Session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) Sub-Committee on Aquaculture, the first ever global intergovernmental forum to discuss issues concerning development and management of aquaculture. The Sub-Committee came to light in an era when aquaculture’s potential for economic growth, poverty alleviation, food security and rural livelihoods has been fully realized. However, the sector now faces strong debate on the negative social and environmental repercussions of certain mismanaged and poorly planned developments. With this backdrop, I believe that the Sub-Committee has a responsibility to play a significant role in addressing both the positive and negative aspects of the sector and providing guidance and recommendations for better management of aquaculture, which is currently the fastest growing food-producing sector in the world.
The Sub-Committee did not hatch overnight. There have been discussions on the establishment of an Aquaculture Sub-Committee for almost a decade. At the last sessions of COFI and the FAO Council in 2001, the decision to establish the Sub-Committee was finally taken, and we now face the challenge of making the best use of this opportunity to effectively and wisely assure sustainable development of this important sector. The question that immediately arises is "What can the COFI Sub-Committee do to realistically help sustainable development of aquaculture at all levels?" Do we have an answer?
As mentioned earlier, the Sub-Committee is the only global inter-governmental forum mandated to discuss issues specific to aquaculture. From many years of experience, it is clear that, although sectoral development takes place at the national level, sectoral sustainability remains the focus of national, regional, and global levels. Aquaculture produces fish that are consumed at farm sites, sold locally and exported to overseas markets. Aquaculture produces fish in shared waterbodies, a fact that has multi-jurisdictional implications and impacts. Wherever produced and wherever sold, the final product is primarily for human consumption and must, therefore, provide quality nutrition and be hygienic and safe to eat.
In an era of globalization and trade liberalization, we need to discuss aquaculture at a global level, as there are many issues which have both international implications and interest.
We have a great opportunity ahead of us with this new vehicle, the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture. The challenge will be to use the opportunity to discuss "real issues", and to develop recommendations and to bring consensus between governments and other stakeholders that make a real impact on the sustainable development of the sector, in support of alleviating poverty, providing food security, improving rural livelihoods and boosting national economies. In undertaking this challenge, we cannot forget the fact that aquaculture is not an isolated farming activity. It is uniquely blended into many aquatic environments that provide the life-blood of aquatic production. We must, therefore, ensure that any recommendations and guidance from the Sub-Committee takes into serious consideration environmental sustainability, social equity and economic feasibility. I am confident that the COFI Sub-Committee on Aquaculture can and will help us in achieving these challenging but essential goals.
Rohana Subasinghe Chief Editor