Distinguished Delegates and Observers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with immense pleasure that I welcome you, on behalf of Mr Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of FAO, to this First Session of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture of the Committee on Fisheries.
FAO is grateful to the Government of the Peoples Republic of China for providing financial assistance and for hosting this inaugural Session of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture, the first ever global intergovernmental forum to discuss issues concerning sustainable development and management of aquaculture in this historic City of Beijing.
I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the financial assistance provided by the Government of Italy towards the organization of this Session. This assistance has made it possible for delegates of some developing countries to participate at this First Session of the Sub-Committee.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
Aquaculture, including culture-based fisheries, is an important provider of much-needed, high quality animal protein, generally at prices even affordable to the poorer segments of society. It is also a valuable provider of employment, cash income and foreign exchange. The importance of aquaculture to developing countries is reflected in the fact that over 90 percent of the global production originates from developing countries.
While export-oriented, industrial and commercial aquaculture practices bring foreign exchange, revenue and employment, more extensive forms of aquaculture benefit the livelihoods of the poor through improved food supply, reduced vulnerability to uncontrollable natural crashes in aquatic production, employment and increased income.
As you can see, aquaculture comes in many forms. Fishery enhancements that use hatcheries to stock fry and fingerling into natural waters, habitat improvements such as enclosing coastal bays and lagoons, and adding of brush or other substrates, also provide important opportunities for resource-poor people to benefit from enhanced use of aquatic resources.
Over the past decade, aquacultures increasing contribution to human development has been duly recognized and one of the most significant endorsements of this recognition is the establishment of this Sub-Committee on Aquaculture of the Committee on Fisheries.
Historically, most aquaculture practices around the world have been pursued with significant social, economic and nutritional benefits, and with minimal environmental costs. The culture of many herbivorous and filter feeding aquatic species has been an effective means of producing high quality protein. However, the sector has also been the focus of recent public debate related to negative environmental and social impacts.
There is some basis for these accusations - in certain parts of the world and in certain aquaculture sectors - there have been some inadequately-planned and inappropriately managed forms of aquaculture that have created significant social and environmental problems.
Typically, these impacts often arise from weak regulatory frameworks and the too rapid development associated with the great commercial potential of some high value species. It is our responsibility to take collective measures to improve our understanding of the real impacts and causes in order to make the aquaculture sector more environmentally sustainable and socially acceptable.
The need to develop and adopt policies and practices that ensure environmental sustainability, requires environmentally sound technologies and farming systems based on solid scientific knowledge. In these efforts science and the scientific method will play a key role. But now our science will involve not only the science of production, but the science of economics, science of risk/benefit analysis, science of ethics, science of ecosystem functioning and even the science of how to deal with uncertainty and lack of information.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The Sub-Committee did not hatch overnight. There have been discussions on the establishment of an Aquaculture Sub-Committee for almost a decade. At its Twenty-fourth Session COFI agreed to establish a Sub-Committee on Aquaculture. The recommendation of COFI was approved by the FAO Council at its One Hundred and twentieth Session in June 2001. As a result of this decision, all major issues on aquaculture will be discussed principally by the Sub-Committee.
We now face the challenge of making the best use of this opportunity to effectively and wisely contribute to the sustainable development of aquaculture by addressing both the positive and negative aspects, and providing guidance and appropriate recommendations for the rational development and better management of aquaculture.
The Bangkok Declaration and Strategy which was adopted during the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium, in the year 2000, emphasizes the need for the aquaculture sector to continue development towards its full potential, making a net contribution to global food availability, domestic food security, economic growth, trade and improved living standards.
In order to achieve this potential:
- Aquaculture should be pursued as an integral component of community development.
- There is a need to create enabling environments for optimizing the potential benefits and contribution that aquaculture and culture-based fisheries can make to rural development, food security and poverty alleviation.
- Aquaculture policies and regulations should promote practical and economically viable farming and management practices that are environmentally sustainable and socially acceptable and equitable.
Furthermore, in an era of globalization and trade liberalization, the envisaged changes should not only focus on increasing production. They should also focus on producing a product that is nutritious, affordable, acceptable, safe to eat and accessible to all sectors of society.
However, considerable political will is required to bring this about and greater emphasis would have to be placed on capacity-building, institutional strengthening and local training, as appropriate, to meet the exigencies of decentralized management where this is desirable.
Increasing the efficiency of resource use, and productivity at the farm level, contributes significantly to sectoral sustainability. Adoption of a systems approach to management, improved water management, better feeding strategies, more environmentally friendly feeds, genetically fit stocks, improved health management, integration with agriculture etc., are all important.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Globally, aquaculture is still predominantly rural, producing species low in the food chain that require little inputs or capital investment. This means aquaculture makes a significant, grass-roots contribution to improving livelihoods among the poorer sectors of society.
Pressure to overexploit resources under such circumstances has not been as significant in aquaculture development as it has been historically in capture fisheries. However, it is important to examine the lessons learnt from past experience and develop strategies for improved sustainability of this important sector.
All those involved in the sector should be encouraged to work towards the reduction of externalities and negative social and environmental impacts, and increase the efficiency of resource use and productivity at the farm level.
In a way, we are fortunate that provisions for such interventions are duly made in the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, which was adopted at the Twenty-eighth Session of the FAO Conference in 1995. It is therefore our responsibility to implement those provisions, to the best of our ability, at national, regional and global levels.
As we begin this Sub-Committee meeting, I must remind you of the pledge the world community took at the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996. The Rome Declaration calls upon us to reduce by half the number of chronically undernourished people on the Earth by the year 2015. I also must remind you that progress toward this goal has been slow and we must improve our efforts. The development of responsible aquaculture will help in this regard. In these efforts we must seek cooperation and collaboration from our partners, such as UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, international development banks and other civil society organizations. No one organization can handle these tasks alone and I am pleased to see many of these groups participating in this Sub-Committee.
The Sub-Committee on Aquaculture, which was established at your request, provides us with the opportunity to discuss and debate all issues concerning the aquaculture sector and make recommendations to the parent body - the FAO Committee on Fisheries. I hope that the outcome of your meeting will provide a sound framework for future work of the Sub-Committee and will contribute to responsible development and management of aquaculture.
I wish you all an enjoyable stay in the beautiful city of Beijing.