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1. The General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) held its Twenty-eighth Session at Tangier, Morocco, from 14 to 17 October 2003.

2. The Session was attended by delegates from 13 Members of the Commission. Observers from the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development (OADA), International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), also attended. The list of delegates and observers is given in Appendix B to this report.

3. The Session was called to order by Mr Abdelatif Berraho, Chairperson of the Commission, who welcomed the participants and in particular, Mr Mohamed Halab, Wali for the Tangiers-Tetouan Region of his Majesty the King of Morocco and Mr Tayeb Rhafes and Mr Tijani Rhanmi, respectively Minister and Secretary General of the Ministry for Marine Fisheries of Morocco. On behalf of the Commission, he expressed special appreciation for their presence at the opening of this Session.

4. Mr T. Rhafes, Minister for Marine Fisheries of Morocco, welcomed the participants to the Twenty-eighth Session. He recalled the succession of meetings and negotiations that have taken place during the last years, some of them in Morocco, and the international instruments that have been adopted, including the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries as well as the Plan of Implementation, adopted in September 2002 at the Johannesburg Summit. He mentioned the upcoming Ministerial Conference on the Sustainable Development of Fisheries in the Mediterranean which will be held in Venice in November 2003 and expressed the hope that this Conference will have positive effects on the Commission. After describing the main elements of the Moroccan national policy with respect to fisheries, he called the attention of the participants to several factors that have a direct impact on the management of fisheries in the Mediterranean, especially the vulnerability of the resources and the fragility of the ecosystem. He stressed the consequent need to develop a joint, harmonized and rational policy at regional level. Mr Rhafes expressed the full support of his country for the Commission and invited its Members to focus their particular attention during the present session on the question of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and on the related issue of the use of flags of convenience. He also mentioned that his government is at an advanced stage in the process of ratifying the amendments to the GFCM agreement relative to the autonomous budget.

5. On behalf of the Director-General of FAO, Mr Jacques Diouf, and of Mr Ichiro Nomura, Assistant Director-General, Fisheries Department, FAO, Mr Pulvénis de Séligny, Director of the Fishery Policy and Planning Division of the Fisheries Department, expressed the appreciation of FAO to the Kingdom of Morocco for its kind hospitality and excellent preparation in hosting the Session.

6. Mr Pulvénis de Séligny highlighted the importance of that Session. He stressed that it was the first time since its establishment more than fifty years ago that the Commission was meeting on the Southern shore of the Mediterranean, thanks to the generous initiative of the Kingdom of Morocco. He reminded the Commission that the amendments adopted in 1997 with respect to the autonomous budget were expected to enter into force in the near future and that it was thus necessary to foresee the convening of an extraordinary Session of the Commission during the coming months. He pointed out that the Ministerial Conference on Sustainable Development of Fisheries in the Mediterranean, scheduled to take place in Venice in November 2003, could serve to refocus the work of the Commission.

7. After recalling some of the strengths and assets of the Commission, Mr Pulvénis de Séligny referred to the challenges it was facing, and the resulting need to ensure that the necessary resources, human and financial, be allocated to the Commission. He added that some issues must be addressed, such as the development of management policies and objectives, as well as the strengthening of intersessional activities. Particular attention was needed in relation to SAC and its subsidiary organs, in the light of the great number of meetings held, and a trend towards a decreasing rate of participation and lack of balance in representation. In view of the success of the regional project approach he invited the Commission to consider it a viable mechanism for the work of its Committees. Mr Pulvénis de Séligny thanked the Governments, research institutes and all scientists for their contribution to present achievements. He informed the Commission that the Director-General of FAO had approved the Eastern Mediterranean component of the MedFisis project. Finally, Mr. Pulvénis de Séligny stressed the need for the Commission to analyze the ways and means to ensure the implementation of the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU) in the Mediterranean, one of the most important issues listed in the Agenda of the Session.

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