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Following the adoption in 1982 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its ratification in 1994, several major international instruments and initiatives relating specifically to fisheries or to aspects of the conservation of aquatic life and environment have been adopted by the international community. The most far-reaching agreements were made at the World Summit for Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002 where it was agreed to:

· By 2004 - Develop and implement national and, where appropriate, regional plans of action to put into effects FAO's International Plan of Action (IPOA) for the management of fishing capacity;

· By 2005 - Develop and implement national, and where appropriate, regional plans of action to put into effects FAO's International Plan of Action (IPOA) to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing;

· By 2010 - Encourage the application of the ecosystem approach [to fisheries];

· By 2015 - Maintain or restore stocks to levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY); and

· Support the sustainable development of aquaculture, including small-scale aquaculture, given its growing importance for food security and economic development.

In addition, on a broader front, the world took on the challenge of meeting the Millennium Development Goals with respect to eradicating extreme hunger, achieving universal education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing global partnership for development. In particular, with respect to goals relating to fisheries it was agreed to:

· By 2015 - Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day.

· By 2015 - Reduce by half the number of people who suffer from hunger.

· By 2015 - Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources.

Many States, especially developing States, are having considerable difficulties in meeting these targets and many have requested assistance from FAO and regional fishery bodies (RFBs). In response, FAO has paid increasing attention to the role of RFBs, especially in terms of their ability to help bridge the gap between international advice and national responsibilities for fisheries management and decision-making. RFBs can be particularly effective where there are shared stocks and/or shared or common management issues within a region. This publication provides information on their membership, regions of interest, mandates and activities.

Over the past century, more than 40 RFBs have been created. During 1902 -1950, prior to the adoption of the 1982 UNCLOS, RFBs were formed to promote regional harmonization, with emphasis on the gathering of scientific information, and scientific collaboration. During the period that UNCLOS was being negotiated, several RFBs were formed that had a greater advisory role to promote better fisheries management, while those formed after the adoption of UNCLOS have tended to have a much clearer management mandate. However, they all have in common a coordinating function across States that share fish stocks or share common problems.

APFIC is one of the longest standing RFBs in the world. It has recently undergone a major review and is becoming a "Regional Consultative Forum" in support of its members. A new website [] will be launched in order to assist in policy formulation and fishery/aquaculture management. This will provide a link to all the organizations, projects and activities that impact on fisheries and aquaculture in the Asia Pacific region.

By definition, APFIC includes initiatives or arrangements whose (i) members of the arrangement are also members of APFIC and/or (ii) members are also members of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. They are grouped as (i) Regional Fishery Bodies (RFBs) (ii) Economic cooperation arrangements and (iii) Coordinating arrangements. Following the scheme already adopted by FAO, the Regional Fishery Bodies (RFBs) have been further subdivided into three main categories:

· RFBs that have a mandate for fisheries management and are empowered to establish management measures;

· RFBs that have an advisory role and provide members with scientific and management advice; and

· RFBs that provide scientific advice and information.

RFBs in the first category are those that have a mandate for a single species or species groups that migrate across or straddle State boundaries. Three of these are of little relevance to the main Asia-Pacific region as they only involve one member country (USA and Iran IR) in areas near the edge of the area of competence of APFIC (loosely defined as the "Asia-Pacific area" under Article XIV of the FAO Constitution). A fourth RFB, the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) with members including Japan, Republic of Korea and USA lies north of 33 degrees in the North Pacific and is probably outside the area of competence of APFIC. This leaves only two tuna commissions (one covering the Western and Central Pacific and the other covering the Indian Ocean) which are the only management RFBs in the Asia-Pacific. In a region that is the largest producer of fishery production in the world, this does not compare well with other regions where more highly developed RFBs are in place.

In the second category of RFBs, which includes APFIC, there is a range of regional and sub-regional bodies. If the Western Ocean Tuna Organization (WIOTO) and the Regional Commission for Fisheries (RECOFI) that only have one Asia-Pacific member (India and Iran, respectively) are excluded, there are four organizations in this category. Some, such as the South Pacific Fisheries Forum (FFA) were formed with a mandate to harmonize fisheries management policies, while the others focus on specific sub-sectors e.g. small-scale coastal fisheries for the Bay of Bengal Programme Inter-governmental Organization (BOBP-IGO). The Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) has recently provided a forum for ASEAN member States to discuss issues of common interest and build consensus. APFIC is the longest-serving body in the region (being established in 1949)and has undergone several major changes in its functions to accommodate changing priorities and the establishment of other sub-regional bodies. However, these sub-regional arrangements are very patchy, both geographically and in the specific role they undertake.

The third category includes the Coordinating Working Party on Statistics (CWP); the Intergovernmental Organization for Marketing Information and Technical Advisory Services for Fishery Products in the Asia-Pacific Region (INFOFISH); the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia and the Pacific (NACA); and the fisheries section of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). The region seems to be fairly well served in terms of provision of broad scientific advice and information, but it would appear that aquaculture is better served than capture fisheries, especially in the Asian region.

The region has five main economic cooperation arrangements - Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC); Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN); Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC); the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) (formerly South Pacific Forum); and South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Both APEC and ASEAN have fisheries working groups that are active in areas of economic interest, especially trade issues. ASEAN also works in partnership with SEAFDEC. These economic cooperation arrangements may play expanding role in future regional arrangements for fisheries.

There are a larger number of more general coordinating mechanisms that also involve fisheries in their mandate. Several of these are project-based with uncertain future sustainability. These include the Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded project on reversing environmental degradation trends in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand (SCS) that falls under the auspices of the UNEP Regional Seas Programme; the Yellow Sea Large Marine Ecosystem project (YSLME); the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem programme (BOBLME); and the Implementation of the Strategic Action Plan of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS). These coordinating mechanisms include two other broad environmental programmes, one in the South Pacific (South Pacific Regional Environment Programme) and the other in South Asia (South Asia Cooperative Environmental Programme). The Coordinating Body for the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA) oversees the implementation of the "East Asian Seas Action Plan" while the more geographically broader organization the GEF/UNDP/IMO Partnership for Environmental Management of the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) has recently launched its "Sustainable Development Strategy for the Seas of East Asia" and coordinating its implementation. In inland waters, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) includes a fisheries section that provides advice and coordination amongst the riparian states of the Mekong River.

On the research front, the "Asia-Pacific Group of Fisheries and Aquatic Research" (GoFAR) is a group of originally thirteen nations and regional and international organizations formed under the auspices of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI). This is the regional apex body representing the national agricultural research systems in the region. The WorldFish Center provides the secretariat and also conducts research that includes the Asia-Pacific region. Many of the regional fisheries organizations also attend the meetings of GoFAR and provide updates to other participants. The Asian Fisheries Society (AFS) is a scientific society organized for fishery professionals in Asia to communicate, share information and cooperate with each other. Since its establishment the Society has grown from the fourteen charter members who signed the constitution to over 2,800 members from seventy five countries and territories. It has three national sub-branches (India, Taiwan and Japan), two subject-specific sections, namely the Fish Health Section, and the Asian Fisheries Social Science Section (AFSSRN), and Asian chapters of global societies (like the World Aquaculture Society) which are all active in scientific exchanges, workshops and publication.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission's (IOC) Sub-commission for the Western Pacific and its Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) is an international framework for the systematic acquisition and dissemination of data relating to the past, present and future states of the marine environment. It consists of two parts or modules: a global ocean module concerned primarily with detecting and predicting changes in the ocean-climate system and improving marine services and, secondly, a coastal module concerned with the effects of large-scale changes in the ocean-climate system and of human activities on coastal ecosystems. FAO is a joint sponsor of the coastal module which includes the collection of data on living marine resources. Opportunities for collaboration between GOOS, RFBs, the Regional Seas Programmes and the large marine ecosystem initiatives have been highlighted in the FAO Meetings of RFBs, and in GOOS documents.

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