Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning and welcome to this Twenty-sixth Session of the Committee on Fisheries.
It is, once again, enheartening to see such a large attendance. This reflects, I believe, the importance that fisheries have worldwide and the significance of the work of the Committee on Fisheries.
This Session is saddened and overshadowed by the tragic earthquake and tsunami which struck countries in the Indian Ocean and took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. I invite you to join me in observing a minute of silence in their memory.
In addition to the loss of life, the tsunami also had devastating consequences on the livelihoods of millions of people. Fishing communities were particularly affected.
Thankfully, the reaction of solidarity the world over has been overwhelming. I am pleased to report that FAO has been very active during the phase of short-term relief. Now, it is time to address the medium and long term needs, and to work for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the fishing sector as well as the sustainability of the livelihoods of the affected fishing communities.
The countries concerned and the international community are facing the challenge of utilizing, in a judicious and efficient manner, the considerable resources that have been mobilized.
In this endeavour, FAO has been helping countries with the assessment of needs, the development of appropriate strategies and the establishment of efficient mechanisms to coordinate assistance. In all of this, we maintain close collaboration with the Governments of the affected countries, their fishing communities, other international organizations, and also donors, both governmental and non-governmental. We look forward to your discussion on this matter and to any guidance you wish to provide.
Before calling your attention to the other issues in the Agenda, it is my pleasure to introduce the new Secretary of COFI, Mr Ndiaga Gueye, who was recently appointed Chief of the International Institutions and Liaison Service. Mr Gueye participated actively in earlier sessions of the Committee as representative of his country, Senegal, and is therefore very familiar with the functioning of COFI.
Progress in the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and its International Plans of Action, remains a major issue. As usual, we have prepared a comprehensive report on this matter. In considering this item, we anticipate that you will place particular emphasis on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) and on the means of enabling an efficient monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing activities. Various technical consultations were held last year whose conclusions and recommendations have a direct bearing on this matter. First, the Technical Consultation to Review Progress and Promote the Full Implementation of the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and the International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity, which met in Rome in June 2004; second, the Technical Consultation on the Use of Subsidies in the Fisheries Sector, which immediately followed; and finally, the Technical Consultation to Review Port State Measures to Combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, which was held here in Rome in August 2004. I wish to stress also that the result of your discussion on IUU fishing will serve as input to the Ministerial Meeting that will take place on Saturday.
Trade is another major issue.
The considerable growth in international trade in fish and fishery products has led to the development of an important regulatory framework which makes it difficult for many developing countries to get access to foreign markets. In addition to constraints, such as the strengthening of norms and standards for safety and quality, these countries have to face the effects of utilization of new technologies as well as the increased competition brought about by globalization and liberalization of trade.
The Committee is invited to consider these questions and the other issues raised by the Sub-Committee on Fish Trade in the report of its Ninth Session in February 2004 and to adopt appropriate conclusions and recommendations.
In this context, a topic of major significance is that of ecolabelling. COFI is requested to discuss the outcomes of the Technical Consultation on this subject which concluded last week. It is hoped that the Committee will take an important step forward in this area and adopt, as appropriate, the International Guidelines for the Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries, which emerged from the Technical Consultation.
The World Food Summit and the Millennium Declaration contain two important goals that are relevant to the Committees work: those of reducing hunger and poverty by half.
In this regard, aquaculture is essential in helping to meet the growing demand for fish and fishery products. Aquaculture is also a significant source of labour and income, particularly in developing countries. However, if the development of the aquaculture and culture-based fisheries sector is to be sustainable, it must be carried out in a responsible manner. For this purpose, the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture has adopted, during its past session, a number of important recommendations, on which your guidance is needed.
Small-scale fisheries are also playing an increasingly important role in contributing to reaching the goals of the World Food Summit and the Millennium Declaration, despite many human, technological and financial constraints. Still, communities of small-scale fishermen remain among the poorest and most vulnerable rural communities.
As a follow-up to the recommendations adopted by COFI at its last Session in 2003, the Committee is requested to propose strategies aimed at creating an enabling environment to alleviate the social and economic deprivation which affects millions of small-scale fisherfolk.
There are also several other issues to which I would like to call the Committees attention.
First, the issue of deep seas fisheries, which is of rising concern for the international community: urgent action is needed because of the characteristics of the resources targeted and of their ecosystems, as well as the weaknesses and deficiencies of the existing governance regime.
Also, the issue of sea turtles by-catch. Last fall, a Technical Consultation was held in Bangkok which made significant progress, including the adoption of recommendations that I hope will be endorsed by COFI.
Finally, the question of marine protected areas. They constitute a potential tool for the conservation and sustainable use of hydrobiological resources and their ecosystems, provided that they are established on a sound scientific basis.
As usual, your recommendations will be essential inputs to the formulation of the FAO Programme of Work and Budget 2006-2007.
I am pleased to report that, since the last session of the Committee, the situation concerning extra-budgetary contributions has improved significantly, in particular with regard to FishCode, which is the Fisheries Departments Global Partnership Programme for the Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
I wish to thank those donors that have increased their contributions as well as the new donors which have come forward since. Their support is very much appreciated.
Mr Chairman, distinguished delegates,
In spite of the heavy agenda, I hope that delegates will be able to find time to participate in the series of side events that have been organized in parallel with the Session, and also to visit the exhibition in the Atrium.
In concluding, I wish to stress once again that FAO greatly values your experienced advice and good counsel. I wish you a very constructive and highly successful meeting.