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1. Introduction

On 18 September 2000, the 55th Session of the General Assembly issued the United Nations Millennium Declaration. As well as fundamental shared values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and a respect for nature there was a pledge to free “our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty” (UN, 2000:4). To this end a series of objectives, more commonly referred to as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), was articulated, with the greatest prominence given to the commitment to halve by 2015 the proportion of the world’s population subsisting on an income of less than US$1 a day.1 Two years later, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg not only reiterated the imperative to eradicate poverty across the developing world, but also signalled the importance of the Earth’s oceans, seas, islands and coastal regions in sustaining economic prosperity and contributing to global food security. Integrated, multidisciplinary and multisectoral national programmes of coastal and ocean management, reinforced by strengthened regional cooperation and coordination mechanisms, were seen as fundamental in protecting natural resources and contributing to economic growth and poverty eradication (UN, 2002:14f f). This is particularly so in Asia and the Pacific region, where capture fisheries and/or aquaculture production are important contributors to GDP in many states where fisheries products are highly traded commodities and per capita fish consumption levels are very high. At the same time, trawl surveys indicate substantive degradation and overfishing of coastal stocks (Sugiyama, Staples and Funge-Smith, 2004: 1ff).

Despite the proportion of people in the region living on US$1 a day having declined dramatically over the last fifteen years, almost two-thirds of the region’s population (some 700 million people) are to be found among the world’s poor (UNDP and OHRLLS, 2005). This prompted the joint United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific-United Nations Development Programme (UNESCAP-UNDP) report Promoting the Millennium Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific: Meeting the Challenges of Poverty Reduction (2003) to acknowledge that a further significant diminution in poverty could be attained if states encouraged agriculture and rural development,2 citing China (in the 1980s) and Viet Nam (in the 1990s) as examples of how rapid economic growth could be paralleled by a sustained reduction in poverty. The point was reiterated by He Changchui, the FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, on 22 September 2005 when he declared that “...agricultural growth, especially if focused on poor farmers, is the most important engine for the creation of employment and income for the poor” (FAO, 2005a: 1).

Although the role the fisheries sector3 could play in promoting growth and reducing poverty was, surprisingly, overlooked in both the 2003 UNESCAP-UNDP report and the subsequent UNDP publication Pro-Poor Growth and Policies: The Asian Experience (Pasha and Palanivel, 2004), this oversight has been redressed through the activities of FAO, other international donor agencies, and national governments in the region. The Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) has been instrumental in increasing food production and foreign exchange earnings, and improving and diversifying rural incomes through coordinated regional action programmes (NACA, 2006). The Bay of Bengal Programme (established in 1979), for example, originally conceived as a technology-driven programme, grew to recognise the need for integrated and coordinated management of both coastal and nearshore living marine resources and evolved into a socio-economic programme

covering the entire ecosystem. Its successor, the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME, 2005-11) programme, is explicitly committed to creating conditions which “lead to the improved well-being of rural fisher communities through incorporating regional approaches to resolving resource issues and barriers affecting their livelihoods” (GEF, 2005:5). Likewise, the goal of the Support to Regional Aquatic Resources Management (STREAM) initiative is to secure and advance the livelihoods of poor people across fifteen countries in Asia and the Pacific region by enabling them to exert greater influence over the aquatic resource management policies and processes that have an impact on their lives (STREAM, 2006).

The Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (APFIC) also has an integral role to play in this process. In its new guise as a regional consultative forum it can stimulate discussion as to how the growth-enhancing, poverty-reducing potential of fisheries can be more effectively highlighted in the region, for if the regional MDG are to be reached fisheries “are an important area in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” (Bakary Kante, Director UNEP/DEC, 3 May 2006). This article will provide some pointers in this respect. First, using a framework that illustrates the relative importance of the respective national fisheries sectors two key reasons why the sector should be mainstreamed into the development thinking and planning of developing APFIC nation states are outlined.4 Second, the extent to which the fisheries sector is presently mainstreamed into the key national policy documents of these states is examined. This allows the identification of whether such documents reflect the sector’s current significance in the national development process. Third, some recommendations as to how developing APFIC nation states might proceed in order to raise the profile of the fisheries sector in the development discourse are offered.

1 Then estimated at 1 134 million, equivalent to around 25 percent of the population of the developing world.

2 The document also advocated export-oriented labour-intensive manufacturing as the most appropriate development strategy in the industrial arena.

3 Unless otherwise stated, the term “fisheries sector” includes capture fisheries, aquaculture and connected activities in fish processing and marketing.

4Developing APFIC nation states, for the purposes of this paper, are defined as countries with a 2004 Gross National Income per capita [Atlas method] of US$5 000 or less [in current US$] (World Bank Development Indicators, 2006a).

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