Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates and Observers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have the great honour and pleasure of welcoming you, on behalf of the Director-General, Mr Jacques Diouf, to the Technical Consultation on the Suitability of the CITES Criteria for Listing Commercially-exploited Aquatic Species. The origins of this Consultation can be traced back to a request from the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) Sub-Committee on Fish Trade made at the meeting in Bremen, Germany, in June 1998. At this meeting it was agreed that FAO would appoint "an ad hoc group to make suggestions on how such a process of scientific review might best be pursued, leading perhaps to proposals for amendment to and/or appropriate interpretation of the CITES criteria in the context of marine fish species under large-scale commercial harvest". The ad hoc group met in Cape Town in November 1998 and suggested steps for scientific review of the current CITES criteria for Appendix I and II listings, in the context of harvested marine species.
The report of the Cape Town ad hoc Group was discussed at the Twenty-third Session of COFI, held in Rome in February 1999, and COFI endorsed the report and agreed with its results. This Technical Consultation was a central part of the process recommended by the ad hoc Group.
At this stage, I would like to express our gratitude to the Government of Japan for the generous financial support they have provided. Without this support, the initial FAO Secretariat appraisal of the suitability of the CITES criteria for listing commercially-exploited aquatic species would not have been possible, and neither would this Technical Consultation at which we will discuss that appraisal.
You will all be aware that this FAO review has been prompted by concern that the existing CITES listing criteria may not be appropriate to deal with aquatic resources exploited on a large scale and also by the belief that FAO has the mandate, expertise and experience to consider the listing criteria as applied to exploited fishery resources. Certainly, FAO has a commitment to the long-term sustainable development and utilization of the world's fisheries and aquaculture resources, and it is a critical part of the mission of the Fisheries Department to facilitate and secure this. This is clearly reflected in the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, adopted by the FAO Conference in November 1995. The Code of Conduct, which now underpins all the work of the Fisheries Department, "sets out the principles and international standards of behaviour for responsible practices with a view to ensuring the effective conservation, management and development of living aquatic resources". Particularly pertinent to this Consultation are the requirements in the Code, presented in Paragraph 7.2.2, that management measures should ensure that the "biodiversity of aquatic habitats and ecosystems is conserved and endangered species are protected" and that "depleted stocks are allowed to recover or, where appropriate, are actively restored".
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly abbreviated as CITES, responding to awareness of the implications of international wildlife trade for biodiversity, has the mandate to "act by banning commercial international trade in an agreed list of endangered species and by regulating and monitoring trade in others that might become endangered." This mechanism for assisting in reducing the risk of extinction in exploited species subjected to international trade is clearly complementary to the mission of FAO to facilitate and secure long-term sustainable utilisation, and it is appropriate that the two organisations should cooperate in matters of common interest.
As with so many aspects of fisheries and fisheries management, determining which species or stocks are at risk of extinction, and the contribution of fishing to this risk, is hampered by uncertainty: uncertainty in observations and estimations, and uncertainty in the complex ecological processes which influence aquatic populations. The Code of Conduct recognises this and invokes the application of the precautionary approach in fisheries, requiring the use of the best scientific information available and emphasising the prudent use of target and limit reference points in making management decisions. The FAO review of the CITES listing criteria reiterates this view and draws attention to the need to develop criteria which simultaneously minimise the risks of applying trade bans or restrictions to species which are not truly at risk and the risk of failing to classify species which are in danger and would benefit from such trade regulation. In striving for this goal, it also suggests some changes to the existing criteria when being applied to commercially exploited aquatic species.
The task of this technical consultation is to consider the document FI:SLC/2000/2, prepared by the FAO Secretariat, focussing in particular on sections 5 to 7 of this document. These deal respectively with the evaluation of CITES criteria in relation to exploited marine species (section 5); the suggestions for rewording of such criteria (section 6); and the question of populations and sub-populations (section 7). Your comments and suggestions on the present wording of the document FI:SLC/2000/2 will be very much appreciated. Given the number of participants to this meeting, it would be very difficult to formally edit the document in plenary. Your comments and suggestions will therefore be duly noted by FAO staff who have accepted to act as rapporteurs and will be the basis for a report of this meeting which will be adopted at the end. Your views will be taken into account by the Secretariat to modify the document itself before presenting it to COFI.
You will also be asked to give particular attention to section 8 of the report. This suggests the key points and elements for a recommendation of this technical consultation concerning the main points of the formal message which the Twenty-fourth Session of COFI, to be held from 26 February to 2 March next year, may elect to send to CITES. Your Chairperson will carefully note such elements as the debate develops and submit them to your review in due course.
The ecological heritage that we pass on to future generations, and the incomes and livelihoods of millions of people dependent on these resources, are directly affected by the decisions made and actions taken in our global fora dealing with sustainable utilisation. With that in mind, I do not need to emphasise to this meeting the importance of ensuring that the mechanisms in place or being considered to contribute to sustainable utilisation of living resources are effective and appropriate. The number of participants and their diverse horizons represent both a wealth and a challenge for this meeting. I am confident that, under the able leadership of your Bureau, you will arrive at an outcome satisfactory to you and useful to both FAO and CITES, ensuring that COFI will be in a position to take an informed decision on how to advise CITES on the criteria most appropriate for application to commercially-exploited aquatic species.
In conclusion, I would like to convey the best wishes of the Director-General and myself for fruitful deliberations on this important subject and to thank you in advance for your cooperation and contributions to our discussions.