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By the mid 1970s, it had become apparent that UNCLOS III would result in an historic expansion of the jurisdiction of coastal States over the seabed and marine resources beyond their territorial waters. Many States had anticipated the adoption of the Convention and already declared 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs) or fisheries zones.

This was a true crossroads: a groundfloor opportunity to shape national and international mechanisms to further cooperation in fisheries management. It brought with it a range of issues, including transforming regional fisheries management organizations or establishing new ones. It also was understood to be a unique opportunity for developing coastal States to achieve new levels of economic self-sufficiency. COFI became a forum in which to set goals and objectives for the development of the world’s fisheries and the sharing of benefits.

The EEZ Programme

The significance of a new oceans order for world fisheries was apparent to the Committee in 1977 at its 11th session. A lengthy discussion resulted in a request to the Secretariat to prepare a programme to assist developing coastal States in the management and advancement of the fishery in their extended zones. This was the first harbinger of what would become the EEZ Programme.

In two subsequent sessions, the Committee would give a progressively higher priority and sharper focus to this initiative. In 1978, COFI recognized by consensus that the extension of national jurisdiction was both a unique opportunity and challenge for developing coastal States.

The basis for discussion was a preliminary report by the Secretariat on factors to be considered in the preparation of a programme of assistance. Agreement was reached that FAO’s highest priority should be development of measures to enable developing coastal States to both make the most of their enlarged fishery resources, and adequately discharge their new responsibilities to manage and conserve these resources. The programme should be designed to increase national capabilities and to promote cooperation among States sharing common resources and problems.

The FAO Council endorsed this request later in the year and the Secretariat responded promptly. At the 13th session of the Committee, in 1979, one of the first orders of business was consideration of a report entitled "Comprehensive Programme of Assistance in the Development and Management of Fisheries in Economic Zones." The document proposed a sweeping reorientation of the role of the Secretariat with the object of making it a more effective instrument of assistance to the developing coastal States. The language of the report clearly echoed the consensus of the previous year’s session:

"Few developing countries have the capabilities - human, physical, financial and institutional - to take advantage of the new opportunities and to fulfil the concomitant responsibilities for rational management and optimum use of the resources over which they now have jurisdiction. The new programme is designed to capitalize upon FAO’s special ability to marshal internationally the expertise and resources required to improve national capabilities not only to increase fisheries production but also the net socio-economic benefits to be gained by the peoples of developing countries.

"The programme is expected to make a significant contribution to efforts being undertaken throughout the United Nations family to establish a New International Economic Order and an International Development Strategy and to foster economic and technical cooperation between developing countries."

The report contained two major elements. It proposed a medium-term action plan of assistance, available on request and geared to such needs as policy formulation and stock assessment. Also envisioned were long-term basic studies of resource management, especially of shared stocks, and of economic, social and technical aspects of fishery development at the national and regional level. One area in which FAO would have leading role would be the determination of a scientific, practical and administrative framework for rational development and management of fisheries. Other elements of assistance would include:

The report’s recommendations entailed not only a significant redirection of resources but also a major new requirement for funding. As such, they required close consideration. COFI’s attention was drawn particularly to such matters as programme implementation and review, and the marshalling of financial assistance. Much emphasis was put on the importance of implementing the programme in as decentralized a manner as possible. In the end, however, COFI unanimously endorsed the recommendations and requested the Secretariat to prepare a report on the progress and problems of the programme at the next session in 1981.

The EEZ Programme, as it came to be known, was a milestone for both FAO and the Committee. The programme itself was an acknowledged success, with financial support from UNDP and the Government of Norway. Some 40 countries received assistance in policy and planning through missions; 47 obtained assistance in national legislation. As part of the EEZ Programme, FAO convened an Expert Consultation on MCS in 1981 that laid the foundation for an extended series of national and regional training programmes.

In its 1981 review of the programme, the 14th session of the Committee "expressed unanimous satisfaction with the progress achieved by the Organization". A number of countries offered appreciation for assistance received. The representative of UNCLOS III, meanwhile, declared the Programme "a most valuable and practical initiative in the present evolution of the law of the sea as an instrument for economic and social development."

The success of the Programme encouraged COFI to urge further elaboration of the initiative. The 14th session emphasized the importance of small-scale fisheries and recommended that special attention be given to the socio-economic aspects of fisheries development. At the 15th session, in 1983, suggestion was made that it be extended to large inland waters shared by two or more countries. In fact, such proposals were to find their place in the even more ambitious Strategy for Fisheries Management and Development.

The Role of Regional Fishery Bodies in the EEZ Programme

Throughout the EEZ Programme, COFI emphasized the essential role assigned to regional fishery bodies. In 1979, the 13th session welcomed the Secretariat’s intention to engage the bodies in both the planning and execution of the programme. The proposal called for creation of a worldwide network of sub-regional technical assistance units to be associated with the regional bodies and guided by them. This decentralized approach was re-endorsed at the 14th session as "a means of fostering technical and economic cooperation among developing countries . . . and between developing and industrialized countries."

Despite the concern of some members about the rising costs of the activities of the regional bodies, in 1981 the 14th session supported the Secretariat’s proposal to enlarge their role in the delivery of technical assistance. The consensus was that the regional bodies were "not only vital fora for the exchange of views and experience regarding fishery management and development and the promotion of Technical Cooperation between Developing Countries (TCDP) but were also the main channels for the delivery of the EEZ Programme and FAO’s technical assistance programmes."

Similar views prevailed in 1983, when the Committee, considering the need for economy and efficiency in FAO regional offices, requested FAO for services to strengthen the delivery of development assistance through regional bodies. The importance of the bodies also was noted in connection with the need for regional strategies for development and conservation. The rights of the coastal States must be recognized as sovereign, it was agreed, but the regional strategies were an important, established mechanism for collaboration.

The Strategy for Fisheries Management and Development

Sweeping reform of the law of the sea had many implications for the fisheries of the world, not all of them easily or immediately understood. Clearly, traditional approaches and practices would have to be abandoned or revised in the face of the new regime. Fish stocks that had once been accessible to all were now to be managed primarily for the benefit of the coastal States. Distant-water fleets faced exclusion from traditional grounds. Patterns of trade in fish and fish products would change. Governments had new responsibilities for management, conservation, environmental protection, but few precedents to guide their decisions.

By 1981, the members of COFI agreed such issues required urgent attention. That year, the 14th session adopted a proposal that FAO organize a World Conference on Fisheries Management and Development. This was to be a means both to share knowledge and experience and to encourage nations to make necessary policy decisions. Two conferences were proposed, with the 15th session of COFI in 1983 to be the first, technical phase.

Debate on this proposal concerned both the scope and objectives of such a conference and the timing of the second phase. The idea received support in principle, but some delegations noted that the prospect of significant achievement would be needed if high-level decision makers were to attend.

The concept of a Strategy for Fisheries Management and Development took shape the following year in the course of discussions at FAO Regional Conferences and at the sessions of the FAO Council. The strategy was seen as a way for the World Fisheries Conference to achieve such goals as: better utilization of fish resources, greater contribution of fish to national self-sufficiency and to world food security, greater self-reliance of developing countries in managing their fisheries, and improved international cooperation. The FAO Council emphasized that the Strategy should include not only marine fisheries but also inland fisheries and aquaculture.

In 1983, the 15th session of COFI welcomed the proposal that the forthcoming World Fisheries Conference should elaborate a Strategy for fisheries planning, management and development. Its guidelines and principles would be a reference for governments and international organizations as they considered the individual and joint actions needed to achieve greater self-sufficiency and self-reliance. The Strategy was described as "a valuable contribution to the steps being taken to achieve a New International Economic Order."

This endorsement came with a significant stricture, consistent with developing international law. The session emphasized that, in discussing the Strategy, issues already settled at UNCLOS III should not be re-opened. Equally, the proposed guidelines and principles should take full account of national sovereignty and be flexible enough to allow for the unique circumstances of individual countries. With these provisos, the session then agreed that the Strategy should include the following elements:

COFI also identified a number of action programmes to be submitted to the World Fisheries Conference in association with the Strategy:

The painstaking process that led to the World Conference came to a successful conclusion in Rome in 1984. A total of 147 countries were represented at the Conference, as were 70 governmental and non-governmental agencies. The Strategy, the Five Action Programmes and nine related resolutions all were adopted. Later in the year, the UN General Assembly endorsed this outcome. Its resolution invited States and organizations to take into account the principles and guidelines contained in the Strategy when planning the management and development of fisheries and urged donor agencies and financing institutions to support implementation of the Programmes of Action.

In his closing address to the Conference, the Director-General of FAO described the Strategy as a new "Charter for World Fisheries". It may also be seen as the first in a series of attempts to address issues emerging from the new oceans regime. In keeping with COFI’s stipulation, the document was crafted to be without prejudice to the Convention, nor to bring into question any of its provisions. Instead, it explicitly acknowledged that the Convention recognized the power of coastal States to manage fisheries within their jurisdiction. Its principles and guidelines took full account of national sovereignty. It also stated, though, that: "The authority of coastal States over resources which, for the most part, were accessible to all and are now in their exclusive economic zones, is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the rational management and optimum use of resources."

The Strategy pointed out the need for improved management competence and management systems that encompassed all users of resources, both domestic and foreign. It also noted potential difficulties in the management of:

These issues had previously been identified at the 14th and 15th sessions of COFI and referred to the World Conference for consideration. The Strategy appeared to have no new answers. On the question of straddling and other transboundary stocks, for example, it could do no more than encourage States to cooperate through regional bodies as provided in the Convention.

Such considerations aside, the Strategy provided a comprehensive guide to the management of fishing resources within the EEZ of all coastal States and effectively directed their attention to both immediate and long-term priorities. For its part, COFI exercised an on-going responsibility to monitor the implementation of the Strategy and advise the Secretariat on the forms through which progress could be measured and reported.

In a review of progress in 1991, the Committee concluded that, overall, the Strategy had been successful and that it continued to be a valid and useful guide for the development of fisheries policy and plans. Still, the members emphasized, "certain areas, such as environment and sustainability in fisheries, appropriate fishery management systems, removal of trade barriers and increasing national research capacity, required more emphasis." COFI approved the final report of the Programme of Action at its 22nd Session in 1997. Some of the main actions of the Programme of Action are summarized below.

Programmes of Action

COFI took an active interest in the progress of the five Programmes of Action approved by the World Fisheries Conference. In 1985, the 16th session identified training, technical cooperation among developing countries and investment opportunities as integral to all the programmes and recommended that a high priority be given to each of these common elements. This list of common elements was later extended to include protection of the aquatic environment, improvement of fishery data, and the role of women.

Later sessions carefully reviewed the relative balance in funding achieved both among the programmes and among geographic regions within each programme. Considerable concern was expressed in 1987 over what many delegations felt was inadequate financing for Programme of Action V, "The Promotion of the Role of Fisheries in Alleviating Under-Nutrition". The Committee called the attention of donor countries and non-governmental organizations to the need for additional support.

Although UNDP was the single largest source of funding, the programmes were also an important channel for development assistance from members of COFI themselves. For example, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Japan provided assistance for many prominent programmes, including the Bay of Bengal Programme, the Programme for Integrated Development of Artisanal Fisheries in West Africa, the Fisheries Law Advisory Programme, and an Aquaculture Development Programme.

COFI also encouraged regional collaboration through the Programmes. In 1987, developing States emphasized the importance of the programmes as a vehicle for technical cooperation among developing countries (TCDC) and economic cooperation among developing countries (ECDC). The progress report in 1991 outlined numerous examples of effective regional cooperation.

The FAO/UNDP programme for Fisheries Development and Management for the South West Indian Ocean helped to identify and formulate thirty project proposals in the region before it terminated in 1990. A UNDP-funded project for Inland Fisheries Planning, Development and Management in Eastern Central and Southern Africa encouraged technical and economic collaboration for the management of commonly exploited stocks. Regional bodies in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific had successfully initiated a network of scientists to study the problems of shrimp fisheries, resources fluctuations and recruitment collapses

COFI’s support for the Programmes of Action was unwavering. In 1989, the 18th session recommended the extension of the Programmes beyond the initial 1985-89 period. When funding for the Programmes fell below budget in the following years, COFI urged FAO to continue to identify viable projects and appealed to all donors to help meet the target.

This commitment was consistent with COFI’s approach to many of the issues it addressed through the decade of the 1980s. Its focus on the significance of the fishery for nutrition, aquaculture, and international trade in fish and fish products are useful examples of its priorities and accomplishments in this period.

Implementing the Strategy: Vessel Marking

COFI contributed to the implementation of a number of recommendations proposed by the Strategy. One success in this regard was the development of a standard international system for the marking and identification of fishing vessels. This would be fundamental to strengthened enforcement operations over the vast new expanses of ocean under national jurisdiciton.

The process that led to approval for this system shows the complexities of achieving international agreement on specific aspects of fisheries management, even when they enjoy general support.

A standardized marking system had been first proposed to the Committee in 1983 in a discussion of control of access to fishery resources in EEZs. A number of delegations had reported that their limited administrative and technical capacities made it difficult to assess either the condition of the resources or existing fishing operations. The Committee considered that developing coastal States needed more information about fishing operations in their zones and adjacent high seas areas. A number of ways to strengthen the ability of coastal States to ensure compliance with national fishing laws were suggested.

Among the measures discussed were the placement of coastal State observers on fishing vessels and the creation of regional registries of fishing vessels, as had been established with good results in the South Pacific. Other delegations noted that standardization and greater prominence in the marking of distant-water fishing vessels could, at very small cost, greatly ease the task of enforcement. The marking could be based on the vessels’ radio call signs.

All these suggestions were referred to the World Conference and the Strategy referred to regional registries and on-board observers as examples of appropriate low-cost compliance measures. Its recommendation on vessel marking was more specific. It proposed that "States should adopt standard specifications with respect to the identification and marking of fishing vessels in cooperation with the competent international authorities."

The first step towards the implementation of this recommendation was an Expert Consultation organized by Canada with the cooperation of FAO. Canada presented the results of this Consultation to COFI in 1985, including a recommendation for the use of the International Telecommunications Union Radio Call Signs (IRCS) as the basis for a marking system. COFI invited the Director-General to carry out additional consultations as necessary and to report to the next session with a view to the possible adoption of such a system.

Over the next two years, the FAO elaborated draft standard specifications in consultation with other international organizations, including the International Maritime Organization, the International Telecommunication Union and the International Civil Aviation Organization. COFI commended this progress when the draft specifications were submitted in 1987. With some 40 different marking systems in use at that time, the concept of a uniform system received support but still, final approval was withheld.

Some concern was expressed about the application of the system to small artisanal fishing vessels. It was explained that the system was intended primarily for vessels operating in waters other than those of the flag States, and that it would impose minimal costs for both governments and vessel owners. The session concluded, however, that the complexities of the issue were too large for it to be fully considered without more studies.

Few objections remained by the time of the 1989 session. In the interim, the Director-General had circulated the draft specifications to all FAO Member governments. Forty-one States had replied that, for the most part, the standards satisfied their national requirements. It also was stated that, although the system had been devised for both large and small fishing vessels, States themselves would decide to which categories of vessels it would apply.

On this basis, COFI supported, in principle, the endorsement of the marking system on a voluntary basis and invited the Director-General to circulate the standard specifications to all UN Member States, relevant UN agencies, and international fisheries organizations. It has since received widespread incorporation into national laws of both the coastal and fishing States.

The session also agreed that elaboration of a standard system for marking fishing gear, as proposed at the 17th session in 1987, would be of benefit to coastal States. It was felt, however, that it was premature to consider this complex matter and further studies were requested.

The Role of the Fishery in Human Nutrition: Food Security

Hunger is a challenge to many international fora, COFI clearly among them. The fishery is a principal source of animal protein for many people in developing countries. This same group is most vulnerable to price increases resulting from growing demand for fish or decreases in supply, or both. These realities have been of concern to COFI throughout the period 1977-1997. In 1981, at the 14th session, a prominent item on the agenda was Utilization of Fish and Its Role in Human Nutrition.

The basis for the discussion was a reporton the current and potential contribution of fisheries to world food needs. The report identified the main factors influencing the use of fish as food, particularly by low-income consumers, as being not only prices but also product forms, consumer preferences and distribution infrastructure. It recommended that developing countries should incorporate fisheries into their overall nutrition policies and that fishery products should form a larger part of national and multilateral food aid programmes.

Many of the points registered in the afore mentioned report to the 14th Session formed building blocks for future attention. Among these were:

The members of COFI recognized that marine fisheries alone could not suffice to meet world demand. They called on FAO to increase technical support for aquaculture and inland fisheries. Attention was directed at large post-harvest losses in marine fisheries – estimated at that time to be about ten percent of the global total, and as much as 40 percent in some developing countries.

FAO was urged to step up its efforts to find low-cost methods of making use of fish presently discarded at sea. The members generally endorsed FAO's emphasis on improving traditional methods of fish processing, but a number of delegations referred to the potential of small pelagic species and fresh water molluscs, which had not traditionally been readily accepted by consumers.

Major constraints on expanded consumption of fish were identified. Among the most significant were a lack of infrastructure such as roads, refrigerated storage and transport, freezing and processing plants. Other constraints included: ineffective distribution systems; relatively high prices; low product quality; and lack of effective quality control and inspection systems. Demand for fish was itself not seen as an obstacle, but ignorance of the nutritional value of fish was noted, as was the preference of consumers for certain species or for either fresh-water or marine fish.

COFI agreed with a range of recommendations made to further the food security agenda. One was agreement with a need to investigate consumer requirements for fishery products in developing countries. An assessment of nutritional impacts should be included in the planning and design stage of fisheries projects. Project development should accord greater attention to the role of women who often are heavily involved in fish processing and distribution.

Among the most far reaching recommendations adopted by COFI was that food aid programmes should include more fish; a number of suitable products both dried and canned, were available. Increased use could benefit both the recipients of the aid, and the fish product industry in developing countries. A final recommendation was that the World Food Programme Committee on Food Aid Policies and Programmes consider increased use of fish in food aid at its next session.

Remarkably, the background to this discussion was a thirty-year period of rising annual production, from under 20 million tonnes in 1950 to nearly 75 million tonnes in 1980. The concerned tone of COFI’s deliberations in the period before the World Fisheries Conference, however, was well founded. The Director-General of FAO advised in 1983 that the rate of increase in the annual catch had shrunk from around seven percent in the 1950s and 60s to little more than one percent. In contrast, the increase in need appeared to be unabated.

By the year 2000, demand would reach about 110 million tons, 20 million tons more than the most optimistic estimates of supply. Inevitably, such a shortfall would mean an increase in prices and less fish in the diet of those most in need. "The challenge before us, therefore" he said, "is not just to find an extra 20 million tons of fish, but to bring this vital food to market at prices that the poor can afford and which still offer a reasonable return to those who harvest it."

The contribution of the fishery to nutritional goals had been identified as an important element in the proposed Strategy for Fisheries Management and Development. In 1983 at its 15th session, COFI chose to focus the priority more directly. The delegation of Norway urged that nutrition be the subject of a Programme for Action to be submitted to the Conference for approval. Its proposal outlined an interdisciplinary approach to upgrade nutritional considerations in fisheries management and development for the benefit of the poorest and weakest sections of the community. The suggestion found favour with other delegations and an action programme ‘to promote the role of fisheries in alleviating undernutrition" was added to the list.

The Strategy for Fisheries Management and Development that was endorsed in 1984 at the World Fisheries Conference included a substantial emphasis on nutritional issues and incorporated many of the observations and conclusions mentioned above. One stated objective was to enlarge the role of fisheries in supplying food for the world, thereby helping to alleviate undernutrition. The principles and guidelines to be taken into account in the pursuit of this end included recommendations that:

One early outcome from the World Fisheries Conference was an increased emphasis on cooperation to promote the use of fish in the fight against malnutrition. In 1985, COFI commended the close working relationship developed between the FAO and the World Food Programme in this regard. Undoubtedly member States were pleased to learn from the representative of the WFP of a significant increase in the quantity of fish included in food aid in 1984 and of an increase in WFP funding for fisheries development programmes.

As the decade moved on, the concerns and recommendations for action in relation to nutritional goals expressed by Member States increasingly emphasized those elements of the Strategy that addressed the reduction of post-harvest losses and wastage. Catches in marine waters continued to grow through this period, from under 65 million tonnes in 1980 to a peak of more than 85 million in 1989, but it was observed that most of the increase was in lower-value shoaling pelagic species, used primarily for fishmeal production. Catches of several more valuable demersal species were clearly at or above their sustainable yields. The catch of Atlantic cod had declined by more than half from its peak in the late 1960s. The decline in haddock was even more dramatic.

Noting these trends, COFI agreed in 1987 that significant increases in supply would require improved management, further development of aquaculture and better utilization of existing catches. The need for more reliable data on which to base stock assessments and management plans was stressed. Deficiencies in the infrastructure required for the preservation and distribution of fish were identified, as was the need to reduce the by-catch in shrimp trawls.

A similar analysis prevailed in 1989. Member States explicitly acknowledged that little growth could be expected in the catch of demersal species. They also noted that the harvest of small pelagics was subject to considerable fluctuation and new products and new markets would be needed to bring these species economically to the consumer. Unconventional species, including mesopelagics, offered some hope for increasing output from the marine fishery.

Priority, however, was given to FAO programmes aimed at improvements in such fundamental areas as data collection, management, training, technical and economic cooperation among developing countries, reduction of by-catch discards, and other measures to reduce post-harvest losses. At the same time, concern was expressed about the impact of environmental degradation and pollution not only on marine and inland fisheries but also on aquaculture, one sector that had shown the most promising growth during the decade.


At a time of stagnant growth or even decline in capture fisheries, aquaculture has emerged as the main hope for significant increases in the supply of fish for human consumption. The statistical story is dramatic: annual production in aquaculture grew from just under seven million tonnes in 1984 to more than 25 million tonnes in 1994. The increase in dollar value has been even more pronounced: from about US$12 billion in 1984 to just under US$40 billion ten years later. Most of this growth has been concentrated in the developing world, with Asian countries – most notably China – accounting for about 80 percent of total production in the mid 1990s.

COFI’s attention to the aquaculture sector during the period of this study increased more or less in step with its growth. Support for aquaculture through COFI at some points may have even helped to promote its development. Early in the period, much of COFI’s attention was absorbed by discussions over the creation and implementation of the EEZ Programme and the problems and opportunities in coastal fisheries. In 1979, however, a report to the 13th session reminded the Committee that new challenges also faced FAO in providing assistance to member States for the development of aquaculture. A particular issue was the relative priority that should be given to rural small-scale aquaculture and to commercial development. A further question concerned means of increasing the exchange of experience and expertise through TCDC.

The response to these issues took shape over several sessions. The initial recognition of the importance of rural small-scale projects was followed in 1981 with agreement that FAO continue to complement its work in marine fisheries with intensified efforts to assist development of inland fisheries and aquaculture. Satisfaction was expressed at the extent of extra-budgetary support for these sectors.

A more extended discussion took place in 1983, with aquaculture and inland fisheries treated as separate topics. It was agreed that aquaculture should receive much more attention than was accorded it by many governments and the World Fisheries Conference was seen as an opportunity to encourage the development of national aquaculture policies and plans. Training and environmental concerns were identified, as was the need for more support from donor agencies.

The session also agreed on the importance of involving local residents together with experts in rural aquaculture projects. The creation by FAO of a global network of regional training and research centres was praised although the wish was expressed that aquaculture be given a higher priority within the Organization. In conclusion, the session recommended that plans be made to observe an International Year of Aquaculture in the near future.

As the subject of one of the five Programmes of Action endorsed by the World Fisheries Conference, aquaculture was assured of continuing attention at later sessions of COFI. In general, COFI expressed satisfaction with the implementation of this Programme, and the priority given to aquaculture by the FAO in its programmes for land-locked countries. In 1987, the Committee noted that the problems of aquaculture differed around the world and urged consideration of a regional approach to its development. One indication of growing support for the sector was the view expressed by several delegations that a proposed increase in FAO resources for aquaculture programmes did not adequately reflect their importance for the future.

In 1989, the 18th session strongly supported a further substantial increase by FAO in its allocation for aquaculture and the proposed establishment of two new staff positions to support the Aquaculture Development and Coordination Programme (ADCP). Problems associated with the growth of aquaculture received attention. A need was identified not only to protect the growing industry from pollution but also for some means to resolve competing demands for the land and water it required.

A further indication of aquaculture’s growing significance was the concern expressed in 1991 about the negative impact of the sector on the environment in some countries. FAO should take part, it was suggested, in the development of guidelines to control environmental impacts, combat diseases and limit their spread in wild populations. More positively, FAO’s intention to separate aquaculture from inland fisheries statistics was welcomed, as was a decision to continue activities initiated under ADCP. Concern was expressed about a reduction in support for Programme of Action III – Aquaculture Development – that was described as of particular importance in Africa.

Although COFI continued to express interest and support for aquaculture in later sessions – and consistently urged FAO to increase its priority for the sector – most discussion of the sector’s problems, needs and sustainability has transferred to other fora. In 1997 at the 22nd session, however, the creation of a Sub-Committee on Aquaculture under the auspices of COFI was proposed. The matter was left unresolved with some delegations noting budgetary constraints and the possibility that the work might be done by COFI itself.

International Trade

In 1985, COFI agreed to establish a Sub-Committee on Fish Trade. The decision followed a discussion over more than seven years about the impact of the Convention on traditional trading relationships in fish and fish products, and about the difficulties of developing countries attempting to participate in export markets. In following years, the Sub-Committee was to become the forum for debate on some of the most difficult issues facing COFI. Some of these issues extended to matters other than trade, including environmental concerns. That a number of them continue to resist full resolution even now attests to the powerful and divisive pressures that the Sub-Committee was asked to contain.

A change in trade patterns was widely anticipated during UNCLOS III. It was understood that the extension of the jurisdiction of coastal States had the potential to increase their position in world markets significantly. Not only would the Convention confirm their right to determine the allowable catch in their EEZs, it also would authorize them to limit the access of distant-water fleets to traditional fishing grounds and to claim remuneration for such access. Many coastal States, developing coastal States among them, assumed the Convention would mean new opportunities for exports and earnings. In 1979, a report to COFI on "Fishery Commodity Situation and Outlook" went so far as to outline the likely impact of extended coastal jurisdiction on each fishery commodity.

By 1981, the expected benefits for developing coastal States had yet to materialize. At the 14th session, it was noted that some countries had increased their catches, but not their exports. As a group, meanwhile, developing countries had seen a reduction in both total catch and export figures. Questions about this lack of progress led to a suggestion that FAO undertake a critical analysis of constraints to development to be presented for discussion at a later session.

At the same time, the session commended FAO efforts to create networks in several developing regions to provide information on such matters as markets, tariffs and quality control requirements. Also considered helpful was the worldwide Register of Import Regulations for Fish and Fishery Products.

A more exhaustive discussion of trade issues took place in 1983 in preparation for the World Fisheries Conference in 1984. COFI proposed a list of topics on which studies should be prepared, including: the possibility of improvements in the structure of international trade in fish; development in the terms of trade; the financial situation of the world fishing industry; barter trade; and export finance. FAO was also requested to review specific trade barriers, both direct and indirect, and to elaborate proposals on how these might be overcome.

The discussion turned up numerous obstacles to growth in trade. Developing countries were experiencing trouble maintaining precise grade of quality. The use of trade barriers as retaliation against coastal States that attempted to exercise rights over their EEZ was opposed. The need for criteria for fair trade, including harmonization of inspection procedures, was identified as a high priority. The main problem was agreed to be the concentration of market power within a small group of importing countries.

The potential of regional co-operation was reviewed. Regional fish market information systems such as those established in Latin American and the Asian Pacific regions were proposed as models for African and Arab States, with FAO to provide global coordination among networks. It was agreed as well that FAO coordinate efforts at trade promotion with such bodies as the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the International Trade Centre and regional trade organizations.

Many of the points in this discussion reappeared more formally in the Strategy for Fisheries Management and Development. On the matter of international trade, the Strategy noted the impact of the new ocean regime on the competitive position of distant-water fishing countries, and changes in trade patterns among developed countries. Developing countries faced obstacles to the full benefits from trade in fish. Nine principles and guidelines were proposed to promote equity and mutual benefit from trade. They emphasized improved market information, quality enhancement, an increase in the export of final products and a reduction in barriers to trade, and cooperation between importers and exporters on training and on measures to ensure that trade contributes to fisheries development.

A wide range of international agencies, bodies and countries were to share responsibility for the implementation of these principles and guidelines. In 1985, COFI considered the need for a new multilateral framework for their consultations on trade. Legal issues dictated the creation of a Sub-Committee. COFI itself – open only to FAO Member States – was ineligible for status as an International Commodity Body (ICB) under the terms of the Common Fund for Commodities. The Sub-Committee would be open not only to members of COFI but also to other States, UN agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency and could qualify as an ICB and for financing from the Common Fund.

The Sub-Committee was intended to provide a forum for consultations on technical and economic aspects of fish trade. It’s work was to include: periodic reviews of the factors influencing principal fishery commodity markets; discussion of specific trade problems and possible solutions; discussion of measures to promote international trade and the participation of developing countries; formulation of recommendations for commodity development, including processing and upgrading of products and the production of finished products.

In its first report to COFI, in 1987, the Sub-Committee noted that the need for its existence was underlined by the fact that the share of developing countries in export trade had been reduced in 1986. In its workplan, the Sub-Committee highlighted the promotion of new value-added products, cooperation on quality control, standards and training, study of the effects of trade barriers and on counter and barter trade arrangements. It also recommended a lengthy list of activities to be undertaken by the FAO. Among these was further strengthening of regional market information services and a feasibility study on the publication of national health and sanitation standards in the Register of Import Regulations for Fish and Fishery Products.

COFI endorsed these recommendations and indicated a priority in three areas: the development of fish export industries, strengthening the role of regional fish marketing advisory services in the transfer of technology, and the removal of impediments to trade. COFI also endorsed a proposal for a Technical Assistance Programme for Fishery Commodities and Marketing Development. The programme, to be implemented through the regional marketing information and technical advisory services, would assist developing countries overcome commercial impediments to trade and would include TCDC and ECDC projects on post-harvest and marketing technology.

Progress on this broad front of activities was generally considered satisfactory at the next session in 1989. Most concern centered on the uncertain future of the network of regional fish marketing information services, two of which – INFOPECHE and INFOSAMAK – remained without long-term funding. It was noted that financing for projects under the Technical Training Programme would be sought from the Common Fund for Commodities. COFI agreed to ask the Director-General of FAO to approach the Common Fund to seek recognition of the Sub-Committee as an ICB.

Two years later, the Director-General gave COFI the welcome news that the Sub-Committee was now recognized as the ICB for fishery products, a significant step towards funding for the Technical Training Programme. Other issues on the session agenda, however, were more challenging and would have an impact on the later discussion of trade issues. Of particular interest were the resolutions of the UN General Assembly in 1989 and 1990 for a moratorium the use on the high seas of large-scale pelagic driftnets. The matter required COFI’s urgent attention and resulted in agreement on the need to act on the broader issues of the selectivity of fishing gear and responsible fishing methods.

When the session turned to trade matters, the discussion revealed a depth of unresolved concern about the impact of measures taken by importing countries with regard to protecting the environment. Countries whose exports were affected by these measures strongly disagreed with what they saw as unilateral imposition of restrictions on trade. Some countries said the measures had been imposed despite efforts and expenditures to reduce the undesirable but unavoidable incidental catch of non-target species (such as dolphins and sea turtles) in the tuna fishery. The scientific basis for the restrictions was criticized. Concern was expressed that restrictions on by-catch could lead to sub-optimal or only marginal use of a resource.

The discussion concluded without a clear resolution. The Committee did not question the intentions of environmentalists but strong concern was expressed at the order of relative priorities. Developed countries were urged to take account of the economic impact on other countries of national environmental legislation.

In following years, environmental and trade issues continued to come together in the discussions of the Sub-Committee on Trade. In 1993, the Sub-Committee endorsed the Cancun Declaration and the elaboration of a Code of Conduct on Responsible Fishing and emphasized the importance of addressing immediately such environmental issues as the need to reduce by-catch through selective fishing gear. At the same time, many delegates expressed reservations about the use of trade measures for environmental purposes. The Sub-Committee recommended that the chapter in the Code relating to international trade be drafted in accordance with agreed trade instruments, and that there be no duplication of effort in other fora, including the GATT.

Trade issues continued to receive attention in plenary sessions of COFI itself after 1991 but much less than in earlier years. In 1993, the Committee agreed that the Code of Conduct should incorporate internationally agreed rules of fair trade and that such guidelines should apply to the entire post-harvest sector, including processing, packaging, marketing and quality assurance.

In 1995, some delegations urged FAO to take a stronger role in the discussion of trade and environmental issues in the World Trade Organization. COFI also urged FAO to study more closely the effects of subsidies to the fishing industry on trade and competition, and particularly on the exports of developing countries. In general, however, the reports of these sessions reflect none of the spirited debate that marked COFI’s approach to trade issues in the previous decade.

In 1997, COFI touched only briefly on the work of the Sub-Committee on trade, but made it clear that environmental issues remain a difficulty for fish exporters. Some concern was voiced over the establishment of the Marine Stewardship Council, a non-governmental organization working to promote sustainable fishing practices, through developing principles and criteria to be used in an eco-labelling campaign. The potential effect it could have on the products of developing countries was noted, together with the need for a responsible approach to developing the principles and criteria. Eco-labelling would be addressed further at the meeting of the Sub-Committee in Bremen, Germany, in 1998.

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