FAO Fisheries Department - Committee on Fisheries
December 1996 COFI/97/Inf.12


Twenty-second Session
Rome, Italy 17-20 March 1997


1.    This information paper has been prepared following a request made by the Sub-Committee on Fish Trade at its Fifth Session1. During an Industry Workshop organized in conjunction with the Fifth Session, participants from two NGOs (Greenpeace, World Wide Fund for Nature) and a major company active in the fishery sector (Unilever) had explained the initiatives promoted by their organizations. However, the Sub-Committee felt that the time available had been insufficient for a proper analysis and refrained from a discussion of the subject. Nevertheless, in view of the importance which these initiatives could possibly gain, it requested that COFI be informed.


2.    The Greenpeace "Principles for Ecologically Responsible Fisheries" were issued in a preliminary version in February 1996. The six sections (49 paragraphs altogether) are entitled:

The document is formulated without reference to any international instrument pertinent to the subject. It calls for implementation of management procedures and supporting national legislation over a decade-long period (starting 1996) to be fully operational worldwide.

3.    Also in February 1996, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Unilever Plc/Nv announced their cooperation in establishing a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to promote market-led economic incentives for sustainable fishing. The promoters say that the MSC would be an independent, non-profit, non-governmental membership body which would establish a broad set of principles for sustainable fishing and set standards for individual fisheries. Only fisheries meeting these standards would be eligible for certification by independent, accredited certifying firms. Products from certified fisheries would eventually be marked with an on-pack logo. This would allow consumers to select those fishery products which come from a sustainable source.

4.    The MSC Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing are in the process of being elaborated and the headings of the various chapters of the preliminary draft are:

It is expected that the MSC will commence operations in 1997 and a first on-pack logo for products from fisheries certified to MSC standards may become available in 1998.

5.    There were two initiatives aiming at a ban on trawling, one promoted by the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers and one on factory trawlers by Greenpeace. A statement submitted by 25 NGOs to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development urged Governments to take measures in order to eliminate unsustainable aquaculture. In addition to these international initiatives, there are a number of actions at national level for which information is limited, because systematic collection of information in this regard cannot be afforded. Their international impact is probably rather limited2.


6.    The reaction to these initiatives has been varied so far. FAO is following up the development of the initiatives with a view to ensure, in case of success, consistency with the Code of Conduct, Law of the Sea, fish trade international regulations and instruments. Whereas Unilever went into a partnership with WWF, it is known that industry associations such as the International Fishmeal & Oil Manufacturers Association (IFOMA)3 and the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations (ICFA) have very serious reservations about these initiatives and took a stance of opposition. Others, like the Ground Fish Forum, may not have taken a definite stance but expressed concern. The Latin American Fisheries Development Organization rejected the MSC initiative in a resolution adopted at the Ministerial Meeting in Habana on 6 November 1996. The initiative, on the other hand, is seen positively by countries which have made major efforts towardsimproved management and believe that they may have good candidates for labelling among their national fisheries (e.g., Australia, New Zealand).


7.    It would appear that the initiatives promoted by NGOs received considerable attention in the media and public opinion, which may become stronger during the 1998 Year of the Oceans. It is important that such media coverage be based on verified numerical information and confirmed statistics as well as analysis and explanations of facts and linkages. Otherwise, there may be a risk of undue reactions in the commercial circle which could damage producers, processors and marketers alike and be detrimental to the interest of consumers. In fact, it would be the use of the latter's force against itself if the action were based on misconception and misinformation. For this reason, the Fisheries Department and, in particular, the Secretariat of the COFI Sub-Committee on Fish Trade, will not only monitor events but entertain a dialogue with all concerned with the intention of ensuring a factual basis for these initiatives.

8.    The Department intends to prepare for a discussion of issues involved at the next session of the Sub-Committee on Fish Trade, probably in June 1998 unless COFI's considerations suggest the need for an earlier consultation on the matter.

1 Paragraph 20 of the Report of the Fifth Session (document COFI/97/Inf.9)
2 Except perhaps national measures which influence the import of specific products from specific countries, e.g., US shrimp embargo against countries not using turtle excluder devices. This matter is being dealt with at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
3 See papers presented at the IFOMA Annual Conference, Cape Town, South Africa, November 1996: Barlow, S.M., "The impact of the environmental campaign on fish meal/oil trade"; and Faksvag, S.O., "Review of impact of the environmentalist campaign on the forestry industry and lessons for the fishing industry"