September 1998 COFI/99/Inf.10

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Twenty-third Session
Rome, Italy, 15-19 February 1999


1. The Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR), established on the recommendation of the Committee on Fisheries at its Twentieth Session and approved by the FAO Council at its One Hundred and Fourth Session in 1993, held its First Session at FAO Headquarters, Rome, 25-28 November, 1997.1

2. The eight members of the Committee were selected by the Director-General on the basis of their specialized knowledge in fisheries and aquaculture research, and to include the widest possible subject matter and geographical representation.2

3. It may be recalled that the Committee’s role is (a) to study and advise the Director-General on the formulation and execution of the Organization’s Programme of Work in respect of all aspects of fisheries research, including conservation and management of marine and inland fishery resources, increasing fish productivity through enhancement of wild resources and through aquaculture, improving the means of converting fishery resources into human food, and the study of the dynamics of fishing communities and the socio-economic consequences of government fishery policies - special attention will be provided to the fisheries aspects of oceanographic research and to the impacts of environmental change on the sustainability of fisheries; and (b) by agreement between the Director-General and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of Unesco, and in accordance with Resolution 15 adopted at the Second Session of the IOC, also to act as the advisory body to that Commission on the fishery aspects of oceanography.

4. The Committee began its work at a time when much of the Fisheries Department’s activities are focused on implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and when a Strategic Framework with a time horizon to 2010 is being elaborated. Also, the Fisheries Department, with the assistance from major producing countries, had only recently completed identification of research priorities in aquaculture for Sub-Sahara Africa, Asia and Latin America, while similar activities were being undertaken for the Mediterranean area.

5. The Committee underlined FAO’s role as the honest-broker, particularly on sensitive technical issues and in mounting technical consultations planned on sustainable shrimp aquaculture, sustainability indicators, management of fishing capacity, shark conservation and management, incidental catch of seabirds in long-line fisheries and gear selectivity.

6. The Committee noted that there are also many global programmes and issues that affect fisheries, and that these should be taken into account when considering research needs. They include: the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) of IOC; international listings of fisheries resource species as threatened or endangered (IUCN and CITES); trade issues e.g. GATT; the International Convention on Biological Diversity; International Maritime Organization initiatives relevant to fisheries (e.g. ballast water, training); the International Coral Reef Initiative; the Large Marine Ecosystems approach (Global Environmental Facility); and fishworkers' initiatives (e.g. World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers).

Critical Research Needs

7. The Committee identified eight areas of interdisciplinary research, largely concerned with natural systems that include fisheries resources first, then topics that predominately concern the human dimension of fisheries systems, then topics concerning culture systems for fisheries resource/species, and finally topics concerning scientific information. These topics, which highlight the need for a shift in emphasis from a programme of research, in the past had been concerned mostly with fisheries resources, to a future programme with substantial emphasis on the human dimension of fisheries, are:

An ecosystem perspective on fisheries. There is a need to increase emphasis on the role of fisheries in ecosystems, how fisheries are affected by ecosystems and their degradation, and the relationship (e.g. complementary or competing) between alternative uses and values of ecosystems.

Inland and small-scale coastal fisheries. These important fisheries, which are particularly vulnerable to environmental changes and overfishing, and contain groups of organisms that are in need of environmental and fisheries management, require a more holistic and interdisciplinary approach, including ecosystem and socio-economic perspectives.

Globalization. Important aspects of fisheries globalization, including trade and marketing, technology transfer, international investment, international standardization, influences on traditional values and cultures, and wealth redistribution, have yet to be incorporated into the fisheries management paradigm.

Economic aspects of fisheries trade and the distribution of benefits. Many of the factors driving the present problems in fisheries can only be understood and addressed with a more complete understanding of the nature and extent of barriers to trade, and of the processes that control the distribution of benefits. Important processes act on scales ranging from global to highly local.

Scientific basis for fisheries management policies, instruments, and institutions. The traditional emphasis of fisheries research on fisheries resources has been insufficient to guide fisheries management in the development of scientifically-based policies (e.g. setting of goals within constraints), instruments (e.g. methods of management) and institutions (e.g. arrangements for making decisions). Research is needed on alternative forms of rights and obligations in order to promote incentives for conservation and efficient use of resources, and to enable diverse views to be incorporated in decision making.

Ecologically sound aquaculture and stock enhancement. As aquaculture production has increased, so have concerns about the social and economic effects on local communities, the degradation of coastal habitats used for aquaculture, spread of diseases, genetic pollution, and the inefficient use of wild fish production as aquaculture feed. There is a critical need for research in this area before the adverse effects of some types of aquaculture become too severe, or become hardly or non reversible.

Status and trends. FAO plays a unique role in the gathering of statistical information on fisheries and fisheries management, and in summarizing information on the global status and trends of fisheries and their resources. The present statistical system is limited primarily to landings and commodities statistics. There is a critical need for data relevant to fleet capacity, participation in fisheries, economic performance and distribution, as well as the integration of the entire fisheries statistical system. There is also a need to review the dataflow and quality, as well as the reliability of the estimates that FAO puts at the disposal of its Members with a view to optimize the system. This is important because FAO data are widely used and quoted, and their accuracy needs to be checked and improved.

New research methods. The nature of the issues facing policy makers and fisheries managers, and of the concerns of environmentalists and the public, is becoming more complex. While results of fisheries research are the primary means for guiding fisheries resource management decisions, resources and time to gather information through research are extremely limited, especially but not only in developing countries. Also, some current research methods may, by their nature and origin, be blind to important dimensions of the problems being addressed. New research methods are needed that are interdisciplinary, more efficient in data-limited and weak research-infrastructure situations, usable for comparative analysis, conducive to indicators, able to use traditional knowledge, and participatory.

Establishment of Working Parties

8. The Committee decided to set up working parties to develop research agendas on a number of themes it identified, and which should reinforce the work of FAO, enhance the contribution of fisheries and aquaculture to food security, which be the topics that FAO is particularly well suited to undertake. Of nine topics identified, three were considered high priority subject matter which the Committee suggests that FAO addresses during the 1998-1999 biennium and, in particular, during the Committee's intersessional period.

  1. Implications of Globalization on Fish Trade and Distribution of Benefits. This is a broad area that FAO and other fisheries agencies have not dealt with extensively. A targeted research agenda is needed to address such issues as barriers to trade, the distribution of benefits from new trade arrangements and regulations, and trade impact on food security.
  2. Methodology and Data Needs for Stocks and Fisheries Status Reporting. In view of the importance of fisheries status reporting and rapid improvements in communication technology, FAO and other major players in this discipline should consult through this working party on updating, improving and integrating statistical databases, and information quality control mechanisms, with a view to improving global monitoring and strategic analysis of fisheries, as well as accessibility to non-FAO users.
  3. New Research Methods, Traditional Knowledge and Approaches. Fisheries research lags behind other research sectors, such as agriculture and forestry, in developing and adapting a range of new research methods, particularly for participatory approaches for social and economic studies. The working party should concentrate on defining areas where new research methods are needed, identify potential approaches, review any successful fisheries applications, and recommend useful existing or potential methods for different research needs.

9. The six remaining identified topics could be undertaken by FAO if the opportunity arises and/or by FAO regional fisheries bodies or other organizations, as appropriate. These are:

1 The full report of the First Session of ACFR has been published as FAO Fisheries Report No. 571, Report of the First Session of the ACFR, Rome, 25-28 November 1997, 36 p.
2 The other members are: Drs. M.J. Williams (First Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur), Director General, International centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management, Makati City, Philippines; J. Kurien (Second Vice-Chairperson), Associate Professor, centre for Development Studies, Ulloor, Kerala, India; A. Espinach Ross, Investigador y Director de Proyectos, Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Pesquero Subsede, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Ashraf Sabet, Head of Fisheries Department, Arab Academy for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Egypt; Rognvaldur Hannesson, Professor, Centre for Fisheries Economics, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Helleveien, Bergen-Sandviken, Norway; Ian bryceson, Researcher, Centre for International Environment and Development Studies. Agriculture University of Norway, Aas, Norway; Hassanai Kongkeo, Director/Coordinator, network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand. Secretariat: Dr. B.P. Satia, Chief, International Institutions and Liaison Service, FAO Fisheries Department.