Beijing, 22 April 2002 - Negative environmental impacts of fish farming, consumers' concern for product safety and trade barriers for aquaculture products from developing countries were some of the important topics addressed at the first session of FAO's Sub-Committee on Aquaculture, which took place in Beijing 18-22 April.

"Aquaculture plays a crucial role in rural development and in the fight against hunger, but as in any other sector there are also problems," according to Mr Rohana Subasinghe, Secretary of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture and FAO's focal point for the meeting. "During our meeting the problems got on the table and, more importantly, a wealth of suggestion on how to move ahead were put forward. It was very constructive and promising for the future work," he said.

When discussing the implementation of aquaculture-related provisions of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries*, the 100 delegates from governments, and inter-governmental organizations, UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations recognized that good environment and consumer health are key factors that need to be addressed to develop a sustainable aquaculture industry.

"We discussed proper use of chemicals and antibiotics in fish farming and the need for better resource management. Many participants stressed the importance of food quality and product safety," said Mr Subasinghe. To address the problems the meeting suggested carrying out a series of environmental, social, economic risk assessment studies of the aquaculture sector to gather reliable information on the risks that apply to aquaculture operations. If such information was available, it could encourage more governments to engage in aquaculture and prevent the current misinformation of consumers.

The meeting acknowledged that aquaculture, including culture-based fisheries, makes an important contribution to poverty alleviation and food security, and the delegates also acknowledged the increasing importance of international trade in aquaculture products. In 1999, aquatic products (including plants) valued at US$ 53.5 billion were produced, and aquaculture contributed almost a third of global fisheries production. Since fish supply from marine capture fisheries in most countries is expected to remain constant or even to decline, aquaculture will play a major role in meeting the predicted growing demand for fish.

It was pointed out by several delegates that a "certification system of best practices" for aquaculture production could facilitate an expansion of global trade in aquaculture products, as it most probably would increase consumers' trust in the products. Other delegates argued that such a system could be seen as a trade barrier and have negative consequences for developing countries' access to foreign markets. Many delegates called for harmonization of import and export standards on food quality in order to avoid non-tariff trade barriers and ensure free access to international markets. The meeting suggested that FAO, as an impartial third party, should develop guidelines for an elaboration of a transparent and non-discriminatory "certification of best practices" procedure. It was also emphasized that developed countries should provide technical assistance to developing countries to assist them in meeting food safety certification obligations.

With an overall growth rate of 11 percent a year since 1984, aquaculture is the world's fastest growing food-producing sectors. 90 percent of the total aquaculture production comes from developing countries, particularly countries in Asia. "In Africa and Latin America the potential is far from fully reached," Mr Subasinghe said. But both he and the report from the Sub-Committee point out the urgent need for capacity building, training, technology transfer and information exchange. "It is crucial that developed countries assist developing countries in this process, but there is also a huge potentialfor south-south cooperation between those developing countries which already have a well functioning aquaculture sector and those which are yet to get started," Mr Subasinghe said, adding: "Cooperation and support at all levels - both technically and financially, within countries and between countries, bilaterally and multilaterally - are key elements if we want to implement the suggestions put forward by this meeting and to ensure a sustainable development of aquaculture".

The Sub-Committee on Aquaculture was established by the 24th meeting of FAO's Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in 2001. The aim is to provide a neutral forum for consultation and discussion on aquaculture and to advise COFI on technical and policy matters related to aquaculture and on the work to be performed by the FAO in the subject matter field of aquaculture. The next meeting of the Sub-Committee will be held in Norway in August 2003.

*The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, brought into effect in 1995, sets out principles and international standards of behaviour for responsible practices with a view to ensuring the effective conservation, management and development of living aquatic resources, with due respect to ecosystem and biodiversity