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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nationsfor a world without hunger
Oil containment boom is positioned after an oil spill from a power generating plant
Oil containment boom is positioned after an oil spill from a power generating plant
Courtesy of NOAA/M.Hollinger


In fisheries and aquaculture, precaution is an indispensable and vital attitude. Many activities involved with fishing and farming fish involve a very high degree of risk. Anticipating threats and trying to avoid damage to equipment and installations, to protect farmed stock, or to prevent harm to owner or the consumers' health is in the interest of fishers and fish farmers. While fishers and fish farmers are used to deal with highly variable environmental and climatic conditions, it is also known however that in many cases of climatic or environmental emergencies, which have affected fisheries, significant damage and economic loss could have been prevented by forethought, preparation and vigilance.

Being informed and prepared reduces the impact of surprise. Precautionary action, to be effective in emergencies, requires assessment of risks, including identification of uncertainties, definition of priorities (including priority resources, priorities for protection), and clear response strategies, i.e. setting priorities of action, and their timing and location, which may involve aspects of organization and management, communication, equipment and manpower, training and exercises, public awareness campaigns, etc. In fisheries, generally, there is scope for developing and improving emergency preparedness and contingency planning.

Not only fisheries, but many sectors deal with emergencies, risks and uncertainties, and approaches of risk management and contingency planning have been developed, for example, in the realms of natural disaster planning and mitigation, food safety and public health assurance, environmental hazard assessment and management, insurance business, etc. Fisheries stakeholders can learn from such approaches and experiences made by others.

Fisheries insurance

In general, major risks confronting fishers and fish farmers can be divided into following general categories: asset risks, production and management risks, and market risks and personal and health risks. Asset risks include loss of or damage to fishing vessels, equipment, and gear and aquaculture installations, as a result of natural or man-made disasters. Production and management risks involve the loss of catch, production failure and fish disease. Market risks relate to changes in the prices of outputs and inputs, as well as increases in interest rates. Personal and health risks include accidents at sea and death and job-related illnesses. Of significance can be changes in consumer behaviour, especially if fish and fishery products are being associated with potential harm to human health, social well-being and environmental integrity.

There is increasing experience with developing and implementing fisheries insurance schemes. However, overall, there is still significant scope for further promoting such schemes, particularly in developing countries.

In view of the high level of risk and the many types of risks associated with fisheries and aquaculture, private insurance companies are still reluctant to get involved in this sector, particularly, in traditional small-scale fisheries and fish-farming activities, and especially those in developing countries. However, fisheries insurance should be viewed from the perspective of the small-scale fishers and fish farmers, which comprise the majority of the fishers population in developing countries. Such fishers need protection against losses caused by natural and humanmade disasters. Fisheries insurance schemes are therefore indispensable and government support is necessary for their establishment.

The advantages and benefits provided by fisheries insurance vary from scheme to scheme. However, in general, the principal benefits of fisheries insurance are:

  • protecting fishers and fish farmers against accidents and natural hazards beyond their control;
  • providing basic compensation for the loss of or damage to fishing vessels, gear and catch (or harvest), thus contributing to stabilization of incomes within the fisheries sector;
  • reducing the risk to financial institutions, which provide credit to fishers and fish farmers, in relation to fisheries credit;
  • reducing the risk for fishers and fish farmers in investing their own resources in the adoption of new technologies and acquiring improved equipment;
  • fostering mutual assistance and cooperation among fishers, fish farmers and their organizations;
  • reducing the unpredictable burden on government of providing emergency assistance in the wake of natural disasters;
  • promoting stability in fishery enterprises and contributing to the general welfare of fisheries communities; and,
  • stabilizing the contribution of the fisheries sector to national economy.

Difficulties and problems that arise with respect to the introduction of fisheries insurance schemes include the following:

  • limited financial resources;
  • inadequate benchmark data on the extent of damage to vessels, gear, catches and production, ponds, cages and other aquaculture installations;
  • a wide variety of diverse fishing and aquaculture practices,
  • little apparent demand for insurance;
  • exclusion of small-scale fishers and fish farmers from insurance;
  • lack of well-established village institutions, such as co-operatives, to act as insurance agents;
  • lack of legal framework for fisheries insurance;
  • lack of related government policy;
  • difficulty in promoting insurance policies, designing sustainable insurance programmes and coordinating the work of the agencies concerned;
  • difficulty of covering credit projects under insurance schemes;
  • high cost of premiums and providing appropriate levels of benefits;
  • speed and transparency of claims settlement;
  • lack of trained personnel;
  • lack of understanding of the value of insurance; and
  • lack of reliable actuarial data for establishing premium rates.
Contingency planning measures must anticipate alll kinds of emergencies like this oil well blowout
Contingency planning measures must anticipate alll kinds of emergencies like this oil well blowout
Courtesy of NOAA

Examples of contingency planning and emergency response measures

Measures to mitigate the impact of hurricanes and cyclones on fisheries may include:

  • assessment of risk and vulnerability to, and the economic implications of, storm damage to fisheries, highlighting weaknesses and strengths in existing practices and successful attempts to protect boats, fishing gear and infrastructure;
  • development and dissemination of simple methods of improving land protection, minimizing erosion, introduction of more storm-resistant agricultural crops and planting of forestry windbreaks or shelterbelts;
  • development and dissemination of improved measures and techniques such as infrastructure construction (e.g. storm shelters, fishing jetties and mooring buoys); installation of storm warning systems including radio relay stations, shore-to-boat and boat-to-boat communication networks; supply of life-saving appliances; boat modification and motorization programmes; establishment of local sea and storm safety committees and an effective search and rescue capability, and provision of training and technical advice on sea safety; demonstration and training programmes, including national and sub-regional workshops on hurricane/cyclone impact mitigation, and production of training programmes and materials for farmers, forestry staff, fishers and extensionists.

In case of oil spills affecting or threatening fisheries and aquaculture operations, response options may include application of protection and clean up techniques, e.g. using booms and other physical barriers, sorbent materials, and dispersants at safe distance from fish stock. Fishery closures can be imposed after an oil spill in order to prevent or minimise fishing gear contamination and to protect or reassure seafood consumers. Fishers can agree to a voluntary suspension of fishing activity as a precautionary measure during a period when oil is drifting in their normal fishing area, and thereby avoid repeatedly contaminating fishing gear. Aquaculture-specific options may include moving floating facilities out of the path of slicks, sinking of specially designed cages to allow oil to pass, transfer of stock to areas unlikely to be affected, reduction or suspension of feeding, temporarily suspending the replenishment of seawater, in the case of land-based installations. In some cases aquaculture operators may face the risk of ultimately losing all the stock due to oil spill damage. Harvesting before the stock becomes oiled might be possible, albeit selling the products at a lower price, and thereby salvaging some of its value. Conversely, normal harvesting could be delayed to allow contaminated stock to depurate and become taint-free.

In an oil spill, it is vital to communicate information to the media and the public in an effective manner on the likelihood of adverse consequences for fishery resources. Inaccurate public information about tainting and contamination may limit the range of management strategies available, causing unnecessary fishing and harvesting restrictions and/or loss of consumer confidence in the market. Risk communication is an ongoing process that must be addressed in both spill response planning as well as during the spill event. Information about risk can be communicated through a variety of channels, from media reports to public meetings.

In the case of harmful algal blooms affecting aquaculture operations countermeasures at farm level may ideally include: (i) provision of multiple water intakes (e.g. pumping of plankton-free water from various depths); (ii) vertical movement of cultured organisms (e.g. sinking of cages); (iii) relocating of culture units to unaffected areas which requires detachable moorings and towable structures; (iv) pre-emptive harvesting; (v) reduction of food supply and stress to lower metabolism of cultured stock; (vi) on-site shielding of stock (e.g. bubble curtains, injection of clear water, non-porous barriers); (vii) cortisone treatment to reduce gill-swelling. These are options that realistically would require significant investment, which in many cases is rather unlikely given the socio-economic living conditions of many fish farmers. Examples of contingency planning in aquatic animal health management are described in Emergencies in aquaculture - disease outbreaks.

Governments may have a role to play in the promotion of aquaculture production and fishing activities in unpolluted waters and low risk areas that should be combined with hazard assessment and regular monitoring of environmental conditions. In general, systematic collection of information on apparent pollution events or other patterns of environmental deterioration may prove very useful for various purposes such as early detection/early warning schemes (e.g., on oil spills, phytoplankton blooms); improved demarcation of pollution-exposed areas (e.g., changing patterns of distribution/expansion of contamination); and record-keeping of chronology/history of events (frequency, duration, time of year, etc.).

The FAO Fisheries Department is committed, in its medium-term programme 2000-2005, to provide member countries with information and indicators to better forecast emergencies and disasters in fisheries and aquaculture. In particular, the activities will aim at the Promotion of ecosystem/environmental information and management by developing, testing, documenting and disseminating approaches, methodologies, models and procedures for effectively utilizing information on environmental variation and biological community composition in its applications to fishery management and industrial and small-scale fisheries. The work would also include advice on ecological and environmental applications to members' countries, and regional fishery bodies.

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