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Small island states, such as the Seychelles, benefit from FAO's work in promoting sustainable fisheries development
Small island states, such as the Seychelles, benefit from FAO's work in promoting sustainable fisheries development

To achieve long-term sustainability in the fisheries sector, the FAO Fisheries Department supports Agenda 21 and its implementation on a number of fronts, notably in capacity building, in technologies and policies and in strengthening the framework for sustainable development.

Building capacity and strengthening institutions

Capacity building and institutional strengthening in developing countries is the key element in facilitating long-term sustainability in the fisheries sector. It is stressed in all aspects of FAO's programme of work in fisheries. Moreover, the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries recognizes explicitly the importance of enhancing human and institutional capacity and urges action to be taken to this end.

FAO gives practical effect to capacity building and institutional strengthening in a number of different but related ways. The Organization works closely with national fishery administrations, including those in small island developing countries (SIDS), to improve their operational efficiency in management and utilization and in the promotion of sustainable aquaculture. This is achieved through the dissemination of information pertinent to responsible management and in particular through the preparation of technical guidelines that support the implementation of the Code of Conduct; country visit and the provision of advice on specific issues; the organization of workshops and professional attachments of staff to the Fisheries Department.

Developing countries face particular challenges in fisheries management at the present time because of the number of international instruments and initiatives adopted since UNCED and the requirement to implement them comprehensively and as intended. These instruments contain a number of new concepts and approaches such as ecosystem management, the precautionary approach, sustainable indicators for management, and catch certification. The implementation of these concepts is crucial for achieving responsible fisheries and as a result they are being addressed routinely by FAO.

An important aspect of FAO's fisheries capacity-building work is the facilitation of cooperation among Members in support of regional fishery bodies or arrangements (RFBs). This work is critical given that all post-UNCED fisheries instruments envisage that RFBs will facilitate cooperation to conserve and manage international fisheries. FAO's work with RFBs focuses on two main areas:

  • technical and administrative support to FAO's RFBs with a view to strengthening their roles, and
  • the promotion of collaboration and consultation among all fisheries bodies on matters of common concern.

Effective monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) is an essential part of fisheries management. The implementation of management measures designed to facilitate responsible fisheries presupposes the existence of effective MCS arrangements. FAO has an on-going MCS programme of technical assistance. This programme utilizes regional workshops as the principal vehicle for delivery. They seek to enhance national MCS capacity while encouraging regional MCS cooperation. FAO also provides, on a request basis, technical inputs to national MCS programmes.

Technologies and Policies to Enhance Implementation in Key Areas Fisheries

FAO works with its Members in several key areas to promote technologies that facilitate long-term sustainability in fisheries. In 1995 the Government of Japan in cooperation with FAO organized the International Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security. It adopted the Kyoto Declaration that takes account of UNCED and post-UNCED fisheries initiatives and other fisheries considerations that undermine sustainable resource use and that in turn constrain the fisheries sector contribution to food security. Fisheries technology issues figure significantly in the Declaration.

In the area of fishing operations, FAO has developed general technical guidelines for implementation by countries that should enable the ecosystem to be protected and wastage in fisheries to be minimized. Work has focussed most sharply on minimising by-catch and discards. A project aimed for the reduction of bycatch in tropical shrimp fisheries has jointly been developed with UNEP for funding by GEF. FAO also facilitates and participates in international meetings to review and assess by-catch and discard issues, undertakes country visits to provide advice and liases with research institutes, RFBs, industry groups and non-governmental organizations.

In support of more cost-effective monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS), FAO assesses and disseminates information, including technical guidelines concerning vessel monitoring systems (VMS), which is now increasingly being implemented by States. Technological developments in this field are kept under review.

Another aspect of FAO's work in the area of preventing by-catches was the development, within the framework of the Code of Conduct, of the 1999 International Plan of Action to for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries (IPOA-seabirds). Since its adoption, FAO has been working with Members to promote information about the IPOA and to facilitate its implementation, especially in those fisheries and regions where the by-catch of seabirds in fisheries is most problematic.

In the area of fish utilization, processing and food quality and safety, FAO focussed on activities, including the accelerated transfer of processing skills and technology, that will lead to better utilization of fish resources for direct human consumption, including through the utilization of by-catch and low-value fish, better value addition, promotion of fish nutritional attributes, improvement of quality and safety in conformity with the international standards and promotion of international fish trade. These activities seek to support the work of FAO Members through responding to requests from governments, institutions and industry. The delivery of assistance is through workshops and consultations, the provision of technical support and promotion of national and regional research programmes in the areas of fish utilization, trade and marketing. To bolster and reinforce these activities, FAO produces technical documents and guidelines, including guidelines on responsible fish utilization. These activities are designed to make better use of fisheries resources and to support the long-term goals of sustainability.

FAO also provides guidance and coordinates the programmes of the regionally based INFOnetwork (INFOFISH, INFOSAMAK, INFOPESCA, INFOPECHE, INFOYU and EASTFISH). This network provides technical assistance to countries with a view to facilitating responsible fisheries in processing, trade and marketing. Moreover, FAO is developing a web-based seafood safety system to enhance the dissemination of information relating to this area of its work, especially to developing countries in need of timely information on international standards, regulations and scientific information in fish safety.

FAO collaborates with many agencies in conducting global, regional and national activities and provides technical assistance and policy advice to Members in relation to the sustainable development of aquaculture and aquatic resources management. Activities include assistance to sustainable shrimp aquaculture, technical guidelines on aquatic animal health management, assistance to safe trans-boundary movement of live aquatic animals, support to inland fisheries development and management, technical guidelines on good feed manufacturing practice, studies on integrated coastal zone management, integrated agriculture-aquaculture development are some of the recent activities worth mentioning. FAO will continue to providing technical assistance, awareness-building, information exchange and capacity-building to develop and implement good farm and sectoral management and policy measures.

To enhance and strengthen its activities in aquaculture, FAO with the approval of its Governing Bodies, established in 2001 the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) Sub-Committee on Aquaculture. It met for the first time in April 2002 in China. The purpose of the Sub-Committee is to provide a 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 FAO in the field of aquaculture.

Strengthening the Regulatory Framework for Sustainable Development

Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, unanimously adopted by the FAO Council in 1995, accords fully with the goals and thrust of Chapter 17 of Agenda 21. The Code seeks to promote and facilitate structural change in the fisheries sector so that fisheries and aquaculture are utilized in a long-term sustainable and responsible manner for the benefit of present and future generations. The Code provides the general framework for FAO's work programme in fisheries and aquaculture.

When adopting the Code, the FAO Conference made a broad international call to all those involved in fisheries, including both FAO and non-FAO Members, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry and fishers to collaborate in the fulfilment and implementation of the Code's objectives and principles. This call underscored the international nature of the Code and the role envisaged for stakeholders to participate in its implementation.

The Code takes a holistic view of the fisheries world. In so doing, it prescribes principles and standards for the conservation and management of all fisheries, and addresses the capture, processing and trade in fish and fishery products, fishing operations, aquaculture, fisheries research and the integration of fisheries into coastal area management. In a succinct way, the Code demonstrates the interdependencies in the fisheries sector and the need to address all areas if consistent, sustained, responsible and sector-wide improvements are to be achieved.

The purpose of the Code is to encourage the rational and long-term sustainable utilization of fisheries. The rationale underlying the Code is the notion that structural adjustment within the fisheries sector is required if long-term sustainability is to be achieved, in view of the high proportion of fisheries that are not responsively managed at the present time. Moreover, the Code recognizes that while policy decisions concerning the changes aimed at achieving sustainability rest firmly with governments, wider stakeholder participation and cooperation as envisaged in Agenda 21 is required if the Code is to be implemented fully and expeditiously.

As a voluntary, soft-law instrument, the Code does not require formal acceptance by governments unlike the 1993 FAO Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas (1993 FAO Compliance Agreement) and the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement). This Agreement entered into force in December 2001. Despite their different legal stati, the Compliance Agreement is an integral component of the Code of Conduct.

Even though the Code is not a binding instrument, all FAO Members have undertaken a serious commitment to implement it and to act in a responsible manner to address urgent management and related sectoral issues.

Other fisheries initiatives that promote long-term sustainable management and utilization of fisheries, and which support Agenda 21, include:

  • 1992 Cancún Declaration on Responsible Fishing;
  • 1995 Kyoto Declaration and Plan of Action on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security;
  • 1999 Rome Declaration on the Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries;
  • 1999 International Plans of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries, the Conservation and Management of Sharks and the Management of Fishing Capacity (FAO 1999);
  • 2001 International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (FAO 2001); and
  • 2001 Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem.

The Reykjavik Conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem was jointly organised by the Government of Iceland and FAO with the co-sponsorship of the Government of Norway. It was held from 1 to 4 October 2001. The Conference's objectives were to gather and review the best available knowledge on marine ecosystem issues, identify means by which ecosystem considerations can be included in capture fisheries management and identify future challenges and strategies. The Conference included a Scientific Symposium where world-renowned scientists gave papers analysing the global issues related to the various aspects of ecosystem-based fisheries management. It was attended by national delegations from 60 countries, including all the leading fisheries nations and representatives from 21 intergovernmental organizations and 11 non-governmental organizations. Some over 200 scientists attended the Scientific Symposium. The Conference adopted the Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem.

In its consideration of the Reykjavik Declaration the FAO Conference at its Thirty first Session in November 2001 acknowledged the increasing contribution of fisheries to food security and noted that the FAO Council at its Hundred and twenty first Session in November 2001 had endorsed the Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem. The FAO Conference endorsed the Reykjavik Declaration.

The implementation of Reykjavik Declaration and the other instruments and initiatives listed above have place heavy burdens on governments. In the developed world, the commitments that these instruments contain have created implementational delays through the policy and legislative work involved. In developing countries, similar problems have been especially taxing for administrations that lack, or have limited, technical and institutional capacity to implement the commitments.

The Code has 12 articles and two annexes. The substantive articles of the Code are found in articles 6 to 12. These articles, which demonstrate how comprehensive the Code is, address its general principles, fisheries management, fishing operations, aquaculture development, the integration of fisheries into coastal area management, post-harvest practices and trade, and fisheries research.

To facilitate the implementation of the Code, FAO prepares technical guidelines. They have no formal legal status and are intended to be flexible and capable of evolving as circumstances change or as new information becomes available. The guidelines assist fisheries administrators and stakeholders, review options and develop national policy to support of the Code's implementation. The technical guidelines are viewed as a bridge between the Code, national policy and implementation, and long-term sustainable development.

The 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement aims to create a stronger international regime for achieving sustainable fisheries on the high seas. Building upon the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Compliance Agreement sets forth a broad range of "flag State responsibilities," including the obligation to ensure that vessels fishing on the high seas do not undermine international fishery conservation and management measures. The FAO Compliance Agreement also provides for the creation of an international database of information concerning high seas fishing vessels, to be maintained by FAO, which will be of great value to States and regional fishery bodies and arrangements. This database has already been established. The FAO Compliance Agreement has not yet entered into force. It will do so as from the date of receipt by the Director-General of FAO of the twenty-fifth instrument of acceptance. As at December 2001 acceptances from 22 countries had been received by FAO.

To hasten the necessary adjustment in the fisheries sector, and to target particular problems that have been deemed by the international community to require special attention, four voluntary international plans of action (IPOAs) have been concluded within the framework of the Code of Conduct. These IPOAs, which have the effect of reinforcing different management aspects of the Code, specifically target the:

  • reduction of incidental catch of seabirds in longline fisheries;
  • conservation and management of sharks;
  • management of fishing capacity;
  • prevention, deterrence and elimination of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Each IPOA calls upon governments to implement national plans of action in accordance with agreed international measures. In doing so, governments are encouraged to initiate or strengthen national activities to address the problems identified in the IPOAs as a means of furthering responsible fisheries.

FAO has a responsibility to facilitate the implementation of the Code of Conduct and, where possible and appropriate, to provide technical support to national and regional initiatives. However, primary responsibility for the Code's implementation rests with governments, since implementation involves national policy decision-making and action.

In its role in promoting the implementation of the Code, FAO works on many fronts and in many ways. This work is intended, if not designed specifically, to complement other national (e.g. technical cooperation programme) and regional (e.g. regional fishery bodies) initiatives of the Organization. Significant FAO contributions to the implementation of the Code include, inter alia, the:

  • preparation of technical guidelines designed to provide practical direction for government officials and other stakeholders on how to implement it;
  • wide dissemination of information relating to responsible fisheries and its relationship to the Code;
  • provision of national advice through country visits, and
  • national and regional training workshops.

The Code urges governments to work with stakeholders to facilitate structural change. In small-scale fisheries, the fishing communities themselves (through participatory management) and NGOs (because of their grass roots fisheries affiliations), are involved in facilitating and supporting the implementation of the Code. Regionally, fishery bodies, development banks and regional integration organizations can play important roles in assisting their Members implement key elements of the Code. Regional action on some issues is essential, especially where fisheries are shared, jointly exploited, or where there are problems of common concern that can be most effectively and efficiently addressed through regional activities.

Progress in implementing the Code is monitored by the biennial sessions of FAO's Committee on Fisheries (COFI). Self-assessment information provided by governments and stakeholders is collated and analyzed by FAO and in turn presented to COFI for review. The Committee, in its deliberations, suggests measures that might be adopted by the Organization to broaden and deepen the Code's implementation.

To date, COFI has reviewed consolidated implementational reports at its Sessions in 1999 and 2001. At the 2001 Session, 104 Members responded to FAO's request for input for the consolidated report. In doing so, Members identified constraints in implementing the Code. These constraints included:

  • inadequate institutional and technical capacity;
  • inadequate funding;
  • a lack of information and inadequate access to information, including public education programmes, under-utilization of the media;
  • inadequate participation of all stakeholders;
  • inappropriate legislative framework;
  • the socio-economic implications of reducing fishing effort
  • the difficulties of implementing such concepts as the precautionary approach in the context of reduced human and financial resources in developing countries.

FAO is attempting to address these constraints, within available resources, so as to enhance and hasten the implementation of the Code.

Objective, reliable and credible information on status and trends in fisheries is important because it underpins efforts to promote sustainable fisheries and support the implementation of the Code of Conduct. In particular, status and trends reports are critical for effective policy development, fisheries management, and the monitoring of fish stocks and fisheries in both biological and economic terms. International concern has been expressed about the way in which status and trends information is being assembled and disseminated. FAO has responded to this challenge and has put in train several activities to address shortcomings with current practice. To this end FAO, inter alia, will convene in 2002 a Technical Consultation on Improving Information on Status and Trends of Fisheries and will continue to work with developing countries to strengthen their capacities in this area. An IPOA on improving information on the status and trends of fisheries could also be developed.

When they were negotiating the Code countries recognized that the fisheries sector is not static and that changes often occur within the sector and within particular fisheries at a very rapid rate. Provision therefore exists for the Code to be updated as circumstances warrant. This ensures that the Code is a living document, capable of being adapted and modified to meet new global fisheries developments and situations as they evolve.

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