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The fisheries sector makes an important contribution to the economy of the Lesser Antilles Islands, and most of the countries making up the island grouping are traditional fish consumers. Employment and income are generated in the fisheries sector mainly through commercial fisheries, recreational fishing and tourism. However, many of the fisheries of these countries are artisanal in nature and may represent the only possible source of income for the fishers, reinforcing the importance of the sector to food security.

As a result of the heavy dependence by the countries of the region on fish, most coastal resources are overexploited or fully exploited (especially those of higher commercial value), while the demand for fish (including tourism and recreation) continues to grow. In response to this, there has been growing interest, from both fishers and the governments, in the pelagic resources of the waters adjacent to their coasts.

The pelagic resources of the Lesser Antilles States exhibit three characteristics which, together, require that urgent and comprehensive attention be given to identifying and describing their dynamics and inter-relationships. These are: the fisheries targeting them are expanding; the stocks show widespread distribution throughout the sub-region and beyond; and there are significant biological and technological interactions between them. This project aimed to consider all three features and to develop a management plan that accounted for them to ensure that any fisheries, or other uses, within the pelagic ecosystem are conducted in a sustainable and responsible fashion.

The Code of Conduct For Responsible Fisheries recognises that sustainable fisheries management incorporating ecosystem considerations entails taking into account the impacts of fisheries on the marine ecosystem and the impacts of the marine ecosystem on fisheries, referred to as an The ecosystem approach to fisheries management . The scientific basis for including such ecosystem considerations in fisheries management needs further development as the scientific knowledge about the structure, functioning, components and properties of the ecosystem as well as about the ecological impact of fishing remains incomplete. These issues were and are relevant to some of the problems being confronted by countries of the Lesser Antilles sub-region.

The implementation of the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries entails important changes in the way fisheries management is conceived and practiced. The participating countries thus requested assistance from FAO to develop both the data and information systems needed to assess the regional pelagic fisheries and inform an ecosystem approach to fisheries management. The assistance would also include building the technical and management capacity to sustain these activities within the region. It was also to provide a forum for the countries of the sub-region to work together to identify mutually compatible and beneficial approaches to managing and using the pelagic resources.

The resulting project GCP/RLA/140/JPN (Scientific Basis for Ecosystem-based Management in the Lesser Antilles Including Interactions with Marine Mammals and Other Top Predators) addressed one of the challenges related to the implementation of the ecosystem approach to fisheries, i.e. the development of management strategies that take into account biological interactions among species, including cetaceans and other top predators and any species that may be of no direct importance to fisheries but yet, may play an important role in maintaining ecosystem structure and functioning. The project was funded by the Fisheries Agency, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Government of Japan.

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