Re: The Role of Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture for Food Security and Nutrition - E-consultation to set the track of the study

Leo van Mulekom Oxfam, Netherlands
21.03.2013

It is indeed very timely for a paper like this, and the hope is that the outcome will lead to a definitive guide on policies and practices that provide for a sustainable fisheries and aquaculture wherein a just equity is provided within the current generation as well as between generations and appropriate responsibilities are taken by those who take profit from the resource.

In suggestions on the scope, I would like to suggest to provide priority space for outlining and clarifying key responsibilities for both state and non-state actors (e.g. following the format of "Ruggie Principles").

Also the (likely) adverse effects, and on top of that likely widening further the in-equity gap between 'north and 'south', of climate change and how to deal with this responsibly deserve extra highlight. Insights provided by the Sea around us Project (Daniel Pauly), as to where fish will go if waters warm up, are quite staggering.

One area seldom discussed in-depth is the possible actual volume and value of inland fisheries and un- or underreported artisanal coastal catches. There may be more fish out-there then is realised. And with this, more value that needs properly taken care of, more to lose and more to win. In quite a few countries millions of the poorest of the poor rely on the 1-2 or 3 fishes they can catch every day. (Luckily for them) This is, as yet, rarely noticed by governments. However, as degradation continues these people will rely on a government that does take notice and develops appropriate policies that help secure this little but effective safety net the poor in many places (now) still enjoy.

In thematic information this paper can provide, I may not have specific new themes to suggest. I think I saw the most obvious themes mentioned. But here below I will want to make the case for specific perspectives to known themes.

A lot has been written about co-management approaches and CB-CRM in fisheries, and most of that is recommending the approach or presenting positive effects from applying the approach. However, little of this positive assessment yet comes through in actual policy decisions made both national and international levels. It will be worth it deciphering the drivers and incentives both for and against deciding for such an approach. The key question is perhaps not whether CB-CRM/co-management principles work. Rather, the key question is likely what is holding governments back to decide in favour of this approach? A discussion around drivers and incentives behind fisheries management decisions and practices may help us further. Costs, risks, profits and opportunities are not lined up appropriately in fisheries management practices, and it might be worthwhile to consider making a contribution to CB-CRM/co-management theory from the perspective of really linking up these drivers in a single framework.

Subsidies as stimulator of the wrong (unsustainable) behaviour are already mentioned. An additional lens to this could include the distortion that results from subsidies to the lives and livelihoods of those who need access to (a few) fish the most: the poor and vulnerable. Fisheries is an environmental concern, for sure. But it is also a social concern, and, with that, a concern of equity and injustice and a possible preventer or driver of great social unrest. The point that deserves to be made is that subsidies are not just an anomaly from an environmental sustainability perspective, but also provide receivers of the subsidy with an incentive to take livelihoods, food, and justice away from the very poor households and the children therein. Governments are, in fact, paying for the creation of poverty! Linked with subsidies (possibly a specific sub-set of subsidies) are the access agreements that have facilitated a 'northern' fishery on a 'southern' stock. The economic data around these clearly show the injustice and the, sometimes, laughable fees paid in relation to the value taken. Besides an attempt to try and curb this practice through voluntary policies and respectable recommendations , it could be worthwhile to look into the creation of an international law or body of laws that would, effectively, lead to criteria and a system of oversight to distinguish between a justifiable deal at an appropriate price and one that is clearly not so. In (only) slightly in-accurate but more philosophical terms....isn't 'stealing' quite the opposite of 'dumping' and aren't therefore both equally worth a system of judgements and sanctions under a just WTO?

Aquaculture currently has the reputation, among many in the fisheries sectors, that it provides jobs, development country incomes, and will fill the void that an (almost) imminent collapse of the world's fisheries will create in the (possibly very) near future. There is a lot that can be said to the contrary. When aquaculture and its future development is discussed, I recommend this is done with the full inclusion of its intended and un-intended effects on people and ecosystems; both nearby and far away from aquaculture production systems; and in the perspective of the duration of the assumed benefits to global food security. Solutions to overcome these problems do exist and seem not too costly. However, political incentives (short term maximisation of GDP statistics; tax benefits; job growth figures) and corporate incentives (opportunistic short term profit-taking) have sofar worked together to create an industry that has a negative biomass use/yield ratio, a negative environmetal cost/benefit ratio, and is likely also providing a negative livelihood gains/losses ratio. So both the negatives and the positives need to be looked at with equal attention and concern. We may wish to fill a future void, and we may, inadvertedly, end up enlarging that void. The risk is worth its scrutiny. At the same time, an analysis around aquaculture and (the drivers behind) its expansion may hold many useful lessons as to the need for links and connections between trade-related debates, MDGs and equity and poverty alleviation, and environmental economics. This sector potentially illustrates much of what, in somewhat less visible form, also ails sustainable and equitable development in other food sectors.