Promoting responsible fishing in the South West Indian Ocean
New commission to focus on coastal fisheries - agreement on high seas in the pipeline
4 May 2005, Rome - A new FAO regional fisheries body has been established to promote responsible and sustainable fishing in the southwestern Indian Ocean, the UN specialized agency announced today.
The South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (SWIOFC) will function as an advisory body promoting the sustainable development and utilization of coastal fishery resources off the shores of East Africa and several island states of the region, as well as responsible management and regional cooperation on fisheries policy.
The commission's members include 14 coastal states whose territories are situated wholly or partly within the SWIOFC area of competence (see inset). Other countries may participate as observers.
Lack of data a nagging problem
FAO studies show that in the entire West Indian Ocean - the larger region encompassing the zone where SWIOFC will operate - 75 percent of fishery resources are currently being fished at their maximum biological productivity. The other 25 percent are over-exploited and require better management.
But breaking that down to get an accurate picture of the state of stocks in the southwestern Indian Ocean is difficult, since data collection there is weak or non-existent.
It is known that catches have grown by over 10 percent over the last decade, with landings in 2001 (319 000 tonnes) representing an all-time high. However FAO statistical reviews show that as much as 33% of catches are not identified by species, making analysis of the status of stocks - and, by extension, responsible management - difficult.
"These data gaps are why it's important to have a body like SWIOFC to help improve data monitoring and collection," says Jean Francois Pulvenis de Séligny, Director of FAO's Fishery Policy and Planning Division, adding that a strong and sustained commitment by the commission's members is necessary to ensure it will meet its goals.
SWIOFC recently held its first meeting (Mombasa, Kenya 18-20 April), during which it agreed to establish a scientific committee to focus on fisheries data collection and on providing resource managers with much-needed information on the status of stocks.
The Commission also discussed its rules of procedure, the general state of fisheries in the region, and options for collaborating with other organizations.
Both coastal and offshore fisheries at stake
The fish resources of the coastal waters of the southwestern Indian Ocean constitute a major source of animal protein for many near-shore communities.
At the same time, exports of fishery products represent a vital source of exchangeable earnings. Madagascar and Mozambique, for example, have important shrimp fisheries, as do Tanzania and Kenya to a lesser extent.
Still, the majority of fishing boats operating in the southwestern Indian Ocean come from overseas - with Spain, Taiwan Province of China, Japan, France and Uruguay in the lead.
Though SWIOFC's mandate focuses on coastal fishing, a parallel agreement on regional cooperation on high-seas fishing of non-tuna resources is being negotiated. Tuna resources are managed by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, based in Seychelles.
Those talks will result in a mechanism that will let countries set binding management regulations for responsible high-seas fishing. The negotiations are expected to be finalized in February 2006.
Information Officer, FAO
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