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Tsunami and fisheries: Q&A with Lahsen Ababouch
Lahsen Ababouch of FAO's Fisheries Department explains the importance of ensuring that the region's hard-hit fisheries and aquaculture sectors are rehabilitated responsibly.

What are the main challenges for fisheries and aquaculture, six months after the disaster?

We are now at a point of transition from disaster relief and damage assessment to reconstruction, from immediate assistance to medium- and long-term rehabilitation. So the main challenge now is how to rebuild, from scratch, fisheries and aquaculture, vital food producing and income-generating sectors -- but responsibly. Because if that isn't done intelligently, there will be problems down the line.

Related to this is another key challenge: ensuring that replacement boats are properly built. In some places, especially in Indonesia, boats are being built by NGOs and local institutions without technical guidance, which raises safety concerns. So really, FAO's work has only just begun.

Why is that?

Some material assistance to help fishers get back on their feet -- purchase of basic supplies and inputs for replacement or repair of boats, engines and equipment -- has already been provided, and that will continue. But our core contribution, I think, will involve giving responsible and sound technical guidance to countries so that they can build back fisheries and aquaculture sectors that are both productive and sustainable.

As regards making sure that boats are properly constructed, appropriate to local conditions, and safe. There, too, FAO has a major role to play.

Why the emphasis on sustainability?

Countries must avoid recreating the vulnerability and unsustainability that characterized many fisheries in the region before the disaster, to avoid creating fishing capacity that exceeds the productive capacity of fishery resources. If that happens, then at some point those resources could be over-exploited, and if they are over-exploited, then the wellbeing of the fishery starts to suffer, and so does production.

What do the countries need to meet these challenges?

First of all, reconstruction must be implemented in a well-coordinated framework that has long-term sustainability as its guiding principal. It is imperative that work by different actors, and in different sectors, is complementary, and carried out with appropriate technical guidance.

Governments need to buy into the idea that they need to "build back better" and to commit to that. They also need to muster political will, establish legal frameworks, train personnel and acquire the equipment needed to cease illegal and destructive activities that can happen under the guise of tsunami recovery efforts.

Additionally, countries very much need assistance in assessing the inputs being offered to them and in coordinating their rational deployment, so that resource management is equitable, transparent and sustainable.

How has FAO been helping meet those needs?

We've laboured intensively to help meet the more immediate needs and, at the same time, to partner with governments and NGOs and give responsible guidance and steer things toward a rehabilitated fisheries and aquaculture sector that is sustainable and can continue to feed and employ future generations.

One big contribution has involved fielding teams of fisheries experts to the affected countries to conduct comprehensive assessments of the tsunami's impacts and then using that information to work with national authorities to come up with responsible and forward looking plans for fisheries and aquaculture rehabilitation.

We've also been providing boat repair kits, new nets, and other such material aid. And at the request of the government of Indonesia, we are providing expert fisheries, forestry and agriculture advisors to the special tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction agency, created by Indonesia's president.

What about the next six months? What are the priorities?

It's a long list. A top priority is establishing mechanisms to ensure that replacement fishing capacity doesn't exceed sustainable limits - for example, introducing or improving registration and monitoring systems for boats and fishers and making sure that fisheries managers have support in evaluating inputs and responsibly deploying them.

At the same time, delivery of fishing gear, engines and, where appropriate, replacement boats, needs to continue - again, always within the limits of sustainability and in close cooperation with national fishing authorities as well as local fishers' associations.

Another priority is to improve standards of boat construction for the safety of fishers, and to make sure those standards are incorporated into law. That of course requires training, technical advice and assistance to boat builders.

Post-harvest processing facilities need to be restored, too. Lots of livelihoods depend on those facilities, especially those of women.

And while the workload on the ground is still overwhelming, it is time to begin trying to strengthen the technical and administrative capacity of fishing ministries in the affected countries, so they can manage reconstruction effectively and will be positioned to make their national fisheries sustainable ones.

And for aquaculture?

The list is just as long. Clean-up and repairing aquaculture and mariculture ponds, damaged cages and aquaculture hatcheries and training centres will be a priority. As that happens, we need to work with fish farmers, industry leaders and national authorities to plan how to build back aquaculture better, both so that it produces more food and more income, and is more sustainable too.

23 June 2005

George Kourous
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53168
(+39) 348 141 6802

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