Aquaculture: The contribution of aquaculture to world food fish production soared from 3.9 percent in 1970 to about 48 percent in 2006, with growth expected to continue. Aquatic genetic resources are of pivotal importance for the further genetic improvement of fish strains, to achieve sustainable development of aquaculture.
Aquatic ecosystems: Rising temperatures associated with climate change are threatening low-lying coastal areas of both island and mainland nations, affecting species distribution and creating conditions that are conducive to the introduction and spread of invasive alien species and the resulting loss of aquatic biodiversity, which will have potentially negative impacts on the type and size of catches.
Aquatic genetic diversity
The need for conservation and responsible use
Collection of fish genetic resources has taken on a sense of urgency that reflects the pressures on the earth’s aquatic ecosystems and habitats. The process of conserving fish genetic resources is challenging, complicated and often expensive. Efforts are increasing, but gene banking of fish genetic resources is still at an early stage.
There are many potential strategies for the sustainable management of aquatic genetic resources. The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries promotes the conservation of aquatic genetic diversity, maintaining the integrity of aquatic communities and ecosystems, and responsible use of living aquatic resources at all levels, including the genetic level. Ecosystem approaches to the development of responsible aquaculture and capture fisheries also emphasize management of fish genetic resources. FAO has a long tradition of using an ecosystem approach in fisheries and, in 2007, published Technical Guidelines on Genetic Resource Management to support the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
The aquatic chicken - Expanding access to improved tilapia
Nile tilapia, often called the “aquatic chicken” because it grows so easily, is a freshwater fish indigenous to Africa. In the early 1990s, several specimens were exported from Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal to Asia, beginning a highly successful breeding programme that resulted in improved fish stock with increased production, resulting in improved diets and enhanced income generation and employment in several countries. Understandably, African countries want access to the improved tilapia strains. However, there is a risk. If the new strains of tilapia escape from African fish farms into the wild, they could displace or cross-breed with the native tilapia. Comprehensive risk assessments will be required for each potential re-introduction that will both take into account the risk of genetic erosion in the centers of origin for tilapia, and potential opportunities to enhance income, employment and food security among low income African fish farmers.
The Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
Taking steps to identify and sustain aquatic genetic resources
The Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture considered the issue of managing aquatic genetic diversity for the first time in 2007, calling upon its Members to initiate steps to determine the current state of the world’s aquatic genetic resources. Initial results have found that valuable information that has the potential to contribute to improved management of fish genetic resources is scattered, kept in diverse assortment of incompatible formats, neither readily accessible nor archived in a secured manner.
Recognizing the urgency of the situation, and as a first step toward compiling the first State of the World’s Aquatic Genetic Resources for 2013, the Commission has launched a review of existing information systems, and will work to develop a more streamlined reporting system for national and international organizations. With the number of farmed fish strains, hybrids and other genetic resources increasing in aquaculture, information systems are needed to identify and determine their relative contributions to farmed fish production. Similarly, better information on the genetics of wild fish populations should contribute to better understanding the needs for conservation and sustainable use.
In addition, the Commission will identify and develop cooperative action and partnerships, which together with an enabling policy environment, will support the maintenance and conservation of a broad genetic base in aquaculture and capture fisheries. This will include working in cooperation with FAO’s Committee on Fisheries to expand upon the elements of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries that target the conservation and sustainable use of aquatic genetic resources.