Tsunami relief: Build-up of excessive fishing capacity must be avoided

Tsunami relief: Build-up of excessive fishing capacity must be avoided


A harmful build-up of excessive fishing capacity must be avoided in the countries hit by the tsunami, FAO warned today. Excessive capacity was a serious problem in some of the region's coastal fisheries prior to the disaster - a problem that reconstruction should avoid reproducing, according to FAO's Fisheries Department.

"Clearly, fisheries in the affected countries are in need of extensive reconstruction," said Ichiro Nomura, FAO Assistant-Director General for Fisheries. "But this should be done in a responsible and far-sighted manner, to ensure the sector's long-term sustainability and continuing contributions to poverty alleviation and food security."

Fishing capacity, in general terms, refers to the ability of a fleet of boats to catch fish. Sheer numbers of boats, their sizes, the time they spend fishing and the technology they use all contribute to a fleet's capacity. Too much capacity usually leads to overfishing, and overfishing can hurt fish stocks, even causing fisheries to collapse.

Problems should not be recreated

According to FAO, restored fishing capacity in the tsunami zone should generally not exceed the levels that existed prior to the disaster -- and in some places capacity should even be reduced. Keeping fishing efforts in balance with what local fish stocks are capable of sustaining will help guarantee the continued productivity of the region's fisheries, so that future generations can rely on them for food and income.

"If new fishing vessels and equipment are brought in from outside the region without careful planning, there is a real risk that excess fishing capacity will be the result, and that more harm will be done than good," said Mr Nomura. At the same time, inappropriate boat and gear types could harm the environment, doing further damage to the underwater habitat, he added.

FAO also cautions that new boats and equipment must match local customs, conditions, and fishery productive capacities. If they do not, fishermen's operating costs could end up being more than their incomes, effectively putting them out of business. Authorities might consider using "phase-in" periods to judiciously bring in new boats and gear in order to prevent build-up of excess capacity and allow time for assessing the impacts of gear types previously unused in the region, FAO advises.

Rehabilitating fishing capacity only to a level commensurate with what fish stocks can sustain might mean that some fishers will need to stop fishing and find an alternative livelihood, the Organization acknowledged. Vocational retraining and investment in new local enterprises would be required to soften the blow.

Material aid can impose burdens

Additionally, FAO cautioned that aid donations from outside the region can impose logistical burdens on recipient countries.

"We commend the generosity of those who want to help," said Mr. Nomura. "But not all types of boats and gear will actually be usable and many will eventually end up being thrown away, while shipping and then processing, evaluating and warehousing the gear will eat up limited time, resources and energy." He noted as well that local ship-builders and suppliers should be relied upon to the maximum extent possible for provision of new vessels.

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