Posted February 1998
SPECIAL: BIODIVERSITY FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
Fish and aquatic life
|This Special is an extract from "Human Nature: Agricultural Biodiversity and Farm-based Food Security" by Hope Shand, an independent study prepared by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (December 1997). The full publication is available in Portable Document Format (PDF)|
Freshwater ecosystems cover less than 2% of the earth's surface, and account for about 0.009% of Earth's water - a tiny pool of water that is disproportionately rich and vital to sustain life. An estimated 12% of all animal species and 40% of all recognized fish species (8400 species) inhabit freshwater ecosystems . Worldwide, freshwater ecosystems are imperiled. At least one-fifth of all freshwater fish are already extinct or seriously endangered . Because of these losses, and the extent to which freshwater ecosystems are degraded, R.S.V. Pullin of the International Centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM) in the Philippines warns that it is increasingly difficult for fish breeders to locate and collect genetic materials from healthy or relatively undisturbed populations in the wild .
Fish genetic resources must be conserved and utilized because they are the key to maintaining the viability of cultured and natural fish populations. They enable species to adapt to environmental change and they provide the opportunity for genetic improvement programs in aquaculture.
Tropical waters are the richest in terms of species diversity . The Indo-West Pacific Ocean, for example, contains an estimated 1,500 species of fish and over 6,000 mollusc species, compared to only 280 fish and 500 mollusc species in the Eastern Atlantic . Brazil claims more than 3,000 freshwater fish species, three times more than any other country . An estimated 40 percent of freshwater fishes in South America have not yet been classified . Thailand may have as many as 1000 species of freshwater fish, but only 475 have actually been documented .
The contribution of aquaculture to world fish production is increasing dramatically, and has offset losses from capture fisheries over the past decade. Fisheries experts believe that future expansion of aquaculture offers the best hope for maintaining per caput fish consumption levels in the future. In 1993, aquaculture accounted for 16 percent of total world production of fish, and 23 percent of food fish supplies . Aquaculture production of freshwater fishes already exceeds that of production from freshwater capture fisheries. Globally, half of all salmon is no longer caught in the wild, but farmed; the same is true of shrimp culture. By contrast, aquaculture supplies only 5% of the total marine fish production. Aquaculture production is heavily concentrated in the South; Asia accounts for 84% of world aquaculture, and China accounts for about half of the total world production.
For millions in the South, fish is often the main source of animal protein. According to FAO, fish provides 29% of the total animal protein consumed by Asians, 19% by Africans and 8% by Latin Americans. Fisheries also provide a significant source of employment: Fisheries Specialist, Brian O'Riordian, of the Intermediate Technology Development Group (UK) estimates that 100 million people in the South, mainly poor people, depend upon small-scale fishing for all or part of their livelihood .
Over-exploitation and over-capacity of fisheries, pollution and habitat destruction, and the introduction of exotic species are the primary activities that imperil fish genetic resources worldwide. Both marine and freshwater ecosystems are imperiled; but the following section focuses primarily on marine genetic resources.
Fueled by huge capital investments, abundant fossil fuels and modern technology, the global fish catch has increased more than four-fold in the past 40 years. The world's industrial fishing fleet has doubled in size since 1970 - from 585,000 to 1,200,000 vessels - and now has twice the capacity needed to bring in the maximum sustainable catch . Experts predict that if Iceland and the European Union cut their fleets by 40%, and Norway by two-thirds, these countries would still catch as much fish as they do today . The over-capacity of industrial fleets is a direct result of government subsidies that underwrite the growth of national fleets. But bigger, high-technology fleets have not proved a sound investment. The FAO estimates that in 1989 government subsidies world-wide amounted to a staggering US$54,000 million - resulting in a catch valued at only $70,000 million . An estimated 46% of the value of all fish landed is required as return on capital invested in industrial fleets . Government subsidies in both the North and the South favor commercial fishers over small-scale, traditional ones. These subsidies not only consolidate fish resources in the hands of the rich and powerful, but they also threaten the future livelihoods of 15 to 21 million small-scale and traditional fishers (90% of all fishers), who are the mainstay of coastal communities worldwide .
The threat to marine biodiversity from over-exploitation cannot be measured in extinct species. While no commercially fished marine species is known to have become extinct in modern times, non-sustainable fishing practices have devastasted fish stocks, genetic diversity and marine ecosystems . Experts conclude that "overexploitation not only diminishes species' populations and reduces economic return, but also causes genetic changes in the exploited populations and alters ecological relationships with the species' predators, symbionts, competitors, and prey" .
Using costly and sophisticated technologies such as depth-sounding equipment, satellite data and spotter aircraft, high-intensity lamps, 100-metre factory-freezer trawlers, non-selective drift nets, and bottom trawls, industrial fleets are driving some species to the brink of extinction and destroying natural ecosystems in the process. The following are just two examples:
Increased participation in commercial markets can generate valuable foreign exchange for developing nations. According to FAO, in 1993 the net surplus of the South's exports over imports of all fish traded as a commodity was more than US$11,000 million - exceeding tropical export earnings from coffee, tea, rubber and cacao combined. But global trade driven by market forces can also lead to intense competition and declining catch rates for traditional and small-scale fishers, and less food for protein-deficient people in the South. The combination of rising fish prices due to increasing world demand, and scarcity due to overfishing is making fish unaffordable to increasing numbers of poor people.
New approaches are needed if fishing is to continue to provide food for poor people and sustain livelihoods of coastal communities. A "precautionary approach" to fishery management, which aims to protect fish populations before they crash, is now being discussed in international fora. Action must also be taken to restrict if not ban destructive and wasteful fishing technologies, and to address the industry's excess capacity by phasing out government subsidies.
If marine genetic resources are to be conserved, the skills, knowledge and needs of traditional fishers must be built upon. Conversely, traditional management systems can gain from the integration of new technologies and practices. Local, community-based control is an indispensable element for sustainable fisheries, which also requires protection of national governments. Increasingly, the concept and practise of "co-management" is being promoted. Co-management refers to a dynamic partnership where NGOs and organizations representing fishing communities participate with the State in running and regulating the coastal commons . While community-based management remains a central feature, the role of the State in managing and regulating fisheries is also essential.
Efforts have also been made to establish management systems which recognize traditional user rights. The governments of Chile, Senegal, and Malaysia, for instance, have recognized the rights of small-scale fishers and have established exclusive "artisanal fishing zones" within coastal areas. In 1989, New Zealand reinforced the traditional fishing rights and legal recognition of the Maori people by passing the Maori Fisheries Act. The Maori people now own 10% of national fish quotas and a 50% stake in New Zealand's biggest fishing company . None of these examples provide perfect solutions, but they demonstrate policy alternatives designed to further the concept of community-based coastal fisheries management.
The International Centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM), based in the Philippines, is tapping traditional knowledge to conserve and utilize fish genetic resources. ICLARM, together with FAO, is assembling a comprehensive database on all of the 24,000 species of cartilaginous and bony fishes in the world. In addition to standard database information, the project will incorporate indigenous knowledge (i.e., common names, traditional management practices, practical or symbolic uses of each species) as a tool to promote research, conservation and utilization of fish species worldwide. FAO and ICLARM deserve credit for their ongoing efforts to include indigenous knowledge in their global database, but they must also take care to protect the rights and knowledge of indigenous communities, and to insure that the information is not commercially exploited without full consent of indigenous peoples.
The United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), opened for signature in 1982 and entered into force in November, 1994 establishes the exclusive rights of coastal nations to manage marine resources within 200 miles of their coastline. The concept of "Exclusive Economic Zones," established by UNCLOS, gives coastal states sovereignty over marine resources within their jurisdiction, but does not impose management practices or conservation guidelines.
The UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 and its Agenda 21 (Chapter 17 on Oceans) stressed that further measures are required to implement the UNCLOS. Beyond ownership and fishing rights, States also have a duty to manage and conserve aquatic resources for present and future generations. The concept of sustainable fisheries defined at UNCED provided direction for the elaboration of FAO's Code of Conduct on Responsible Fisheries.
The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development will conduct a comprehensive review of the Oceans Chapter of Agenda 21 - including living marine resources - in April 1997.
While most people associate the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with terrestrial ecosystems, the legally-binding Convention also covers aquatic biodiversity. At the Second Conference of Parties to the CBD meeting in Jakarta (November, 1995), the spot-light focused on marine and coastal ecosystems, with the adoption of the Jakarta Mandate on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity. The Jakarta Mandate is significant because it is the first time the international community has addressed - in a comprehensive way - the global crisis of marine and coastal biodiversity loss . The Mandate gives governments who are parties to the Convention a checklist of concrete measures that should be taken to fulfill their obligations under the CBD in marine and coastal environments. It also gives policy guidance to international bodies, and sets in motion a three-year process under the CBD to address the most urgent threats to marine and coastal biodiversity.
International Code of Conduct on Responsible Fisheries: Since 1992, FAO has played a key role in drafting a Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing. The concept of "responsible fishing" embraces sustainable utilization of fisheries resources in harmony with the environment, and the use of capture and aquaculture practices which are not harmful to ecosystems, resources or food quality. The Code of Conduct, ratified by member states at the FAO Conference in October 1995, is voluntary, and focuses mainly on the responsibilities of states with regard to the sustainability of fish resources, technical management measures, conservation and environmental concerns. Many NGOs participating in the process on the Code's development believe that critical issues such as the rights of fishing communities to livelihood and food security, and the importance of traditional knowledge and management systems, are overshadowed by the Code's emphasis on more technical and biological objectives . Still, the Code is the most comprehensive document that exists on fishing related activities, including management and trade.
UN Conference on Straddling and Migratory Fish Stocks expands on the Law of the Sea and complements the Code of Conduct by addressing conservation and management practices in high seas fisheries - those areas outside the 200-mile exclusive economic zone under the jurisdiction of coastal States. A final Agreement was opened for signature on 4 December 1995, and will enter into force when ratified by 30 member states. The legally-binding agreement: 1) Spells out principles for a precautionary approach to managing fish stocks both within and beyond the areas under national jurisdiction; 2) Advocates the setting up of subregional and regional fisheries management organizations as a mechanism to ensure that conservation and management measures are adopted and complied with; and, 3) Provides for peaceful settlement of disputes between nations.
UN drift net ban: The so-called "Drift Net Ban" adopted by the UN General Assembly in December, 1989 called for an immediate halt to the expansion of large-scale pelagic drift-nets in all regions of the high seas, and for a moratorium on large-scale drift-net fishing in all ocean regions by 30 June 1992. Though an important step, the UN action amounts to a moratorium on increasing driftnet size under certain conditions. It is not a ban. No UN body (including the FAO) has called for a worldwide blanket ban on "wall of death" driftnets, although some nations now limit the length of drift-nets .
ICLARM - The International Centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management, based in the Philippines, is the CGIAR research centre devoted to aquatic genetic resources and sustainable fisheries management. ICLARM has conducted extensive research on genetic improvement of tilapia, a fish species of special importance to small-scale aquaculture in the South. ICLARM recently formed an International Network on Genetics in Aquaculture (INGA) with a focus on genetic improvement of fish species that are farmed in the South.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - FAO is widely acknowledged for its expertise in world fisheries, for which it has gained considerable credibility and stature. Some NGOs have praised FAO for the way it has involved NGOs in the elaboration of the Code of Conduct on Responsible Fishing, describing the process as "a watershed in relations between NGOs and FAO" . At the FAO World Food Summit in November, 1996 NGO's and peoples' organizations put special emphasis on the need for policies to promote and protect the rights of small-scale and artisanal fishing communities as a strategy for addressing food and livelihood security for the poor.