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Press Release 99/11

GOVERNMENTS SUPPORT NEW INTERNATIONAL COMMITMENTS TO REDUCE OVERFISHING AND OVERCAPACITY


Rome, 11 March - Ministers and Senior Representatives from some 120 countries expressed their concern about "overfishing of the world's major marine fishery resources, destructive and wasteful fishing practices and excess capacity" during an international conference in Rome held by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Governments said, that growing illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, including fishing by vessels flying 'flags of convenience', was also troubling, according to a statement released by FAO. The meeting endorsed three new action plans for more sustainable fisheries.

In a declaration adopted at the end of the two-day meeting, it was stressed that highest priority should be given to achieving sustainability of both capture fisheries and aquaculture, bearing in mind the special circumstances and needs of developing countries. The countries declared that they would develop a "global plan of action to deal effectively with all forms of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing including fishing vessels flying 'flags of convenience'".

The ministers endorsed the new voluntary International Plans of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity, for the Conservation and Management of Sharks and for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Long-line Fisheries, recently adopted by the FAO Committee on Fisheries.

The problem of over-capacity is that there are too many vessels or excessive harvesting power in a growing number of fisheries which leads to fewer fish in the sea for reproduction, FAO said. The world fishing fleet numbered about 3.8 million vessels in 1995, about 1.2 million were decked vessels, most of which operate in Asia.

Vessels of 100 gross registered tonnage or more, which are generally capable of fishing on the high seas, are likely to have numbered between 43,000 and 45,000 in 1997, according to FAO. The fleet of vessels of 100 GRT or more grew until 1991 and has declined since then. FAO expects a further drop in the number of large fishing vessels over the next ten years.

The objective of the Plan of Action on Fishing Capacity is to achieve "an efficient, equitable and transparent management of fishing capacity". States should endeavour to limit initially at existing levels and progressively reduce the fishing capacity in affected fisheries. Between 2003 and 2005 each country supporting the International Plan of Action should develop a national Plan to manage fishing capacity and to reduce it, if necessary, in some fisheries. Subsidies and economic incentives, which contribute to excessive capacity, should be reduced and progressively eliminated.

Countries should also take immediate steps to address the management of fishing capacity of overfished stocks. "It is the first significant international document on the management of fishing capacity", FAO said.

According to the UN agency, six percent of all major marine fisheries are underexploited, 20 percent are moderately exploited, 50 percent fully exploited, 15 percent overfished, six percent depleted and two percent recovering.

The Plan of Action for Shark Management says that it is necessary to better manage sharks' fisheries and certain fisheries in which sharks constitute a significant bycatch. Countries adhering to this agreement should regularly assess the status of stocks and to adopt a national plan of action for conservation and management of shark stocks by the year 2001. Catches should be sustainable and incidental catches and discards from shark fisheries as well as waste should be minimized.

Many of the world's shark and ray species are severely depleted and without efforts to halt growing catches, the future of many shark populations is very bleak. Shark fishing is expanding worldwide as the international trade in shark fins and other exotic shark products (liver-oil, skin, teeth and cartilage) grow rapidly. A great number of sharks are taken as bycatch in fisheries targeting species such as tuna, swordfish, shrimps and squid. The carcasses are usually thrown back into the sea after their fins have been chopped off. Many shark populations are now believed to be endangered. No international treaty exists so far for the management of sharks.

The Plan of Action on Incidental Catches of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries calls upon countries to assess and reduce the bycatch of birds through the implementation of national plans. The incidental bycatch of seabirds affects mainly albatrosses and petrels of the Southern Ocean. It can be significantly reduced if catch lines are set under water so that baited hooks are out of reach to seabirds, if bird scaring lines are used or if lines are set at night.

All three agreements should be implemented in the framework of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. This voluntary code provides principles and standards applicable to the conservation, management and development of all fisheries. It also covers the fish capture, processing and trade of fish and fishery products, aquaculture, management of fisheries within coastal areas and fishery research.

The ministers called upon all producers, managers and users of fisheries resources to apply the Code of Conduct. Developing countries should receive technical assistance and financial support for the implementation of the Code.

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For further information please contact:

Erwin Northoff
tel: 06.5705 3105
E-Mail: Erwin.Northoff@fao.org


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