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Executive summary


Driven by world population growth and increased global demand for fishery products, fishing pressure has been rapidly increasing over the past years. As the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) reports, about 47 percent of the main stocks or species groups are fully exploited and are therefore producing catches that have reached, or are very close to, their maximum sustainable limits.

Over time, the international community has launched various initiatives aimed at improving the conservation status of commercially-exploited aquatic species. These initiatives belong to the domain of both binding international law and soft law. The main conservation measures protecting, or aiming to protect, commercially-exploited aquatic species are:

- fishery and trade management measures by regional fishery bodies and arrangements (RFBAs), such as the Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR);

- trade management measures applied to species listed in the three appendices to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES);

- international cooperation for the conservation and sustainable management of species listed in appendices to other international conventions such as the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS);

- sustainable management recommendations contained in soft law instruments, such as the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) and the International Plans of Action (IPOAs).

The Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is in charge of verifying the compatibility of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) with the WTO system. Some MEAs do pose trade restriction measures which can be considered compatible with the WTO system only when they are:

- non-discriminatory, particulary with respect to the application against non-parties,
- transparent, and
- directly linked to a policy of conserving an exhaustible natural resource.

Thus far, no case has been brought to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) against any of the trade measures aimed at the conservation of natural resources.

This paper aims to assess the economic and social importance of selected fisheries targeting aquatic species with an international conservation profile. In order to ensure adequate representation, the following species were chosen:

- Sturgeons and paddlefishes (Acipenseriformes), large inland fish species of high commercial value, mainly occurring in the northern emisphere;

- Caribbean queen conch (Strombus gigas), a mollusc of high commercial value, targeted by both artisanal and commercial fisheries in tropical areas;

- Sharks (Chondrychthyes), widely distributed but still understudied animals, generally considered as “poor people’s fish” with the exception of their fins;

- Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides), a large oceanic species, particularly appreciated by North American, Japanese and European connoisseurs.

This report is composed of four separate studies covering Acipenseriformes, Strombus gigas, Chondrichthyes and Dissostichus eleginoides. These species are generally under-represented in marketing and industry literature, which is historically focused on traditional commodities such as bivalves, cephalopods, crab, fishmeal and fish oil, of the genera Gadhus spp., Merluccius spp. and Theragra spp., lobster, salmon, shrimp, small pelagics and tuna.

The capture and trade statistics used are mostly those collected by the Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Unit (FIDI) of FAO, made available through the Fishstat + database, but are complemented by other sources, such as EUROSTAT, CITES, and national statistics. FAO data on employment in fishing are also provided by FIDI. Other sources include scientific reports, papers, articles, online publications and personal communications.

Sturgeons (Acipenseriformes)

The order Acipenseriformes belongs to the class Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes) and encompasses two families: Acipenseridae (sturgeons) and Polyodontidae (paddlefishes). The sturgeon is one of the most ancient and valuable fish in the world. It usually lives in freshwater, coastal waters and inner seas throughout Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Romania, the Russian Federation, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, other European countries and North America.

The sturgeon industry is a commercial one, with traditionally high capture and export patterns. Caviar, the unfertilized sturgeon roe, is the most important and expensive product from the sturgeon fisheries. The three traditional varieties of caviar are beluga, taken from the sturgeon bearing the same name, the osetra, taken from the Russian and the Persian sturgeon, and the sevruga, taken from the starry or stellate sturgeon. Also, some species of sturgeon kept in captivity (white sturgeon and Siberian sturgeon) provide appreciated caviar varieties.

Due to historically high patterns of both legal and illegal exploitation and habitat degradation, sturgeon stocks are seriously depleted, especially in traditional producing basins such as the Caspian Sea. Global sturgeon catch declined from the record peak of 32 078 MT in 1978 to 2 658 MT in 2000 (Fishstat + data). Nevertheless, exports of caviar in 2000 still represented a significant source of income for countries around the Caspian Sea (circa US$60 million) and in other parts of the world. However, the limited availability of data on employment in the fishery industry in the Caspian Sea limits the scope of any social analysis of the relative importance of the sturgeon and caviar industry.

The entire order Acipenseriformes was listed under the appendices of CITES in 1997. Some important aspects of the CITES regime on sturgeons and paddlefishes are still under development such as the universal labelling system, which is designed to halt poaching and smuggling.

Caribbean queen conch (Strombus gigas)

The Caribbean queen conch (Strombus gigas) is a gastropod belonging to the Strombidae family. It inhabits the Neotropical Atlantic waters of Bermuda, southern Florida, southern Mexico, the whole Caribbean region, Venezuela and Brazil.

Catch of stromboid conchs in the Western Central Atlantic increased from 1 200 MT in 1970 to 16 857 MT in 2000 (Fishstat + data), while exports of univalves from developing countries in the Western Central Atlantic area increased from 183 MT in 1979, for a value of US$689 000, to 545 MT, for a value of US$4.5 million in 2000 (Fishstat + data). Due to the generalized grouping of data, e.g. stromboid conchs and univalves, the above figures may not be fully representative of the queen conch industry.

The queen conch fishery is an important provider of employment and income for fishing communities in the Western Central Atlantic area. In the Bahamas queen conch represents the main source of food and income for 9 800 spiny lobster fishers, during the latter’s closed season. In addition an estimated 400 fishers depend on conch fishing all year round. According to the Government and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), queen conch landings generated income for 1 536 to 1 800 fishers in Belize. The conch industry in the Dominican Republic provides a livelihood for an estimated 1 530 fishers. CARICOM also estimates that the queen conch fishery provides employment and income for 332 industrial fishers and 50 to 100 artisanal fishers in Jamaica.

According to government sources 170 conch fishers work in the major harvest areas of Mexico, however this figure is only indicative due to the presence of conch fishermen who do not use their conch catch licenses, on the one hand, and the presence of unlicensed relatives fishing from licensed fishers’ boats on the other. Among the case studies presented, the Turks and Caicos Islands appear the most dependent on the conch fishery in relation to their overall fishing population, but very small number of full time fishers. This largely export-oriented fishery provides food and income for the 1 561 part-time and occasional fishers living and working in the archipelago and certainly for a number of full time fishers.

The listing of the queen conch Strombus gigas in Appendix II of the CITES Convention was decided during a period of expansion of conch fisheries (1992). Following the listing, range states[9] have been adopting various management and technical measures aimed at keeping queen conch stocks at sustainable levels. Currently, range states are preparing a regional management plan, which is expected to propose stricter measures to combat poaching and smuggling, and solutions to constraints to enforcement of CITES and national legislation.

Sharks (Chondrichthyes)

Sharks, rays and chimaeras belong to the class Chondrichthyes. They differ from Osteychthyes or bony fish as their skeleton is cartilaginous. The class Chondrichthyes or chondrichthyans is divided into two subclasses: Holocephalii (chimaeras, elephant fish) and Elasmobranchii (Elasmobranchs: sharks and batoids such as skates, rays, torpedoes and sawfish). The Checklist of Living Elasmobranchs reports 465 shark species, grouped into 35 families, widely diffused all over the world.

The shark fishery is a relatively large and financially important one. Catches of sharks and other chondrichthyans increased from 271 813 MT in 1950 to 828 364 MT in 2000. Developing countries share was worth an estimated US$515 million (Fishstat + data) and trade in shark products generated foreign exchange revenues for these countries of US$134.7 million in 2000 (Fishstat + data). Of this amount US$101.1 million came from exports of shark fins, the most expensive shark-based commodity (Fishstat + data).

Due to the large amount of unreported landings and trade, Fishstat + data may be under-representative of the total extent of shark catch and trade. Sharks are mainly taken as bycatch in other commercial fisheries (tuna and billfishes). They may be processed on board and sometimes the main body is discarded in favour of the most demanded and lucrative parts of the animal, i.e. its fins, without any reporting of its capture or of the sale of the fins. Most target shark fisheries, for example in countries such as China (estimated to employ some 1 500 shark fishers), Japan or on the African continent, are artisanal..

Sharks are largely understudied animals, however available data show a high antropogenic pressure on them. Several international initiatives have been launched in order to protect these fishes:

- UNCLOS promotes international cooperation for the conservation and sustainable use of shark species, in particular those listed in its Appendix I;

- CMS has the great white shark Carcharodon carcharias and the whale shark listed in its Appendix II;

- FAO launched the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) in 1999;

- the basking shark Cetorhinus maximus and the whale shark Rhincodon typus are listed in Appendix II to the CITES Convention, while the great white shark is listed in CITES Appendix III.

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides)

The Patagonian toothfish or Chilean seabass (Dissostichus eleginoides) is a large, demersal fish growing to up to 2 metres in length and living for up to 50 years. It occurs in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of southern Chile, Argentina, and sub-Antarctic islands under the sovereignty of Australia, France, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

The Patagonian toothfish is exploited by a large commercial fishing industry, which is concentrated in the southernmost areas of the Atlantic and the Pacific and in Antarctic waters. Catches of Patagonian toothfish in those areas increased from 1 096 MT in 1977 to 44 047 MT in 1995. They then declined to 37 435 MT in 2000 (Fishstat + data). Exports of toothfish products increased from 1 449 MT in 1985, corresponding to US$4 million, to 12 727 MT in 2000, corresponding to some US$83.8 million (Fishstat + data). Due to limited records of capture and, in particular, of trade, Fishstat + data may be, under-representative of the total extent of catch and trade of Patagonian toothfish.

Landings in Argentina are concentrated in the ports of Ushuaia, Puerto Madryn and Puerto Deseado in Patagonia. An estimated one hundred and five fishers are dependent on the fishery in the country, plus 100 fishers and office workers in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas. In Chile, it is estimated that 150 persons work in this fishery.

The Patagonian toothfish fishery is affected by Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU Fishing). In view of this CCAMLR launched a Catch Documentation Scheme (CDS), which has been operational since 7 May 2000. Its implementation is thought to have reduced IUU catch of Patagonian toothfish by CCAMLR members to zero, and to have produced an associated reduction by non-members. However, the NGO TRAFFIC suggests that IUU fishing may have been relocated rather than eliminated.

[9] Range is defined as an area in which an organism operates, hence range states are the countries in which the species are found.

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