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The moral dimensions of fisheries are manifold, but the main ethical issues concern overfishing, interwoven with those of poverty, food security, food safety and ecosystem degradation. Each of these issues could be broken down into a number of related subissues, for instance: genetic modification of living organisms, introduction of alien species, protection of endangered or emblematic species, discarding practices, cultural sustainability, knowledge-sharing, transboundary impacts, food contamination and safety.

This study has outlined some the major ethical issues in fisheries and moral imperatives related to them. It has identified these issues in terms of basic human interests and fundamental principles of bioethics and argued for a holistic mode of ethical reasoning. Although the maintenance of the ecosystem is of crucial importance, the focus of this study has been on the ways in which fisheries operations and policy affect, sustain or collide with human interests and livelihoods. It calls for an integration of ethical reasoning into the general assessment of fishing policies. It is of central importance to realize what kind of morally relevant information should be brought into the analyses, policy development and decision-making, broadening the information base of economic analysis with a richer conception of human interests and social benefits.

The ethical approach encourages participation. It proposes that the ethical quality of a proposed measure be assessed through its standing in a free public discourse. It also stresses the need for the free flow of information, public awareness and expression, transparency and accountability. In order to progress further towards responsible fisheries, it is essential to focus on what people can do and achieve, going beyond considerations of mere material interests and stressing the moral interests of welfare, freedom and justice.

An ethical approach relates necessarily to a particular cultural context. A global view of ethics is only slowly emerging. Environmental ethics is being formed though the adoption and implementation of the CBD. In fisheries, the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, elaborated mainly from technological, ecological, social, economic and political points of view, is probably the most advanced and complete framework and reference for global human and environmental ethics in fisheries. In this context, an ethical analysis of the implications of the Code implementation relates mainly to the important changes needed and happening throughout the world fishery sector in the process of evolution towards more responsible fisheries. Such analysis needs to pay particular attention to: (i) the patterns of distribution of stresses and benefits; (ii) the procedures for dialogue, participation and conflict resolution; and (iii) the existing social and political power structures.

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