Fishery Committee reviews state of world fisheries and aquaculture

Fisheries Committee reviews state of world fisheries and aquaculture

Delegates from over 100 nations, UN bodies and specialized agencies, as well as other international governmental and non-governmental organizations, gathered at FAO Headquarters March 17 for the 22nd session of FAO's Committee on Fisheries (COFI).

During the four-day session, the Committee was scheduled to review a newly released FAO study, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 1996 (SOFIA). The study reports record fish production and says that increasing demand for fish could be met through better management of capture fisheries and further expansion of aquaculture, despite pressure on top marine fish resources.

FAO estimates that the world's harvest from capture fisheries could increase by at least 10 million and perhaps as much as 20 million tonnes if:

  • degraded resources are rehabilitated;
  • underdeveloped resources in all oceans are exploited further, without overfishing either previously underexploited resources or those that have already reached or exceeded the highest level of sustainable exploitation;
  • discarding and wastage are reduced.

SOFIA puts 1995 fish production at a new record of 112.3 million tonnes, up from the previous high of 109.6 million tonnes in 1994. The increase is mainly the result of continued rapid growth in aquaculture production, particularly in China, and rapid expansion of highly fluctuating harvestable stocks of surface-dwelling open-sea species, such as anchovies, off South America. (More details on SOFIA report)

In addition to reviewing the new report on the state of the world's fisheries, the agenda for the 1997 COFI session features discussion on several other major issues, including:

  • overfishing;
  • wastage caused by discarding of unwanted species captured along with the target fish (referred to as by-catch);
  • pollution and modification of the aquatic ecosystem;
  • subsidies;
  • biological diversity; and
  • compliance with international conservation and management measures for fishing vessels licensed to fish on the high seas.

Assistant Director-General Moritaka Hayashi, who heads FAO's Fisheries Department, told the meeting that threats to the long-term capacity of fisheries to supply food and livelihood cannot be solved solely by market forces. "In the particular issue of overfishing, history shows that therein lies the road to overcapitalization in industrial fisheries and excessive pressure in the case of small-scale fisheries and a headlong chase in pursuit of greater harvests. This has led to the collapse of some fisheries and fish stocks."

SOFIA, examining the dynamics of the world's top 200 top marine fishery resources, demonstrates the rapid increase in fishing pressure. The report indicates that the estimated number of stocks requiring management has gradually increased from almost none in 1950 to over 60 percent in 1994, underlining the urgent need for effective measures to control and reduce fishing.

"For the resources which are presently below their historical peak levels of production, it might be possible to return to these levels, by reducing fishing effort and, in most cases, simultaneously improving yield-per-recruit," said SOFIA. "This can be achieved by increasing significantly the age at first capture, prohibiting the exploitation of juveniles, increasing mesh sizes, and closing temporarily or permanently areas of concentration of young fish."

"Although supplies of seafood may keep pace with demand worldwide, this does not mean that the needs of all consumers will be satisfied," Mr Hayashi said, referring to the important role that fisheries play in food security, highlighted by the recent World Food Summit in Rome. "It is conceivable - although not inevitable - that the chronically poor and food-insecure will be worse off in the short run as price increases and distribution problems could keep seafood, and other protein-rich food, out of their reach." Mr Hayashi urged the Committee to examine a combination of technological, economic and legal solutions to these issues.

Interview with Moritaka Hayashi, Assistant Director-General of FAO's Fisheries Department

Other resources:

17 March 1997


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