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Fisheries and aquaculture are a critical part of global agri-food systems transformation, says FAO Director-General

FAO Committee on Fisheries this week explores sustainable future for a fast growing industry

1 February 2021, Rome - Fisheries and aquaculture are of critical importance for global agri-food systems transformation as well as recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, said today.

The Director-General addressed the opening of the 34th session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI), which is the only global inter-governmental forum where FAO Members meet to review and consider the issues and challenges related to fisheries and aquaculture. It is being held virtually for the first time.

In his remarks, Qu noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the fisheries and aquaculture sector through changing consumer demands, market access and logistical problems related to transportation and border restrictions. He also highlighted that fisheries and aquaculture are essential for the world economy to build back better from the COVID-19 crisis.

"The potential of a modern aquaculture to grow and feed the world is extraordinary," Qu said, noting that 10 percent of the world's population relies on the fisheries and aquaculture sector for their livelihoods, mostly small producers that need support. "

To mark the 25th anniversary of FAO's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries , fisheries ministers from around the world also joined the Director-General in a High-Level Special Event to review the Code and renew their commitment to attain sustainable fisheries and aquaculture as the sector faces increasing challenges.

In a video-taped keynote address, the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, stressed the need for countries and organizations to work together to find a balance between fisheries production and protection of the oceans. She noted FAO's important role in this regard.

The Prime Minister also stressed that the Code of Conduct had contributed to a healthier, more robust blue economy by urging implementation of standards for responsible and sustainable management practices.

Ambassador Peter Thomson of Fiji, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Ocean, told the High-Level Event that the Declaration recognised the role of fisheries and aquaculture in the fight against poverty and hunger and called for improved management and capacity building in developing countries.

The European Union's Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius, congratulated FAO for its assessments of the COVID-19 impact on fisheries and aquaculture as well as the valuable information provided by SOFIA and stressed the industry should be a priority for recovery strategies to overcome the impact of the pandemic.

Canada's Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Jonson Bernadette Jordan, and Sylvia White from the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisations (CNFO), a civil society network which represents small scale fishers worldwide, also gave presentations.

FAO's  State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA), issued in June 2020, estimates that total fish production is set to increase to 204 million tonnes in 2030, up 15 percent from 2018, with aquaculture's share growing from its current 46 percent. Aquaculture has been the fastest expanding food production sector globally for the last 50 years, growing at an average of 5.3 percent per year since the turn of the century.

Against this background, COFI endorsed the first-ever COFI Declaration for Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture. The Declaration aims to outline a global vision for the transformation of blue ecosystems, 25 years after the adoption of the Code of Conduct.

The Director-General said the Declaration will encourage the collective drive to build inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems in a fast-changing industry to meet the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

"Much has changed over these past 25 years," Qu said. "We need to ensure that our aquatic food systems are resilient and meet the growing demand for nutritious, safe and affordable food, while maintaining sustainable ecosystems, economies and societies that leave no one behind."

The Director-General invited FAO Members to take advantage of COFI 34 to discuss how the production, processing, trade and consumption of aquatic foods can be transformed as part of a broader agri-food systems transformation, making them more sustainable, resilient and inclusive.

"We know that land alone will not feed us with abundant quantity and food diversity - we need blue transformation to secure blue food production," he added, stressing the importance of modernizing traditional fisher culture with innovative approaches and digital technologies.

"Combining fisheries with tourism and educational activities is a way of keeping the cultural heritage alive and creating new values and new job opportunities," Qu said as an example.

The Director-General also pointed out the benefits of fish in diets, especially for pregnant women, children and in combatting all forms of malnutrition, stressing that fish should be promoted in food and nutrition strategies across the world. 

"The fisheries and aquaculture sector has a crucial contribution to make within the Four Betters: Better Production, Better Nutrition, Better Environment and Better Life."

The anniversary of the Code comes at a challenging time as pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, unregulated practices and increased competition for the use of marine and coastal areas are threatening aquatic ecosystems and their resources. FAO estimates that 34.2 percent of all marine fish stocks are fished beyond biological sustainable limits, a threefold increase since monitoring started in 1974.

COFI 34 will also review the SOFIA report, the role of small-scale fisheries and the livelihoods of coastal and inland fisheries communities, illegal fishing and fish operations at sea, as well as the critical role of women in the post-harvest and service sector.

Ministers and fisheries authority representatives of regional groups from Africa, Asia and the Pacific region, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Near East and North America participated in the High-Level Event.

They included: His Excellency, Abdullah bin Mohammed Belhaif Al Nuaimi,  Minister for Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates; Dr. Taiga, Minister of Livestock and Fisheries and Animal industry of Cameroon; Alicia Gallardo, Undersecretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture from Chile;Eugene R. Pangelinan, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Committee Chair and Executive Director of the National Oceanic Resources Management Authority (NORMA) of the Federated States of Micronesia;Liu Xinzhong, Director-General of China's Bureau of Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs;  Lucy Obungu, who spoke on behalf of Micheni Japhet Ntiba, Principal Secretary of Kenya's State department for Fisheries, Aquaculture and the Blue economy of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries;  Shingo Ota, First Vice Chairperson for COFI34 and Councillor from Japan's Fisheries Agency; Úrsula Desilú León Chempén, Chair of the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA 2022).

Photo: ©FAO
Small-scale fishers play a critical role in fisheries sector.