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Need for new vision for fisheries amidst growing concerns over state of oceans

FAO’s International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability kicks off today

18 November 2019, Rome - Fisheries are facing an important crossroad and the world needs a new vision for fisheries in the 21st century. This was FAO-Director General Qu Dongyu's main message today at the opening of the UN agency's International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability (18-21 November).

With the world's population to rise to nearly 10 billion by 2050, land alone will not feed us - we also need aquatic food production. But we need to do so without compromising the health of oceans and rivers, and while improving the social conditions of those dependent on fisheries - often the poorest in society, stressed the FAO Director-General.

Millions of people worldwide depend on fish for food and for their livelihoods. A person gets 20.3 kilograms (average per capita figure) of top-quality protein and essential micronutrients from fish every year. Globally, over one in ten people depend on fishing to make a living and feed their families.  

But the state of the oceans is of grave concern due to plastic pollution, the impacts of climate change, habitat degradation and overfishing. One in every three marine fish stocks is overfished - compared to just one in ten some 40 years ago - whilst the growing demand for fresh water fish is affecting the sustainability of inland fisheries.

FAO has noted a dangerous trend - fisheries in developed regions are increasingly sustainable, rebuilding stocks and improving the conditions of those working in the sector, but fisheries in developing regions are not improving as fast.

"This is creating a dangerous sustainability divide. We need to reverse this trend if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals," said the FAO chief.

Oceans, seas, rivers and lakes as a solution

The FAO Director-General put forward three solutions to make fisheries more sustainable.

First, re-investing in marine and freshwater sustainability programmes.

Second, investing in sustainable ocean growth. FAO's Blue Growth Initiative, for example, is based on balancing ecological, social and economic principles. Developing industries like aquaculture is a win-win for a planet in need.

And third, ensuring that adequate protection measures are combined with effective management, including better addressing food waste in the fisheries industry.  

"We need more political will and more resources to make this happen. Let us not leave any region of the ocean behind in our sustainability quest. If we focus our science, our innovation spirit, our technologies, we will secure and protect one of the oldest and most undervalued food industries. We need to aim big and do concrete things!" concluded the FAO chief.

"Treat the ocean with the respect it deserves, and it will forgive our foolish ways, and it will replenish itself and do what is has always done in the past - be the great provider of life on planet earth," said Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Oceans at the symposium's opening.

Thomson stressed that four of the ten targets of SDG 14 mature in 2020, "so we need to pull out all the stops on all four of them".

To get illegal fishing under control, and ensure the fourth target of SDG14 is met by 2020, Thomson urged countries that haven't signed FAO's Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) to do so. He also urged consumers to demand assurance in restaurants and in supermarkets that they are not receiving stolen goods when they purchase seafood.

In closing, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Oceans highlighted the significance of 2020, calling it "the year in which we will create a new deal with nature", as the following events will take place: UN Ocean Conference to scale up ocean action, the UN Biodiversity Conference to put in place the post-2020 biodiversity framework, the IUCN World Conservation Congress, and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) where parties to the Paris Agreement will produce an international response to the climate emergency.

Tijjani Muhammad Bande, President of the UN General Assembly, sent a video message in support of the symposium.

Speakers at the opening ceremony included:  Michael Pintard, Minister for Agriculture and Marine Resources, Bahamas; Harald Tom Nesvik, Minister of Fisheries and Seafood, Norway; Ricardo Serrão Santos, Minister for the Sea of Portugal, Portugal; Mona Mehrez, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Egypt; and Rebecca Jayne Argo, Fisherwoman, Alaska.

Rising fish consumption and trade - and other facts and figures

In the technical keynote address of the symposium's opening, FAO Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture Manuel Barange pointed out the following:

  • While human population has been growing at 1.5 percent per year since 1960, animal protein consumption has grown at 2.5 percent, and fish consumption at 3 percent.
  • In 2017, fisheries provided 173 million tons of fish products, 153 million for direct human consumption - a seven-fold increase from 1950.
  • Fish products are one of the most traded food commodities, exceeding the trade of food from all land-based animals combined. In 2017, exports of fish products reached a record 156 billion dollars.
  • From the mid-1970s, developing countries have increased their net trade benefits from fish from almost zero to over 40 billion dollars a year.
  • Fish is particularly important in countries with food deficit. Of the top 30 fish consuming nations, 17 are Low Income Food Deficit countries, mainly in Africa, Asia and Oceania.
  • Some 95 percent of people who reply on fisheries for their livelihoods live in Africa and Asia. The large majority of them are small-scale operators, struggling to make a living out of one of the toughest and most dangerous professions. In 2019, commercial fishing was rated the second deadliest profession on earth.

"The new frontier in the sector is to address the social dimension of fisheries value chains: from decent working conditions, human rights-based approaches, to access to health and social services, among others. We need to ensure social sustainability and social responsibility across fish value chains," said Manuel Barange.

About the International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability

The symposium brings together the best in the fisheries sector to explore the status of global and regional fisheries, and how to make fisheries' resources more sustainable, covering topics such as: fisheries management in the face of changing climate, the use of emerging technologies, and value chain improvements.

A global atlas on the use of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) to monitor fishing activity - the first of its kind - will be issued on 19 November, on the sidelines of the symposium, by FAO, Global Fishing Watch, Fundación AZTI and Seychelles Fishing Authority.

Photo: ©FAO/Arete Will Baxter
Somali fishers carrying their catch ashore.