Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The Potentials Of Fisheries

...As A Vital Source Of Food, Employment And Income

Although many of them may never know how or why, the future for millions of fishermen worldwide was changed on July 6, 1984. And not just for fishermen, but also for millions of others connected with fisheries, even if only remotely. On that date, the first World Conference on Fisheries Management and Development concluded, having approved a blueprint for the future of world fishing.

In recent years, most coastal states have extended jurisdiction over the resources off their shores out to 200 nautical miles, usually by establishing Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). A large area of high seas still remains, but over 95 per cent of the marine fishery resources presently exploited now fall under national jurisdiction.

This new regime of the seas contrasts with the previous situation where the oceans of the world and their resources outside of a narrow coastal zone, were regarded as international waters belonging to no-one. The principles of the new regime are embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which was adopted in 1982 after a decade of debate..

The practical realities of the new regime are complex and challenging. Coastal states have greater opportunities to reap the full benefits from the living resources off their shores, but they also face the weighty responsibility of deciding how they might best be allocated and used. Unfortunately, few countries are in a position to implement the kind of fisheries programmes needed to make best use of the resources now falling under their control.

The Conference was a unique and historic occasion. It was historic in scope and outcome, being the first time that nearly all nations of the world, great and small, came together to reach agreement upon comprehensive action to confront the fundamental problems and potentials of fisheries as a vital source of food, employment and income.

This situation takes on added urgency when examined in light of current trends in world fish production and demand. Growth of the world. catch has slowed to less than 2 per cent in recent years, from rates of over 5 per cent during the 1950s and 1960s. Of the total annual catch of some 75 million tonnes, nearly 22 million tonnes of fish is used to feed pigs and poultry. What is more, many of the major species are fully or even over-exploited.

The demand for fish, however, continues to increase. Average per capita fish consumption is 11.6 Kg per year. To satisfy this demand, annual production of food fish alone will have to exceed 100 million tonnes by the year 2000.

As background to the Conference, FAO held a series of technical seminars and expert consultations, capped by an expanded session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in October 1983. The unusually high attendance at the special COFI meeting (over 120 nations sent representatives as compared to the usual 60 to 80) and the number of substantial interventions gave an early indication of the great interest in the Conference.

The Conference was opened on 27 July 1984 by King Juan Carlos I of Spain who immediately set the tone for the eight-day session. "The oceans have begun to reveal their most intimate secrets," said the King, "and their riches have the potential to relieve some of humanity's most pressing needs. But care must be taken to ensure that these riches are not squandered by short-sighted and egotistical exploitation .. a solution to the pressing problems of the fishery sector depends to a large extent on the success of the Conference that is starting here today. The fishery sector must not be disappointed in its expectations."

The heads of national delegations, in their statements to the Plenary sessions of the Conference, emphasised the opportune time for convening such a Conference, and highlighted particular areas of national or regional concern. Simultaneously, two special Commissions met to formulate a strategy for world fisheries and a series of action plans. This multi-faceted approach enabled the delegates to review and discuss nearly every aspect of the world fisheries situation, from management of fish stocks in the new EEZS to the use of fish in combating world hunger. In the final session of the Conference, a "Strategy for Fisheries Management and Development" was endorsed by consensus and five associated Action Programmes were approved. The Strategy represents a new global framework for fisheries, a coherent set of principles and guidelines for fisheries management and develop- ment. It covers a wide range of issues: The contribution of fisheries to national economic, social and nutritional goals.

Improved national self-reliance in fisheries management and development.

Principles and practices for the rational management and optimum use of fish resources.

The special role and needs of small-scale fisheries and rural fishing and fish-farming communities.

• International trade in fish and fishery products.

• Investment in fisheries.

Economic and technical cooperation in the fisheries sector, and.

• International cooperation in fisher ies management and development.

The guidelines and principles are not binding upon governments or organisations; they do not impose impossible unwelcome commitments. The strategy does, however, embody the consensus prevailing in 1984 on the best course for the future management and development of the fisheries sector.

In addition to the Strategy, the World Fisheries Conference also approved five action programmes to management and development. The confront specific challenges of fisheries action programmes, to complement the strategy, focus on fisheries management and development; small-scale fisheries; aquaculture; international trade in fish and fishery products; and the use of fish in alleviating undernutrition.

Each of the action programmes was accompanied by an estimate of funding requirements; FAO estimates that a total of approximately US$15 million will be required for the first five years of the action programmes. While the Fisheries Conference was not a pledg- ing session, these estimates highlight the need for increased assistance for fisheries development from inter- national aid organisations and bilateral donors.

As a result of the extensive preparations, the draft Strategy and Action Programmes presented to the Conference were approved with remarkably few changes, despite the high level interest and scrutiny. Nevertheless, World Fisheries Conference did not simply "rubber stamp" the recommendations from the earlier technical sessions. It served to bring the sensitive issues facing world fisheries in political as well as technical focus. Conference also enabled delegates to highlight specific issues of national and regional concern through a series of Special Resolutions.

In another case, seven nations or coast of West Africa (The Gam Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sen Cape Verde, Mauritania) submitted resolutions drawing attention to problems of ship-borne pollution of fishing grounds. The resolution that the oil tankers which often clear their tanks in the waters off Africa (as well as in the Gulfs around Asia) are worsening the already critical food supply situation. It called for international condemnation of the practice.

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