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UN agency calls for safeguards to protect fish stocks in developing countries

UN agency calls for safeguards to protect fish stocks in developing countries

Citing new research, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today warned that developing countries that open up their waters to foreign fishing fleets may lose far more than they gain.

"Some developing countries with reasonably healthy levels of stocks have, in their search for foreign, external, earnings needed to pay off debts and to stimulate economic growth, entered into fishing agreements which allow foreign fleets into their waters," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. He noted, however, that the studies conducted in collaboration with UNEP in Argentina and Senegal indicated that unless strict safeguards were in place, "this can be a costly mistake."

In Argentina - a "stark" example - exports grew by 478 per cent between 1985 and 1995 as the number of fish caught mushroomed. But the price was high: the quantity of fish caught has, since 1997, "fallen dramatically" as a result of over-exploitation of key stocks, UNEP noted. Between 1997 and 1999, the catch dropped by a quarter and revenues declined during that period by 14 per cent.

Negative impacts were also found in Senegal, where trade liberalization "has had a devastating effect on some key stocks, especially those deep-living, coastal species, favoured by European consumers," UNEP said, warning of a risk that Senegal's own market supply could face shortages in the near future as fishing efforts shift from locally consumed species to those destined for export.

Among other recommendations, the studies propose a range of measures that could be taken to address the situation, including the possible institution of quotas and higher prices for foreign fishing fleets, as well as a suspension of agreements if stocks become seriously depleted.