New panel to focus on coastal fisheries in south-west Indian Ocean – UN

4 May 2005

With studies showing that fish stocks in the south-west Indian Ocean are either fully exploited, overfished or recovering slowly from uncontrolled fishing pressure, the United Nations agricultural agency today announced the establishment of a new panel to promote responsible fishing in that region.

With studies showing that fish stocks in the south-west Indian Ocean are either fully exploited, overfished or recovering slowly from uncontrolled fishing pressure, the United Nations agricultural agency today announced the establishment of a new panel to promote responsible fishing in that region.

The South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (SWIOFC) will function as an advisory body to promote the sustainable development and utilization of coastal fishery resources off the shores of East Africa and several island States of the region, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). A parallel agreement on regional cooperation on high-seas fishing of non-tuna resources is also being negotiated.

FAO studies show that in the entire West Indian Ocean – the larger region encompassing the zone where SWIOFC will operate – 75 per cent of fishery resources are currently being fished at their maximum biological productivity. The other 25 per cent are over-exploited and require better management.

Both coastal and offshore fisheries are at stake, FAO says. The fish resources of the coastal waters of the south-western Indian Ocean constitute a major source of animal protein for many near-shore communities. At the same time, exports of fishery products represent a vital source of exchangeable earnings. Madagascar and Mozambique, for example, have important shrimp fisheries, as do Tanzania and Kenya to a lesser extent.

The new Commission, which will also promote responsible management and regional cooperation on fisheries policy, is made up of 14 members from coastal States whose territories are situated wholly or partly within the SWIOFC area. Other countries may participate as observers. At its first meeting, held last month in Mombasa, Kenya, the SWIOFC agreed to establish a scientific committee to focus on fisheries data collection.

Breaking that down to get an accurate picture of the state of stocks in the south-western Indian Ocean is difficult, since data collection there is weak or non-existent. FAO statistical reviews show that as much as a third of catches are not identified by species, making analysis of the status of stocks – and, by extension, responsible management – difficult.

“These data gaps are why it’s important to have a body like SWIOFC to help improve data monitoring and collection,” says Jean Francois Pulvenis de Séligny, Director of FAO’s Fishery Policy and Planning Division, adding that a strong and sustained commitment by the commission’s members is necessary to ensure it will meet its goals.

 

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