UN agency launches new initiative to improve monitoring of world’s fisheries

23 May 2006

Joining hands with several other organizations, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today launched a new initiative to gather and maintain standardized information on the world’s fish stock.

Joining hands with several other organizations, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today launched a new initiative to gather and maintain standardized information on the world’s fish stock.

The new integrated system will strengthen global collaboration on responsible fishing, FAO officials told an international meeting on fisheries policies being held at UN Headquarters in New York this week.

The launch comes amid growing concern over the disappearance of certain species of fish, including highly migratory oceanic sharks and tuna, as a result of a marked increase in the catches on the high seas.

FAO officials said as many as 10 different organizations have already agreed to contribute data to the Fisheries Resources Management System (FIRMS), a global aquatic resource monitoring system, and that many more are also expected to join the initiative soon.

Currently, FIRMS gathers information from various regional fisheries management organizations, FAO and other agencies, and turns it into a “comprehensive, one-stop source of information on world fisheries,” the agency said. This includes data on catches and stock levels, fleet activities, fishing mortality and biomass trends.

“As more data are input and more partners join this collaborative effort, a full review of world fisheries will emerge that will add a high level of extra detail to regular reports on fishery resources,” said Richard Grainger, FAO’s chief of fisheries information and statistics.

Noting that there are a “lot of inaccuracies floating around out there,” Granger said the joint initiative will create an “authoritative, unique and highly reliable” source of information on world fisheries.

Meanwhile, participants of the week-long meeting, set to conclude on Friday, are trying to focus their attention on the implementation of the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, which aims to ensure responsible fishing of highly migratory fish and other resources which straddle the boundaries between national jurisdiction and the high seas.

So far only 57 countries have signed on to the Agreement while six of the world’s top 10 fish producing countries have given no indication of plans to endorse it. Among them are Japan and China, which have expressed certain reservations, but participants said there are signs that they would be joining soon.

“The level of participation needs to grow to give the Agreement broader support,” said David Doulman of FAO’s Fisheries Department.Mr. Doulman and others also emphasized the need for increased assistance to developing countries so that they could fully meet their obligations under the agreement.

One of the most contentious issues that have emerged during the meeting on fisheries is how to stop over-fishing by commercial use of bottom-trawling that many believe is responsible for wiping out valuable species.

“There are many proposals to put a limit on capacity,” said David Balton, the Chairman of the Conference, at a news briefing today about the issue of bottom crawling and its possible adverse affects on the marine environment.

Industry representatives participating in the Conference defend the use of bottom trawling, but environmental groups say they are extremely concerned about its impact on the marine ecosystem, and are calling for a moratorium.

“We are in favour of an interim prohibition,” Harlan Cohen of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) told reporters. “While the science is being done, we don’t know fully what the effects are.”

“It makes no sense,” said Javier Garat Perez, Vice President of the International Coalition of Fisheries Association, in response. “It’s not a solution,” he said, suggesting that instead of placing a moratorium on bottom trawling, governments should take steps to curb illegal fishing.

The issue is likely to be taken up by the UN General Assembly when it meet in New York this coming September, Mr. Balton said.


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