Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

New steps toward sustainable trade in fish

Fifty-two FAO Members attending the 11th session of FAO’s Sub-Committee on Fish Trade in Bremen, Germany have endorsed a set of technical guidelines aimed at promoting responsible international trade in fish and fishery products.

The voluntary guidelines are intended to help countries ensure that “international trade in fish and fishery products do not compromise the sustainable development of fisheries and responsible utilization of living aquatic resources.”

They call on governments to take a number of steps, including:

- adopting conservation and management measures for long-term conservation and sustainable use of aquatic resources, as a necessary foundation for sustainable fish trade;

- developing indicators for measuring the biological, economic and social sustainability of fisheries;

- establishing catch documentation and certification schemes to track seafood and fish products from point of capture or production to final destination;

- targeting financial and technical assistance to developing countries to strengthen their capacity for fisheries management and responsible trade practices;

- conducting periodic reviews of laws and regulations related to the international trade in fish products to determine if the reasons for their original creation continue to exist;

- collecting and disseminating accurate statistical information on international trade in fish.

The value of world exports of fish and fish products climbed to a record high of US$92 billion in 2007, with the proportion of world fish production (145 million tonnes) that is traded internationally now representing 38 percent of the total, or 55 million tonnes, an FAO paper presented at the meeting reported. (Click here for more on the paper).

This can involve significant benefits for poor countries – their net export revenues from fish trade currently run around US$25 billion, translating into more jobs, better incomes, and increased government revenues.

But fish trade can also pose some risks, according to Grimur Valdimarsson, director of FAO's Fish Products and Industries Division. “Increased demand for fish to supply international markets can sometimes result in excessive fishing pressure, potentially leading to the over-exploitation and wasteful use of some fish stocks and thereby exacerbating the consequences of ineffective fisheries management regimes. This can in turn impact on food security, especially where there is a high dependence on fish in the diet,” he said.

“These guidelines, which offer advice on how to implement the trade-related provisions in the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, will help countries maximize the poverty reduction, food security and nutrition benefits of fish trade while minimizing potential negative aspects,” said Valdimarsson.

Fifty-one countries plus the European Union attended the meeting, which was hosted by the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. One other UN agency, the United Nations Environment Programme, participated and nine intergovernmental and international non-government organizations also were present. Mr Juan Manuel Velasco León, Spain’s Deputy Director-General of Fisheries Marketing, served as chair of the meeting.

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