Farming fish for the future, sustainably

FAO Sub-Committee on Aquaculture wraps up in Norway
August 20, 2003

Farming fish for the future, sustainably
FAO Sub-Committee on Aquaculture wraps up in Norway
Countries from around the world have resolved to cooperate more closely in order to develop a better framework for the sustainable development of the world's aquaculture sector, says FAO.

The agreement comes following the second session of the FAO Sub-Committee on aquaculture, held 7-11 August in Trondheim, Norway.

During the five day working meeting, representatives from FAO member countries wrestled with a wide range of issues, including the environmental impacts of shrimp-farming, the use of antibiotics by aquaculture, the introduction of non-native fish species into new regions, harmonization of trade standards, and the need for better monitoring of product safety.

In its final report, the Sub-Committee made a series of recommendations for action by FAO as well as by the individual countries that make up the Organization's membership. The report will be available on the FAO Fisheries Department website in all official Organization languages in September.

"The work that has been outlined for action by FAO, or for action by the member countries themselves, really represents a global agenda for aquaculture," observed Serge Garcia, director of FAO's Fishery Resources Division.

To help promote national policies conducive to responsible fish farming, FAO will develop detailed guidelines for the responsible management of fish farms aimed at both improving the quality of the fish farmed there and at reducing their negative environmental impacts. A reference compendium of aquaculture related legislation already on the books in different countries will also be produced.

Responding to developing countries' comments that they are often unable to keep up with changing safety standards governing fish imports, FAO will work to improve information sharing between importing and exporting nations and, via the international Codex Alimentarius Commission, to develop international standards for the safety of fish products.

The Organization will also evaluate various labelling systems being used to certify aquaculture products as safe and environmentally friendly, with a view to encouraging worldwide adoption of a single set of science-based standards.

Countries attending the event also agreed to work with FAO to improve and enhance the collection of world data about aquaculture. This year the Organization will convene a meeting of experts from around the world to draw up a blueprint for doing so.

Fish for the world's hungry

The role of aquaculture in meeting food and nutrition needs, especially in the developing world, was another area of priority action for FAO.

"Perceptions about aquaculture often focus on the large-scale, industrial side of the sector, which is often about export products" said Rohana Subasinghe, an FAO Senior Fisheries Officer and secretary of the Sub-Committee. "We heard a strong voice here from the developing countries, who see aquaculture also as a way to feed their hungry. That vision is crucial."

According to Subasinghe, 90 percent of aquaculture today occurs in developing countries, and the sector currently produces over 36 percent of the world's food fish supply -- up from 7 percent in 1970.

To boost the contribution that fish farming makes to world food security, FAO will organize technical consultations on small-scale rural aquaculture and possibly a major conference in Africa aimed at outlining a strategy for the development of aquaculture there.

Numerous other activities were flagged for FAO action in the Sub-Committee's final report as well, including:

- Capacity building programs that will help governments strengthen efforts to monitor and improve the safety of aquaculture products.

- Technical support to help countries conduct environmental impact studies of proposed aquaculture operations and better handle the introduction of non-native exotic fish species by fish farmers.

- Studies on the emerging practice of tuna fattening and its environmental consequences.

- A case-study based-analysis of the environmental and social impacts of different kinds of aquaculture operations for use in long-term planning by governments.

- An in-depth report on aquaculture's future trajectory and the related policy issues that will need to be resolved.

"It is FAO's job to help feed the world's hungry," Subasinghe said. "This body and the recommendations it produces sharpen our efforts, and help us move forward towards that goal."

Jiansan Jia, chief of FAO's Inland Waters and Aquaculture Service, noted that aquaculture's contribution to feeding the hungry will become increasingly important in years to come.

Some projections suggest that captures by traditional wild fisheries will stagnate within the next 30 years, he said. "Aquaculture is really the only way to meet the gap between supply and growing world demand for fish to eat."