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FAO adopts international guidelines for sustainable small-scale fisheries

04 July 2014

The 31st session of the Fisheries Committee (COFI 31) of the FAO was held 9–13 June 2014 in Rome. Prior to COFI 31, the FAO published the 2014 edition of the SOFIA report on the State of Fisheries and Aquaculture. The SOFIA report emphasises that fish and fish products now account for almost 17% of the world population’s protein intake – in some coastal countries, it can reach 70%. Per capita fish consumption has gone from 10kg per year in the 1960s to more than 19kg in 2012. Since the 1990s, employment in this sector grew faster than the world’s population, providing jobs for 60 million people in 2012: 84% of these jobs are located in Asia; 10% in Africa. Fish is one of the most traded food commodities worldwide, with a total value in 2012 of almost US$130 billion. World fisheries and aquaculture production increased by 10 million tonnes compared to 2010, reaching 158 million tonnes in 2012. As the SOFIA report states “the rapid expansion of aquaculture is driving this growth in production.”

An important topic during COFI 31 was the adoption of the voluntary guidelines for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries (SSF) in the context of food security and poverty eradication (SSF guidelines). The guidelines address five thematic areas:

  • governance of tenure in small-scale fisheries and resource management;
  • social development, employment and decent work;
  • value chains, postharvest and trade;
  • gender equality;
  • disaster risks and climate change.

Key areas for supporting implementation of the guidelines are also explored, including:

  • policy coherence, institutional coordination and collaboration;
  • information, research and communication;
  • capacity development.

Following the recommendations of the 14th session of the COFI Sub-Committee on fish trade, discussions will also take place on how to address these recommendations in FAO’s work. The Sub-Committee underlined the relevance of FAO’s work in capacity-building for developing countries, and urged FAO to continue providing technical support to facilitate market access, value addition, postharvest and food-safety issues. The Sub-Committee also supported the work of FAO towards small-scale fisheries, underlining the necessity to enable small-scale operators to access and share information, to organise and to participate meaningfully in decision-making processes and value-chain dynamics for a more equitable distribution of benefits from national, regional and international trade.

The Sub-Committee also emphasised that small-scale fisheries’ communities require technical support and training in postharvest issues, reduction of postharvest losses, value addition, processing and transportation technology, and in minimising the impact of climate change. It encouraged FAO to provide technical assistance in these areas. Furthermore, the Sub-Committee acknowledged the significance of user and access rights for small-scale fishers and welcomed the planned conference on tenure and user rights in fisheries, which will take place in Cambodia in February 2015.

Editorial comment

By endorsing the guidelines for sustainable small-scale fisheries, FAO members, including ACP countries, are recognising the importance of this sub-sector for sustainable fisheries development. The implementation of these guidelines should support the preparation of appropriate regulations to allow this sub-sector’s potential to be unlocked, including the potential in contributing, through fish trade, to national and regional food security and government revenue. The implementation of the guidelines will be particularly useful in ACP regions such as the Caribbean or Africa, where reforms towards a ‘Common Fisheries Policy’ are being undertaken. These guidelines should also provide guidance for donors, such as the EU, which want to target aid on the ACP small-scale fisheries.


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