COFI 30 Builds on Rio+20 Momentum
Participants in the 30th session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI 30) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which took place one month after the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), noted that Rio's momentum could be used to address pressing ocean issues such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, management of shark fisheries, and sustainability of small-scale fisheries.
Among the developments: Tuna and Fish Aggregating Devices
Tens of thousands of fish aggregating devices (FADs) are deployed every year by the world's tuna purse-seine vessels. These artificial structures function as open-ocean meeting places, attracting schools of various species that gather beneath them. The devices, deployed for months at a time, attract a wide variety of marine life, including tuna, sharks, billfish, and sea turtles. Purse-seine vessels set their nets on FADs, scooping up everything around them and keeping only the tuna; the incidental catch, or bycatch, is thrown overboard, often dead. Unfortunately, use of these devices is highly unregulated, laying waste to a wide array of marine species.
- In the final report, the committee refers to FADs in the paragraph on bycatch and discards, calling attention to "the connection between bycatch and discards and the impacts of FADs on food security."
Forage fish are a key link in the food web for larger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. A single humpback whale consumes 1,000 pounds of forage a day. These small fish—also called small pelagic fish or low trophic level species—account for 37 percent, or 31.5 million tons, of all fish taken from the world's oceans each year. Ninety percent of that catch is then turned into fish meal or fish oil, most of which is used as farm and aquaculture feed. A recent study by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force recommends cutting catch rates of many forage fish species in half to preserve them for marine ecosystems.
- The committee encouraged further studies of the impact of industrial fishing activities on these species.
- The committee acknowledged that the sustainable management of wild stocks used as feed for fish farming operations is an important issue for consideration.
Sharks in international waters are among the ocean's most vulnerable animals, in part because they are particularly long-lived and are vulnerable to over-exploitation, but also because they lack fisheries protections. More than a decade ago, COFI members adopted the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) to ensure the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use.
- The committee called for further analysis of the IPOA-Sharks, including its implementation by market States (those that import shark fins and other products), and improved data collection.
- The committee recognized the need for governments and regional fisheries management organizations to take further actions for shark conservation and management.
The deep sea, where some of the world's most unusual species live, is teeming with biological diversity, most of which has yet to be scientifically documented. But in spite of the wonders that exist far below the surface, the deep sea is being obliterated by some of the most powerful fishing countries using very destructive fishing gear.
- The committee highlighted the importance of the FAO's work on deep sea fisheries.
- The committee noted the U.N. General Assembly resolutions addressing deep sea fisheries on the high seas and said this work should not be deemphasized.
Pew believes that fighting IUU fishing requires a multi-front approach, with strong laws and enforcement both at sea and in port. One urgent need is adoption of a system of minimum standards for inspection of vessels when they enter port. Also needed is a mandate for unique vessel identifiers (UVIs) on all tuna fishing and support vessels. A UVI would be attached to a vessel throughout its life, similar to a vehicle identification number on an automobile. Without UVIs, it is very easy for pirate fishing operators to change the identity of illegal vessels and avoid detection by enforcement officials.
- The committee called for strengthening policy and legal frameworks in relation to IUU fishing.
- The committee acknowledged that UVIs are instrumental to identifying and tracking vessels. The committee suggested that as a first step, UVIs be applied to vessels above 100 gross tonnes.