Oceans are critical to the health of our planet and all its inhabitants. They cover 71 percent of the Earth's surface, generate most of the oxygen in our atmosphere, detoxify and recycle much of our pollution, and absorb vast quantities of carbon dioxide. More than half the species on Earth live in the sea, and hundreds of millions of people depend directly or indirectly on fish for sustenance or livelihoods. Fishing fleets around the globe, now more than 1.3 million vessels strong, take large amounts of life from the world's oceans, affecting virtually all species that are dependent on the marine environment for their survival. By systematically overfishing targeted species and killing other marine life in large quantities as a result of unintended or unmanaged catch, overfishing is currently throwing complex food webs out of balance in many areas of the oceans and causing other unanticipated consequences.
The Committee on Fisheries (COFI) has the opportunity at this, its Twenty-ninth Session, to enhance precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management and scientifically-based decision making in light of the major challenges and threats to marine biodiversity and ecosystems that the world community is facing today, and as a critical global intergovernmental forum where major international fisheries problems and issues are examined. COFI members have recognized the need to address problems such as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and overcapacity as well as provide guidelines for conserving valuable populations of sharks and seabirds through International Plans of Action (IPOAs) and for the management of deep-sea fisheries in the high seas. COFI can and must continue to play an important role in influencing and promoting sustainable fisheries management, and thereby help ensure healthy oceans and food security.