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What, Food Security without Fisheries ?

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

What follows is a summary of the comments made by the ICSF at the 21st session of the FAO Committee on World Food Security, held in Rome in January 1996, on the Draft Policy and Plan of Action.

We would like to draw the attention of the Committee on World Food Security to the important contribution that fisheries make to food security, particularly in countries of the South.

FAO has estimated that 120 million people are economically dependent on fisheries. In many of the poorest communities of the world, fish is a crucial source of low-cost protein and income. The Draft Policy Statement and Plan of Action needs to reflect this important contribution of fisheries to food security as well as the central role of fishworkers as resource managers.

We would urge the Committee to review the section `Food from Forests and Fisheries’, under Commitment 4, especially paragraphs 59 and 60, and to give serious consideration to the following points:

Fisheries contribute to food security in at least three distinct areas: livelihoods; employment and income; and nutrition. Fisheries resources are of crucial importance in many countries, particularly Small Island Developing States and countries with low agricultural productivity. They provide an important buffer in drought-prone areas and those vulnerable to natural or man-made disasters.

The decade of the 1990s has witnessed a levelling-off of fisheries production for direct human consumption, due largely to the development of industrial fisheries. Overinvestment in industrial fishing has contributed to overfishing and habitat destruction caused by the use of environmentally destructive fishing gears and practices.

The destruction of fishery habitats by pollution, coastal development and destructive fishing practices threaten fishery production. Responsible habitat management, through improved coastal area management, can contribute to stabilising and increasing fish production.

Contrary to the statement in paragraph 60, aquaculture is not the only way that current per capita fish supplies can be maintained or increased. It should also be noted that intensive aquaculture has led to the extensive environmental degradation of coastal areas in many countries.

An important cause for overfishing has been the open access nature of fishing grounds. Appropriate property regimes need to be established and enforced, and we are concerned that the importance of aquarian reforms is not highlighted. There is a pressing need to establish and extend exclusive fishing zones to protect artisanal fishers from unequal competition. We strongly disagree that sustainability will be achieved by limiting the access of artisanal fisheries.

Over 30 per cent of the global fish catch is reduced to fishmeal and oil for animal feeds and other products. These large quantities of small pelagic fish species can contribute to global food security if redirected for direct human consumption- an important area for further research.

As much of 30 per cent of the global fish catch is wasted due to post-harvest losses. Improvement in post-harvest fish handling and processing, therefore, can greatly enhance food supplies.

FAO has estimated that commercial fisheries discards almost 30 per cent of the global catch every year. Given that much of this discarded fish is immature, such practices have a devastating effect on fish stocks and biodiversity.

Some 40 per cent of the global fish catch enters the international fish trade. Consumption patterns between the North and South are highly skewed and often fish which is critical for local food security moves into the international market. Responsible fish trading practices, which do not adversely affect nutritional rights and food security, need to be established and enforced.

The sustainable contribution of fisheries to food security can be enhanced if there is a commitment to: countering the threats of industrial fisheries, integrating fisheries into coastal area management; developing aquaculture in ways which do not undermine other productive activities in the coastal environment; recognising the importance of artisanal fisheries and their rights to resources; reducing post-harvest losses and channelling more fish into direct human consumption; and enforcing responsible trading practices.

Key words

fishing, regulation of international trade



It is time that the due recognition is given to the important contribution that fisheries make to food security. In many parts of the developing world fishing continues to provide employment and income to the most marginalised sections of society. The importance of fisheries as an `employer of last resort’ is, in fact, increasing in many areas of the world, with increasing degradation of forests and other natural resources and declining employment opportunities in other sectors. If fisheries are to continue to play this vital role it is imperative that all efforts be made to prevent the over-exploitation of fishery resources, especially by the industrial sector. At the same time, it is important that the access of fishing communities and other marginalised sections to these resources be protected. Also important is to promote community based systems of fishery management. Such initiatives, along with some of the measures suggested earlier, must be taken up if there is a real commitment to ensuring food security.


Articles and files

ICSF=International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, What, food security without fisheries? in. Samudra Report, 1996/03, 14

ICSF (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) - 27 College Road, Chennai 600006, INDIA - Tel. (91) 44-2827 5303 - Fax (91) 44-2825 4457 - India - - icsf (@)

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