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The 35th FAO Committee of Fisheries (COFI) works to address the state of the world’s fisheries amidst an “ocean emergency”.
In this context, the FAO COFI35 addressed last week in Rome several key issues to improve the world's fish stocks, the fleets that depend upon them and the work conditions of fish workers.
“The ocean, climate and coastal communities need real progress, beyond commitment, if we want to reverse the current downward spiral in ocean health,” says Giuseppe Di Carlo, Director of WWF’s Mediterranean Marine Initiative. “We are in the middle of an ocean and a climate crisis, with much at stake. We must stop overexploiting fish stocks and eroding the coastal habitats and ecosystems that support them.”
The FAO’s 2022 State of the World’s Fisheries Report (SOFIA) shows that the fraction of fishery stocks within biologically sustainable levels continues to decrease along with the total volume of capture fisheries. WWF was pleased to see a stronger commitment against IUU fishing, including a significant advancement on the ratification of the Port State Measure Agreement, now reaching 100 countries. This is the second most endorsed ocean treaty after UNCLOS. COFI35 also endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines for Trans-shipment as a new instrument within the framework of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and called for its implementation.
Most countries welcomed the adoption of an agreement on fisheries subsidies at the World Trade Organization aimed at eliminating all forms of subsidies for IUU fishing and urged the FAO to ensure its members bring in effective measures for addressing this issue.
While there is still a clear need to fast track climate change strategies for blue and aquatic food production, WWF was also pleased to hear support for the FAO’s work in addressing climate change in fisheries and aquaculture. Countries will have a new opportunity to take action and integrate these concerns in their national plans in November at COP 27 of the UNFCCC.
Countries widely recognized the need to mainstream biodiversity in fisheries and called on FAO to continue and strengthen its engagement in biodiversity-related global processes, in particular the CBD post-2020 global biodiversity framework and the high seas (BBNJ) treaty negotiations. WWF recognizes the need to account for fisheries management measures that contribute to biodiversity conservation, in particular through recognising other effective area-based conservation measures.
However, important improvements of the text are still needed for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework to address conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity comprehensively and ensure that the impact of unsustainable fisheries are halted. Likewise for the BBNJ negotiations, given that fisheries remain the most significant pressure for ocean health, their impact must be adequately considered if countries genuinely aim to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity in the high seas.
WWF commends FAO for the work that is underway to address safety issues in small-scale fisheries and recommends increased resources be made available to facilitate rapid scaling of this work to all regions where small-scale fisheries are present.
“We were particularly pleased by the call to ratify and implement the ILO Work in Fishing Convention No. 188 and the 2012 Cape Town Agreement of IMO, and to work toward better conditions and safety at sea, with an emphasis on reducing accidents and fatalities among small-scale fishers” adds Di Carlo.
This COFI session saw a growing participation of the small-scale fishing sector. Before the session, FAO hosted the first SSF Summit in the context of the International Year for Artisanal Fisheries (IYAFA), where more than 200 fisher representatives, Indigenous people, NGOs and government representatives from more than 40 countries gathered to advance the recognition, protection, and promotion of substantive and procedural human rights in small-scale fisheries.
“COFI made important progress toward placing greater focus on small-scale fishers and the importance of blue foods,” said Di Carlo. “We now have the opportunity to chart a new course for fisheries that builds resilience, particularly for those countries that have the highest dependence on fish for nutrition, have the highest vulnerability to fisheries collapse, and are at the highest risk of immediate productivity losses due to climate change.”