FAO Fisheries: Model 2015

Any production growth can only come chiefly from marine aquaculture © FAO/Roberto Faidutti Any production growth can only come chiefly from marine aquaculture © FAO/Roberto Faidutti

Menakhem Ben-Yami revisits FAO Fisheries and discusses how times have changed.

I was on the FAO staff from 1975 to 1982. Between 1976 and 1994, FAO published many of my reports and nine ‘POP’ training manuals and books in the field of fishing technology, which I authored or co-authored. One, the 1996 Purse Seining Manual, even earned me a Russian doctorate. During my career, the FAO has engaged me in several consultancies, both in the field and at the FAO HQ in Rome.

I haven't written this just to brag, but to show my readers that for some 60 years I have not been a stranger to the FAO, and that my impressions from revisiting it in April may carry some weight.

Obviously, I found the FAO Fisheries quite altered. Well, most of my FAO contemporaries, not to speak about elder colleagues, had passed to the other world. Of the few still with us and not yet retired I managed to meet only one. The time was too short to look for the others. But, let's have a look at a bit of the FAO's history.

When, following the end of WW2, the UN established its Food and Aquaculture Organization, the total of the world's fish yield could only be estimated, for lack of any reliable statistics. The initial figure hovered at a few tens of millions of metric tons. In 1975, the global yield was somewhere between 40 and 50m mt. It's now about thrice as big.

Between the 1950s and 1980s FAO Fisheries was busy promoting marine fishing. Only a few people were dealing with aquaculture, with yields at that time comparatively insignificant. Fisheries technical divisions were instituting development projects all over the developing world, mostly financed by the World Bank, external donors from the developed fishing countries such as the Danish DANIDA, Norwegian NORAD, German GTZ, Canadian CIDA, and some others.

The FAO trained fishermen and governments' fishery officers on every aspect that would lead to higher catches, both individually and by organising courses globally at strategic spots in the southern hemisphere and at the FAO HQ. Its development projects have been focused on small fishing craft motorisation, supply of synthetic materials for local netmaking, introduction of modern fishing craft design and construction, and fishing surveys and reconnaissance. In parallel, many of the FAO’s projects involved post-harvest procedures and fish processing and marketing components, as well as studies in life history, behaviour, and stock assessment of the target species. All this was done by experts, mostly employed as consultants and supervised by HQ staff. The logistics were taken care by a special Fisheries Operations Service. FAO Fisheries organised several world conferences that dealt with fishing gear and methods, fishing vessel design and construction, and fish utilisation technology and, jointly with Fishing News Books, produced several large volumes of meeting papers and discussions, and a whole series of fishing manuals. The HQ in Rome has always been boiling with activity - consultant master fishermen, technologists, socio-anthropologists, economists, and staff coming and going - with every developing coastal country a prospective or actual host for FAO fishery projects.

Changing times
But, as the Latin proverb says: tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis (times change and we change with them), the drive for production was replaced by fighting overfishing, and technical improvements and development – by striving for sustainability. As Dr Rebbeca Metzner, Chief of the Policy, Economics and Institutions Branch, Jiansan Jia, Deputy Director of the Resources Use and Conservation Division and Dr Lahsen Aborbouch, Director of the Policy and Economics Division, consecutively, told me: the job now is to find and maintain the right balance between the fishing and conservation of fish stocks. Any production growth can only come chiefly from marine aquaculture, which is why the Department is now named Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Officially, the FAO stresses the importance of fish to the well-being of disadvantaged communities in developing countries and to poverty reduction and food security, which requires responsible and sustainable use of fisheries and aquaculture resources, and even preferential access and exclusive zones, as well as defence of tenure rightsfor small-scale fisheries.

But I found FAO Fisheries rather emaciated in terms of staff size and budget. It's my impression that the Department's present activities, however important and valuable, are limited mostly to verbal and paper work. Although my page is too short to give the Department full justice and to list all the good people who've lent me some of their time, one recent initiative should be mentioned.

Blue Growth
Called The Blue Growth Initiative,it is trying to contain three missions: Food security; Poverty alleviation; and Sustainable resources management.What I like about it is that it is not, like some ‘green’ initiatives, only about fish stock conservation, but also about improvement of fish workers' and their families' social conditions. This, in view of FAO figures of some 200m people (with dependents - some 880m) employed in fisheries, fish farming, handling, processing, and trade associated jobs. Also the FAO considers fishermen not only as users, but also as resource stewards. The FAO hopes to share the program multilaterally with many organisations worldwide, as well as with States' fisheries administrations. It appears that Indonesia has already jumped on the bandwagon.

The FAO is also currently co-organising the 'Tenure & Fishing Rights 2015’ forum on rights-based approach for fisheries and held its inaugural meeting last March in Cambodia. This Forum is intended to connect fishing people, their communities, academics, representatives of NGOs, industry, governments and international organisations worldwide.

If you expected some criticism on my part, not this time. It's the last thing FAO now needs. What it needs is lots of money for fisheries staff and field work.


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