ROME, Italy -- A UN fisheries meeting this week drafted a global action plan to address one of the most important factors contributing to overfishing--too many boats chasing too few fish. However, governments failed to finish their work and give themselves a firm deadline to reduce fleet overcapacity, according to the conservation organization WWF.
If adopted, this draft agreement will be the first international mechanism requiring national governments to tackle the problem of fishing fleet overcapacity, said Michael Sutton, Director of WWF's Endangered Seas Campaign. But the world's fisheries cannot tolerate foot-dragging on this issue. Overcapacity is the foremost cause of unsustainable fishing, and fleets need to be reduced now, not later.
Key provisions of a draft action plan on overcapacity were agreed today by about 80 member countries at the conclusion of their meeting at UN Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters (26-30 October). The draft action plan commits FAO member nations to develop national plans to address fleet capacity and begin to control the size of distant-water fishing fleets. However, a number of important issues were left unresolved.
A recent report released by WWF estimates that thirteen of the world's largest fishing fleets, including the European Union, have a fleet capacity that is two and half times greater than necessary to ensure a sustainable catch. The report estimates that these fishing nations need to reduce the size of their fishing fleets by at least two-thirds.
Delegates resisted an attempt by the European Community to weaken the language of the draft agreement on subsides to the fishing industry. Subsidies are one of the key driving forces of overcapacity and overfishing, said David Schorr, director of WWF's Sustainable Commerce Program. The draft agreement requires national assessments and reduction fishing subsidies but fails to call for multilateral cooperation on this issue. Governments will need to work in a number of international fora, including the World Trade Organization, to find effective ways of reducing and eliminating these subsidies.
In addition, governments agreed an International Plan of Action on Shark Conservation and Management that requires them to assess the current level of direct and indirect take of sharks, and to develop national management plans by the year 2001. Another global action plan on seabird bycatch in longline fisheries was also adopted, which calls for fishing nations to develop conservation measures to avoid the killing of seabirds such as endangered albatross species.
These measures represent an important first step in dealing with the escalating crisis in world fisheries, said Mr. Sutton. But much remains to be done. Unless governments strengthen and finalize these action plans the decline of marine fisheries is likely to continue. That will have enormous consequences for coastal communities and the marine environment alike.
The draft action plans are on the agenda for the biennial meeting of the FAO's Committee on Fisheries, scheduled for February next year.