High-Rank Forum on Sustainable Development of Fisheries
China Fisheries & Seafood Expo 2001 - Qingdao, 30 October 2001
Address by H.E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland
Ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me a great pleasure to speak to you here today. While there is a much difference in the size of our two countries, it is interesting to note that Iceland and China are both among the leading fisheries nations of the world. It is obvious that we have much to share in the area of fisheries.
Fisheries have become a subject of a major international debate. There is talk of a "crisis in world fisheries" and there are calls for action to protect the various stocks and fisheries from further harvesting.
When I observe this debate, I am somewhat surprised how little many of those involved in it seem to know about fisheries and its importance for the world community. It is evident that we must improve fisheries management if we are to continue to benefit from the living resources of the oceans, but it is clear that it is neither possible nor feasible to stop fisheries and indeed, it is not desirable.
Let us review some basic facts.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organizaton, the world population consumes more fish than any other type of animal protein. In fact, the rapid increase in production from fisheries since the Second World War has played a major role in meeting the growing world food demand. The global production of marine capture fisheries has increased from 17 million tonnes to over 80 million tonnes.
Fisheries provide today for the livelihood of millions of people and even of whole nations. It has been estimated that more than 30 million people have direct income from fisheries and aquaculture, and it is estimated that as many as 200 million people depend in one way or another on fishing.
In a number of countries, export of fish and fish products are vital for the national economy. In more than 20 countries fisheries exports account for between 10 and 75 percent of total merchandise exports. In a further 38 countries, fishery exports contribute from 2 to 9 percent of trade.
Fish and fish products are also widely traded. In fact, fish has become the most internationally traded food. Some 37 per cent of all fish for human consumption is traded across borders. Almost all countries export or import fisheries products to some extent. Export volumes of fish and fish products represent 40 percent of the overall fisheries production. The total value of this trade is over US$ 50 billion. And the importance of international fisheries trade continues to grow.
Fisheries are especially important for the developing countries. Fish is the prime source of animal protein for one billion people in the developing world. Of the 30 countries most dependent on fish as a protein source, all but four are in the developing world.
The fisheries sector in developing countries employs far more people than in industrialised countries. Some 95 per cent of those earning a living from fisheries live in developing countries. The developing countries account for some 50 per cent of the total world export of fish and fish products, deriving a net surplus in the order of US$ 16 billion.
It is clear from these figures that fisheries are an integral part of the world economy and a necessary means to assure food security on the global scale.
But it is also clear that we are reaching a limit to the development of fisheries in terms of quantities.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the world catch from the oceans, including discards, has reached the global potential for marine fisheries, which has been estimated at 100 million tonnes a year. There are, of course, great variations between regions, but the available statistics indicate that about one quarter of fish stocks are overexploited and about half are fully exploited.
It is my firm view that it is our responsibility to ensure sustainable fisheries. It is we, the leading fisheries nations that must show leadership in building sustainable fisheries and we must involve the fishing industry in this important task.
When I became Minister of Fisheries in 1983, we were facing growing difficulties in our fisheries. The state of our most valuable fish stocks was degenerating while at the same time the capacity of our fishing fleet was growing. The result was overfishing and increasing inefficiency in the fishing industry.
We tried different management measures, for the different stocks, including catch quotas, effort restrictions and individual vessel quotas. Fishing continued, however, far beyond scientific recommendations.
At that time, during the 1980s, new ideas were appearing on the management of common resources. Experience had shown that open access to fisheries had led to "Olympic fisheries" where fishing operations competed to catch as much fish as possible. Fishing capacity grew constantly, resulting in over-fishing and ever more inefficiency in the fishing industry.
The new management approach recognised like earlier approaches that the fishing effort had to be reduced. But what the new approach argued was that the fishing capacity would only reduce if the fishing operators themselves had a direct economic benefit from reducing the fishing effort. A way to engage the fishing industry was to allocate to each fishing operation a share of the Total Allowable Catch, which they could dispose of in accordance with their own interests. This would lead to the matching of the total fishing capacity to the carrying capacity of the fish stocks, as the inefficient operations would cease and would sell their quotas to the more efficient fishing operations.
After having experimented with transferable quotas for a few years, we took this system up for all our most important commercial fish stocks in the 1990s. Our system is not flawless and we still face new challenges that we must overcome, but the introduction of Individual Transferable Quotas has brought fishing effort more in line with the carrying capacity of the stocks and improved the economic efficiency of the sector.
To take the step to reduce fishing capacity in Iceland was not an easy task. It took political will and many difficult decisions had to be taken. The key in this process was to convince the fishing industry and to engage it in building sustainable fisheries. Through this process the fishing industry has come to understand that its interests are best preserved by the long-term benefits of sustainable quality harvest instead of short-term maximisation of quantity.
This indeed is in line with the views of scientists. At a Scientific Symposium held recently in Reykjavik in relation to FAO conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem, leading scientists were invited to speak on the issue of sustainable fisheries. It was notable that overcapacity was seen as the primary cause of overfishing and that the most effective way to reduce overcapacity was to introduced "Rights-based" fishing, as it provides for an incentive for rationalisation of the fishing fleet.
I said earlier that it is the responsibility of the fishing nations and the fishing industry to ensure that fisheries are sustainable. We cannot stop fishing. Fisheries are too important for the world economy and fisheries are of crucial importance in meeting world food demand. But at the same time we must acknowledge that we are facing serious over-fishing on the global scale.
I have already referred to the recent conference in Reykjavik on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem organised with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations with the co-sponsorship of the Government of Norway.
The objective of the conference was to use the best scientific knowledge available to review the experience of applying ecosystem considerations in fisheries management and to identify future challenges and strategies to include ecosystem considerations in capture fisheries management.
The conference offered fishing nations a unique opportunity to address this important issue and bring forth their views in a declaration that was adopted at the conference and which will be conveyed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organizaton and to the Chairman of the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg in September 2002.
The declaration emphasises a few key elements which I believe should be the central focus of fishing nations in building sustainable fisheries globally.
Firstly, the declaration recognises that there is a clear need to introduce immediately effective management plans with incentives that encourage responsible fisheries and that include mechanisms for reducing excessive fishing efforts.
Secondly, the declaration commits the fishing nations to take into account the whole ecosystem in their fisheries management.
Thirdly, I would like to mention the emphasis the declaration places on the need to support the developing countries in building their sustainable fisheries management and, more specifically the call on international financial organisations to co-operate with FAO in providing the developing countries with such support.
This I find particularly important as I believe that we the fisheries nations, the FAO and the International Financial Institutions, including the World Bank, have a responsibility to form a partnership with the developing countries and support them in building their own sustainable fisheries management systems that fit their own circumstances.
Lastly, the fisheries nations resolved to improve the enabling environment, including by examining and where necessary removing trade distortions.
Experience has shown that trade distortions, like tariff-escalations and subsidies, have the effects of encouraging overfishing. Subsidies and high tariffs in major fish importing countries have in particular negative effects on the developing countries, both for their trade interests and their use of their fisheries resources. I belief that the WTO has an important role to play in securing sustainable fisheries by removing fisheries tariffs and subsidies.
I said at the outset that China and Iceland share many interests in the area of fisheries. It is important that both China and Iceland be active in promoting sustainable fisheries and that we preserve the rights and duties granted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
There is also a basis for closer business relations between Iceland and China. Our dependence on fisheries has made the fishing industry in Iceland one of the most advanced in the world. Icelandic companies operate in an international environment, providing goods and services on the global market and investing in fishing operations and fish processing industries throughout the world. In Iceland there has also developed a powerful support industry for the fishing and fish processing sectors. We have all the necessary management skills and services for the fishing industry and many manufacturers of special equipment and solutions.
Icelandic companies have also been involved in many development projects building up regional fishing industries. Icelandic public institutions have also provided countries with assistance in building the scientific and legal basis of their fisheries management systems. In this context I would also like to mention the United Nations University Fisheries Training Programme, which was has been operated in Iceland since 1998.
These are only a few examples of areas of co-operation worth exploring further, and I am sure that many more opportunities can be created between our two countries in the area of fisheries.
With this I bring my speech to an end and I thank you all for your attention.
High-Rank Forum on Sustainable Development of Fisheries