The developmental promise of sustainable fisheries

20 December 2016

Whether from an environmental, societal, or economic point of view, oceans and fisheries play a critical role in human well-being around the globe. Halieutic resources provide 3 billion people, including many in low-income countries, with close to 20 percent of their animal protein consumption. In coastal and island African countries, in particular in West Africa, the proportion of fish in total protein intake can be as high as 63 percent. In addition to food security considerations, the fisheries sector is also central to the cultures and economies of many developing and African countries, making it a key concern for sustainable development.

In this context, ensuring the sustainability of fishing practices has become a priority for the international community. Over the last fifty years, global fishing effort and catch have increased tremendously, with severe impacts on fish stocks and marine ecosystems. One of the main factors behind this trend has been the abundant disbursement of capacity-enhancing subsidies, which has led to overcapacity and overfishing and triggered serious concerns that food security and economic development could be significantly undermined as a result.

In order to tackle this issue at the multilateral level, WTO members agreed at the Doha ministerial conference in 2001 to clarify and improve disciplines on fisheries subsidies. To date however, despite significant efforts including in December 2015 at the Tenth Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, these discussions have failed to produce meaningful disciplines able to curb harmful fisheries subsidies. Against this backdrop, what should we expect from WTO fisheries negotiations in the lead up to the organisation’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires? In the first article of this issue, Stephen Fevrier and Manleen Dugal delve into the most recent discussions in the WTO framework, with a focus on their implications for the African continent.

Another key aspect for African economies lies in the need to enhance their ability to reap more benefits from their own halieutic resources. In the second article, Papa Gora Ndiaye offers insights on how West African governments could reorient their support policies to promote the development of fisheries value chains in the region.

This issue also features an interview with Mathias Ismaïl, Chair of OSO Group S.A., which aims at shedding light at OSO’s organic shrimp farm project in Madagascar, an ambitious initiative that has successfully turned sustainability standards into the driving force behind its business model.

Finally, Ussif Rashid Sumaila’s article draws from the work of the E15 Expert Group on Fisheries and Oceans. In his piece, the author presents a number of policy options on how the global trade system can to support a transition towards sustainable fisheries and healthier oceans.

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