PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Countries around the world are beginning to invest in growing their fish production. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently approved guidelines to protect small-scale fisheries and their interests in order to develop the industry. Although there are concerns about the environmental impact of the industry, countries and organizations are realizing how environmentally and economically viable these fisheries can be.
Research released by the World Resources Institute, WorldFish, the World Bank, INRA and Kasetsart University shows that by the year 2050, the number of fish produced by farms must double to keep up with demand. This business has a great potential to impact developing countries, which is why the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small- Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication. The guidelines are designed to help governing bodies provide safe, sustainable conditions for local fisheries. These include efforts to reduce environmental impacts and to promote gender-equality in an industry where women are often key players.
These guidelines will provide a way for the aquaculture industry to bolster economies while also protecting the environment. Fish are already among the most efficient sources of protein on the planet by a wide margin compared to carbon-emitting cows. At present, they account for 17 percent of the world’s protein intake. Because of this demand, wild fish are quickly becoming insufficient and fish farms are rising in popularity. This allows for more efficient production of fish, but there are environmental impacts as well.
These effects range from habitat loss to greenhouse gas emissions. Many feeds used in aquaculture use copious amounts of wild fish, while the waste given off by the large, clustered groups of fish is causing pollution. Indonesia is also witnessing the loss of its mangrove forests, which the shrimp farming industry is at least partially responsible for.
There are solutions, though — many of which the FAO’s guidelines will facilitate. Consumers can help by buying fish that are lower on the food chain, since those require less feed. Mollusks are the most efficient seafood, since they actually clean the saltwater they inhabit. Some South African fisheries are also shifting from using wild fish in feed to using fly meal. The Ghanaian government also recently passed legislation to promote the growth of their fisheries, which included stricter enforcement against the use of agro-chemicals and other illegal fishing methods.
The World Resources Institute report suggests other methods, such as investment in further research toward sustainability, which can be prompted by increasing incentives that reward sustainability. The report also recommends using special planning to map out the best, least intrusive locations for fish farms, while using existing monitoring technology to enforce these systems.
The FAO’s guidelines, once enacted by the countries that ratified them, will encourage such environmental consciousness while also encouraging the industry as a means of economic growth. This is especially important in developing countries, as small-scale fisheries account for more than 90 percent of the world’s fishers. Fifty percent of these are women. The guidelines work to protect these worker’s rights. They encourage countries to enable fishery workers to have a say in policies that affect them.
Around 4,000 people in governments around the world had input in the creation of these guidelines, and the hope is that these men and women will enact them in their own countries, as well as in other countries around the world. Ghana is already attempting to grow its fishing industry in a responsible way, with a plan to give 2,000 Ghanaians jobs.
Further work to boost small-scale fisheries will be discussed at the 2nd World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress which is being held in Merida, Mexico this September. The theme will be: “Options and Opportunities for Small-Scale Fisheries.” These efforts play a key role in helping developing countries responsibly create new jobs and raise their citizens out of poverty.