Three-quarters of the Earth's surface is covered by oceans and seas which are an engine for global economic growth and a key source of food security. Fisheries and aquaculture make a significant contribution to food security and livelihoods of millions of people along the world's seashores and waterways. Global production was estimated at 153 million tonnes in 2012, supplying around 20 kg/capita per year and 16.5 percent of global animal proteins and essential micronutrients. As a flagship programme of FAO, the Blue Growth Initiative (BGI) In support of food security, poverty alleviation and sustainable management of aquatic resources has received wide recognition and enthusiastic support at various international fora, notably by Member States at the latest 31st Session of FAO's Committee on Fisheries in June 2014. Over 3.1 billion of the world's population lives within 100 kilometres of the ocean or sea in about 150 coastal and island nations. At the same time, inland ecosystems and their aquatic resources are vital contributors to world food security, as well as supporting the livelihoods of fish producers, processors and sellers. Fisheries and aquaculture provide 4.3 billion people with more than 15 percent of their annual animal protein consumption and are a vital source of micronutrients and essential lipids. Global fish production has grown steadily in the last five decades with supply increasing at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent, outpacing world population growth at 1.6 percent. Per capita fish consumption increased from an average of 9.9 kg in the 1960s to an estimated 20 kg in 2013. This impressive development has been driven by a combination of population growth, rising incomes and urbanization. While fish production from capture fisheries has stagnated at around 88 to 90 million tonnes over recent years, the demand for fish and fishery products has continued to rise. This increasing demand has been steadily met by a robust increase in aquaculture production. The FAO BGI is composed of four key components:
(i) Marine and inland capture fisheries;
(iii) Livelihoods and foods systems; and
(iv) Economic growth from ecosystem services. Several issues, constraints and challenges are facing the success of the FAO BGI. These are:
- Resources and environment: Degradation and habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, overexploited fish stocks, biosecurity (disease outbreak), and climate change with severe weather conditions, El-Nino, ocean classification, etc.
- Socio-economics and governance: Overfishing (fleets and labour), public image and aquaculture, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU), bycatch and discards, capital and other financial matters, equity (poverty, forced labour, child labour, empowerment of women, etc.) and public image of fisheries and aquaculture.
- Status of stocks: FAO reports that as of 2011 it is reported that almost 30% of stocks are overfished, 70% are fished within biologically sustained levels, 61% fully fished, 10% under-fished and constant increase in the rate of fully fished stocks since 1990.
- FAO's strategic goals: Eradicate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, eliminate rural poverty through socio-economic development, sustainable management and utilization of natural resources.
FAOs BGI was established in order to carry out its strategic goals as stated in point (4) above and defined as "Blue Growth is the sustainable growth and development emanating from economic activities in the oceans, wetlands and coastal zones, that minimize environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and unsustainable use of living aquatic resources, and maximize economic and social benefits".
FAOs aim is to promote the sustainable use and conservation of the aquatic renewable resources on a global scale as well as on a country level by four main components which are: (i) Fisheries; (ii) Aquaculture (iii) Livelihoods and food systems (iv) Eco-system services.
On Global Scale, FAO BGI aims to implement the international instruments and Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF), combat illegal (IUU) fishing, reduction and overcapacity, restoring fish stocks, habitats and aquatic biodiversity, Global Aquaculture Advancement Systems (GAAP), international advocacy and regional cooperation, regional initiative on Blue Growth, through Regional Fisheries Bodies (RFB), and other regional initiatives. Mangroves, storm/wave bulwarks, sea-grass carbon sequestration. On a global scale FAO estimates that the implementation of activities outlined above will eventually contribute to Blue Growth 10-20 million tonnes a year from capture fisheries valued at US$ 50-100 billion and from aquaculture 50-100 million tonnes a year.
On Country Level, FAO BGI aims at development and implementation of national policies and strategies through its regional offices in the BGI-RAP, regional, BGI-RNE, regional, sub-regional, BGIRAF, national and sub-regional.
The BGI on capture fisheries plans to carry out global aquaculture advancement partnerships, livelihood and food systems and ecosystem services by following four major pathways: (i) Capture fisheries, (ii) Aquaculture, (iii) other novel ideas of non-traditional nature that contribute to improving livelihoods and support to trade, markets, post-harvest and social activities by reduction of waste, non-food versus food utilization, custom tariff issues, most traded species and, social complexities in small-scale Fisheries. From such support activities FAO estimates that contributions to Blue Growth from non-food is around 10 million tonnes and from waste food around 15 million tonnes.
Collectively the Arab region consists of twenty-two Arab countries with more than 23,000 km of shoreline and 707,000 sq. km of continental shelf area. It has access to two oceans, three major seas and adjacent gulfs. Furthermore, it also has 16,600 km of rivers, fresh and brackish water lakes and reservoirs. In 2013 its total fish production was estimated at 4.1 million tonnes from capture (2.9 m.t.) and from aquaculture (1.2 m.t.). Meanwhile the average per capita fish supply from all sources - local production plus imports less exports - is only about 11.3 kg/ annum while the current international average of fish consumption is around 20 kg/ per annum. Furthermore the United Nations population statistics shows that in 2015 the total population of the region has reached 395 million people and is projected to rise to 430 million people by the year 2020 an increase of 19%. Therefore, in order to raise the average Arab fish per capita to about 15 kg. by 2020, a total of 6.4 million tonnes is projected to be the total demand for fish supplies.
Sustainability of fish supply in Arab waters requires concerted attention. Improvements targeted across the various aspects of fisheries management, as well as regulatory barriers, difficulty in accessing funding, fragmented research and development, and poor access to markets need to be addressed. Particular attention may be given to empowering the small/rural or artisanal fishermen and fish farmers who contribute consistently to the seafood supply chain, but do not have the capacity to optimize their farming or fish catch.
FAO in its efforts to implement the BGI is following a system by establishing partnerships with target areas through their member countries in its Regional and Sub-regional Offices namely the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (BGI-RLC), Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (BGI-RAP), Regional Office for Africa (BGI-RAF) and the Regional Office for the Near East (BGI-RNE) of which 19 of the 22 Arab countries are members and the other three (Comoros, Djibouti and Somalia) are members of RAF.
Primarily Blue Growth Plans for the Arab countries are already being implemented. On country level it is on-going in Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania and others are in the pipeline at the FAO/RNE. More countries are expected to join the BGI in due course. Other BGI joint projects/programmes with partners are also joining to carry out activities such as the Programme on Global Sustainable Fisheries Management, GEF/FAO, Biodiversity Conservation in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ), GEF 6 Coastal Fisheries Programme, Fish for a future (with WFC), SMARTFISH (with EU and IOC) NFFP -- NEPAD-FAO Fish Programme (with SIDA and AU-NEPAD), Norway, trust funds, bi-lateral, multilateral projects/programmes with member countries, IGOs, NGOs/CSOs and other partners.
Arab countries which currently have to import substantial quantities of seafood commodities to satisfy the growing domestic demand for seafood with a growing populations could enhance their partnership with the FAO BGI either on country level or through the activities of FAO regional and sub-regional offices in which they are members. To increase local fish productions and narrow the gap between local production and imports the benefits from the activities of the BGI are many. Some of these benefits include:
1. Narrowing the gap of fish supply-demand source;
2. More employment, improve food security and poverty alleviation;
3. Maintaining/increasing capture fisheries production through reducing overcapacity and rehabilitating overexploited stocks;
4.Cultured-based fisheries (stock enhancement);
5. More direct human consumption from utilization of bycatch and discards and utilization of processing waste;
6. Shifting industrialized use of fish (fish meal and fish oil) to direct human consumption and reducing post-harvest spoilage (cold storage, more efficient value chain, etc.);
7. Sustaining aquaculture growth and innovation in farming systems and technologies and
8. Various other benefits depending on the degree of involvement.
There are several organizations and agencies operating in the Arab region in fields concerned with the development of the fisheries and aquaculture sector in the region. These may spearhead to gain the benefits of partnership with FAO BGI. Beside the official fisheries administrations, institutions and fisheries research centres in each country there is the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development (AOAD), Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development (AFSED) and several other economic development funds in Arab countries as well as INFOSAMAK, NGOs, Regional and International Donor Agencies, WorldFish Center, etc. could take the initiative and approach FAO/RNE and FAO/RAF to engage in the activities of FAO Blue Growth Initiative.
Article by Izzat Feidi, Fisheries Development Consultant