NOAA 99-12
Contact: Gordon Helm


The United States will press the world's fishing nations to finalize agreements to review excess fishing fleet capacity and improve international conservation and management of sharks and seabirds at the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization's Committee on Fisheries annual meeting in Rome next week, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today.

At the meeting, U.S. negotiators will urge countries to adopt the conservation measures.

"Now is the time for the world's fishing nations to step up to the plate and begin to conserve and protect our ocean resources," said chief U.S. negotiator Terry D. Garcia, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. "We have solid agreement on saving sharks and seabirds and are most of the way toward resolving excess capacity issues – too many fishing boats chasing too few fish."

Late last year, FAO participants agreed on the need for all FAO members to put into effect a comprehensive series of measures to better identify the status of and manage the world's fishing fleets. These measures include regularly assessing their levels of harvesting capacity, maintaining national records of fishing fleets, developing and implementing national capacity management plans, and within the context of these national plans, reducing and progressively eliminating subsidies that contribute to the build-up of fishing capacity.

"Overcapacity of the world fishing fleet is the greatest concern for the future of the ocean's marine resources," said Garcia. "We will be seeking a decision from the Committee on Fishery (COFI) members to adopt a global plan of action to address this problem."

Participants at last year's meeting also agreed that the FAO will develop a global register of all fishing fleets operating on the high seas and will begin to collect information needed for further analysis of the causes of overcapacity, including open access fisheries, unsustainable fishery management and subsidies.

The FAO members had also agreed to Plans of Action regarding two important conservation and management issues: sharks and seabirds. The plans describe concrete and specific steps to improve the conservation of sharks and seabirds at the national, regional, and global levels, calling for national plans by 2001. Countries are to conduct assessments of sharks and seabird bycatch and, if necessary, develop National Plans of Action.

"The United States pressed for and achieved the plans that include suggested measures to identify the problem and develop national plans to resolve them by the year 2001," said Garcia. "We expect the COFI nations to follow suit and fully support the FAO membership's agreements. These international plans of action should establish sound management practices world-wide for the conservation of sharks and reducing incidental seabird bycatch."

The 1998 FAO meeting was called to pursue initiatives on sharks, seabird bycatch reduction and the management of fishing capacity. These initiatives arise from the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and are efforts to implement several of its key provisions. The Code is the only international agreement that addresses practically all aspects of fisheries, including marine and freshwater, capture fisheries and aquaculture, and harvesting and shoreside operations.