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UN Group Says World Growing More Dependent on Fish

The meeting of the FAO Committee on Fisheries this week opened with a speech by the FAO Deputy Director General David Harcharik. His thoughts turned immediately to the countries struck by the tsunami which, he said, not only caused tremendous loss of life but had devastating consequences on the livelihood of million of people.

"This session is saddened and overshadowed by the tragic earthquake and tsunami that struck countries in the Indian Ocean and took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. I invite you to join me in a minute of silence in their memory," he said.

Mr. Harcharik said fishing communities were especially affected. He added that the short-term immediate relief provided by the international community was overwhelming. But now, Mr Harcharik said, it is time to address the medium- and long-term needs of the region and to work for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the fishing sector and to help sustain the livelihoods of the affected fishing communities.

Among those present was Xavier Pinto, who represents the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, which has 66 member countries, including India. Mr. Pinto, who lives in Goa on India's western coast, said rehabilitation must be conducted in respect of peoples' culture and needs.

"After tsunami we want that these fisher workers be rehabilitated [equipped] with the correct kind of craft and gear which are correct in relationship to the coasts. The coast of the west of India is very different from the coast of the east of India," he said.

The committee also addressed the problem of depleted fish stocks as outlined in the latest FAO report on the state of the world's fisheries. According to the report, nearly a quarter of most fish are already over-exploited.

The FAO assistant director general for fisheries, Ichiro Nomura, said stock depletion has implications for food security and economic development. He added that it increased poverty in many countries around the world and undermines the well-being of underwater ecosystems.

The U.N. food agency has forecast that world consumption of fish may increase by more than 25 percent to 179 million tons by 2015 making it urgent for depleted stocks to be rebuilt.

The FAO has a Code of Conduct for responsible Fisheries, which was adopted 10 years ago. Most FAO members now have fishing policies or legislation which conforms at least partially to the code.

But with seven of the top 10 marine fish species fully exploited, or over-exploited, FAO believes greater international collaboration is required to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.