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Summit Acts to Prevent Crisis in African Fisheries

World fisheries are in trouble. A United Nations reports says 52% of the world's marine resources are already fully exploited. Another 24% are over- exploited, depleted or recovering. The situation is particularly acute in Africa, where 200 million people depend on fish as a primary source of protein.

African leaders, along with fisheries and agriculture experts from 26 African countries, met in Abuja, Nigeria, this week to discuss the looming fishery crisis and what to do about it.

Africa is the only region in the world where fish supplies per capita are dropping. A study released at the summit by the Malaysia-based World Fish Center says fish harvests must increase by 32% to keep pace with consumption as the population grows. The Center's Deputy Director, Patrick Dugan, says wild fish stocks in Africa are leveling off.

"There are very few places where it is possible to increase the harvest from Africa's coastal fisheries. In some cases there have been significant declines in recent years," he says, adding that sustaining existing fishing and even increasing the benefits from them is not enough to meet the increasing demand. "We need to turn to other sources, and that is where aquaculture has a very important role to play."

Just 3% of Africa's fish production comes from aquaculture, compared with 38% worldwide. Leaders at the summit agreed to promote small-scale fish farming, which could help alleviate poverty and hunger across the continent.

The ministers adopted a 5-point plan that, in addition to supporting new investments in aquaculture, called for greater protection of coastal and inland fisheries, improved market access, increased local and regional fish trade and creation of a system to monitor resources.

Patrick Dugan of the World Fish Center says the ministers agreed to put the plan into action with investments in two major programs: one focusing on sustainable aquaculture, the other on small-scale fisheries. The $30 million programs will run over the course of the next five years.

"We have commitments of $5 million for each of these, but we are looking to support these further," he says. "The time to act is now. It is essential because if we don't, our concern is that the captured (wild) fisheries will start to decline. That will mean lost income for communities across Africa." It will also mean an increase in the fish supply-demand gap that Mr. Dugan says will continue to grow if the continent doesn't foster aquaculture. "And, the implications of that are a continued impoverishment of the diet of many people across the African continent, with all the negative consequences that that has for health, education and ultimately economic development in Africa."

The action plan adopted in Abuja moves Africa a step closer to achieving the United Nations Millennium Development goal of cutting the number of people who suffer from hunger in half by the year 2015.