A quarter century of responsible fishing

A quarter century of responsible fishing

April 17, 2020

A quarter century of responsible fishing

The Code of Conduct, which sets out guidelines for promoting the conservation and sustainable use of fishery resources, has reached its 25th anniversary. 

It is not an obligation, but a Code of Conduct that countries can voluntarily adhere to and that must be interpreted and applied in conformity with international law. Officially adopted by FAO in October 1995, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, despite being a quarter-century old document, continues to be a reference framework for national and international efforts to ensure that fishing, aquaculture and all fishing activities are sustainable and in harmony with the environment. The fact that, among the FAO documents, the Code has been translated into the most languages also shows its importance globally. 

A necessary tool

As stated in the preface to the Code, the sea has been a major source of food for humanity and a provider of employment since ancient times and, for centuries, its resources were assumed to be unlimited. “After the Second World War, this myth has faded in face of the realization that aquatic resources, although renewable, are not infinite and need to be properly managed, if their contribution to the nutritional, economic and social well-being of the growing world’s population is to be sustained,” the experts write.

In 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was adopted, which established the first guidelines for managing marine resources and fishing activities. However, over the years, it became clear that the ongoing massive exploitation of such resources – often dictated by market demand – would not be environmentally sustainable in the long term. These requirements and of a number of steps and official requests led to the formulation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, which sets out applicable principles and standards for the conservation, management and development of fishery resources and activities.  

Clear objectives

The objectives of the Code are described in detail in Article 2. In a nutshell, the main aim is to set out principles and standards of behavior that will guide responsible practices that respect biodiversity and ecosystems. But this is not just about the environment. As part of this process, great emphasis is placed on the nutritional, social, economic and cultural importance of marine-related activities, as well as on the interests of all those concerned and of the aquaculture industries. As stated on the FAO website, the Code “takes into account the biological characteristics of the resources and their environment and the interests of consumers and other users”.

Some of the main objectives of the Code include promoting technical and financial cooperation, protecting living aquatic resources and their environments and coastal areas, and promoting the trade of fish and fishery products in conformity with relevant international rules, eliminating barriers to such trade. Other objectives are more directly related to food production, such as the objective to “promote the contribution of fisheries to food security and food quality, giving priority to the nutritional needs of local communities”. 

Last but not least, the Code is certainly not an old, static document, as the experts point out on the website: “The promotion and implementation of the Code is being addressed at all sessions of FAO regional fishery bodies (RFBs) as well as Committee on Fisheries (COFI).” 

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