Regional symposium puts spotlight on the need to protect marine biodiversity and Asia’s coastal fisheries

28 October 2013 | Article

 Representatives from more than 12 countries attended a Regional Fisheries Symposium from October 28 to 30 in Kochi, India with the goal of exploring ecosystem-based approaches to protecting fisheries and marine biodiversity in South and Southeast Asia, and to share practical science-based solutions to fisheries issues.

The symposium is being organized by Mangroves for the Future (MFF) with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Goverment of India, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem Project (BOBLME), United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Centre (SEAFDEC), as well as Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI).
 
 
Marine resources are of high economic importance to most Asian countries, with over 40% of world fisheries production taking place in Asia (75% of this is marine), and with many countries in the region relying almost exclusively on fisheries products for their dietary protein. Despite this, Asia’s coastal fisheries are increasingly threatened by ongoing habitat destruction and overfishing as well as bycatch issues, where non-targeted fish and other animals, including endangered species, are unintentionally caught. The level of threat has accelerated in recent decades with the introduction of motorization and highly productive new fishing gear.

“Over 400 million people in the Bay of Bengal area are dependent on coastal and marine resources for their food, livelihood and security. Rapid population growth, high dependence on resources and increased land use has resulted in over exploitation of fish stocks and habitat degradation, and has led to considerable uncertainty whether the ecosystem will be able to support the livelihoods of the coastal populations in the future,” said Dr Rudolf Hermes, BOBLME Chief Technical Adviser.

The concept for the symposium was initiated by the MFF National Coordinating Body of India with support from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

"We are very pleased that this Symposium is taking place in India. Fisheries are extremely important to the economic, social and environmental health of our country, and we are pleased to able to contribute to the development of global cutting-edge research that can have an impact far beyond our country,” said Dr E Vivekenandan, Senior Adviser, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, and Lead Adviser, Scientific Committee for the Symposium.

There is growing consensus that fisheries management should take an ecosystem approach, which addresses not just marine issues (those taking place offshore) but also the impacts of development taking place inland and in coastal zones. Many fish and other marine species are dependent on healthy coastal zones for their survival. Mangrove forests, in particular, provide extremely valuable fish nurseries, and their ongoing protection and restoration will be important to maintaining the overall health of the ecosystems. The ecosystem approach to fisheries also promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way, balances environmental well-being with human and social well-being, and promotes good governance.

"Marine and freshwater fisheries are in decline, in spite of increasing demand. Overfishing is the main problem, but by focusing on keeping entire aquatic ecosystems healthy we can help sustain populations in the face of growing demand," said Ms Angela Lentisco, Focal Point Support, Ecosystem Management Support Programme, UNEP.

The symposium will bring together a number of different sectors to discuss the issues, and will focus on bringing practical experience and unpublished data to the fore, recognizing the importance of this information in identifying practical solutions to fisheries issues.

“Through this symposium, we are hoping to bridge the gap between what are often seen as the conflicting priorities of the fisheries and conservation sectors, bringing together scientists, policy makers and NGOs for open debate and sharing on the best ways to balance economic, social and environmental interests, and to achieve sustainable fisheries for the region,” explained MFF Project Coordinator Steen Christensen.

Symposium Proceedings, which will include recommendations on best practices and an analysis of region-wide experiences, will be published following the symposium, with the goal of influencing fisheries policy and practice throughout the region.

"This process of agenda setting and policy development for responsible capture fisheries and aquaculture is critical in moving towards securing their greater contribution to food security and human wellbeing," said Dr Simon Funge-Smith, Senior Fishery Officer, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

Participants in the symposium will include representatives from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Myanmar. The MFF program is already operating in many of these countries.

About Mangroves for the Future

Mangroves for the Future (MFF) is a unique partner-led initiative to promote investment in coastal ecosystem conservation. In December 2006 President Bill Clinton planted the first mangrove tree to launch the MFF initiative at a fishing village on Phuket Island, Thailand. MFF provides a collaborative platform among the many different agencies, sectors and countries who are addressing challenges to coastal ecosystem and livelihood issues. The initiative is funded by SIDA, NORAD and Danida and is co-chaired by IUCN and UNDP. Current member countries include Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.