The U.S. Agency for International Development announced last week a $4.3 million initial commitment to promote and boost sustainable fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region — considered the most diverse and robust aquaculture area in the world.
The pledge, announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a forum in Malaysia, aims to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud in the region. Illegal fishing is rampant in the region given abundant aquatic resources, but the proliferation of these unregulated activities can harm the region’s overall natural environment in the long term.
“The catch documentation and traceability system … will improve the transparency of Asia’s food supply chains, ensuring that fish is legally and sustainably harvested,” Kerry said in a statement. “Traceability is an essential part of our global fight to conserve marine resources and protect the health of our oceans.
According to the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission under the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the region is the world’s largest producer of fish, accounting for 50 percent of global catch of marine and river fish and 90 percent of the world’s aquaculture.
Consequently, 93 percent of people who are directly or indirectly employed in aquaculture and fisheries are also located in the region, totaling about 200 million individuals. Many people in Southeast Asia also get their animal protein from fish, typically from inexpensive sardines.
Part of the commitment will include a strengthening of regional, sustainable fisheries management through the development of an electronic catch documentation and traceability system to track species at a high risk of being illegally traded or mislabeled. The USAID statement said this system “will level the playing field for legitimate fishers and ensure the sustainability of our shared ocean resources.”
The initial pledge is part of USAID’s Ocean and Fisheries Partnership with the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center and the Coral Triangle Initiative, which aims to promote regional cooperation to combat these illegal activities while conserving and maintaining marine biodiversity in Asia and the Pacific. Countries like the Philippines, for instance, have imposed a three-month ban every year on fishing companies to allow sardines to breed.
Other objectives of the program include improving public-private partnerships and increasing investments in efforts to boost transparency in the region’s seafood supply chain and help ensure successful implementation of policies involving stakeholders.