UN agency issues warnings on shrinking agricultural biodiversity and overfishing

Trawler illegally fishing off coast of Sierra Leone

3 December 2003 – Despite its crucial importance for the survival of humanity, agricultural biodiversity is in ever-greater danger, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

At the 32nd session of its governing conference in Rome, FAO also reported that illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing worldwide appears to be increasing as fishers seek to avoid stricter rules in many places in response to shrinking catches and declining fish stocks, and efforts to combat the practice must be intensified.

The agency stressed that of the estimated 7,000 to 8,000 species that have been used in 10,000 years of agriculture, only 150 are cultivated today and no more than four – wheat, maize, rice and potato – account for more than half of our food calories from plants.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, adopted in 2001, aims to protect the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable benefits from their use. When signature closed on 4 November 2002, 77 countries and the European Union had signed the treaty. Some 33 States have currently ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to the accord. The Treaty will enter into force 90 days after the 40th country ratifies it.

To draw attention to the treaty’s importance, FAO organized a side-event to the conference today to answer questions about it in preparation for its entry into force, probably in early 2004.

With regard to IUU, the agency warned in a report presented yesterday: "The situation is particularly grave and forbidding given that some 75 per cent of world fisheries are already being fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted."

Some IUU fishers operate in areas where fishing is not permitted while others employ banned technologies, outlawed net types, or flaunt fishing regulations in other ways, FAO noted. Yet others under-report how big their catches are – or don't report them at all. In some cases, in fact, catches of commercially valuable fish species may be surpassing permitted levels by over 300 per cent due to IUU fishing, according to reports made to FAO.

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