In September 2015, the United Nations launched the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a beautiful blueprint for global peace and prosperity. In adopting the 2030 Agenda, countries demonstrated a remarkable determination to take bold and transformative steps to shift the world onto a more sustainable and resilient path.
However, after 5 years of uneven progress and with less than 10 years to go, and despite progress in many areas, it is clear that action to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required. In response, at the SDG summit in September 2019, the United Nations Secretary-General called on all sectors of society to mobilize for a Decade of Action to accelerate the development of sustainable solutions for the world’s biggest challenges – ranging from poverty and inequality to climate change and closing the finance gap.
It is therefore necessary and timely that the 2020 edition of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture is devoted to the topic of Sustainability in Action. The fisheries and aquaculture sector has much to contribute to securing all the SDGs, but is at the core of SDG 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. As custodian of four out of ten indicators of SDG 14 progress, FAO has an obligation to accelerate the global momentum to secure healthy and productive oceans, a momentum whose pace will receive further impetus at the second United Nations Ocean Conference.
The 2020 edition of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture continues to demonstrate the significant and growing role of fisheries and aquaculture in providing food, nutrition and employment. It also shows the major challenges ahead despite the progress made on a number of fronts. For example, there is growing evidence that when fisheries are properly managed, stocks are consistently above target levels or rebuilding, giving credibility to the fishery managers and governments around the world that are willing to take strong action. However, the report also demonstrates that the successes achieved in some countries and regions have not been sufficient to reverse the global trend of overfished stocks, indicating that in places where fisheries management is not in place, or is ineffective, the status of fish stocks is poor and deteriorating. This unequal progress highlights the urgent need to replicate and re-adapt successful policies and measures in the light of the realities and needs of specific fisheries. It calls for new mechanisms to support the effective implementation of policy and management regulations for sustainable fisheries and ecosystems, as the only solution to ensure fisheries around the world are sustainable.
FAO is a technical agency created to fight hunger and poverty. Yet, as we approach a world of 10 billion people, we face the fact that since 2015 the numbers of undernourished and malnourished people have been growing. While there is no silver bullet to fix this problem, there is little doubt that we will need to use innovative solutions to produce more food, ensure access to it, and improve nutrition. While capture fisheries will remain relevant, aquaculture has already demonstrated its crucial role in global food security, with its production growing at 7.5 percent per year since 1970. Recognizing the capacity of aquaculture for further growth, but also the enormity of the environmental challenges the sector must face as it intensifies production, demands new sustainable aquaculture development strategies. Such strategies need to harness technical developments in, for example, feeds, genetic selection, biosecurity and disease control, and digital innovation, with business developments in investment and trade. The priority should be to further develop aquaculture in Africa and in other regions where population growth will challenge food systems most.
The FAO Hand-in-Hand Initiative is an ideal framework for efforts that combine fisheries and aquaculture trends and challenges in the context of blue growth. The Hand-in-Hand Initiative aims to accelerate food systems transformation through matching donors with recipients, using the best data and information available. This evidence-based, country-led and country-owned initiative prioritizes countries where infrastructure, national capacities and international support are most limited, and where efficient collaboration and partnerships to transfer skills and technology can be of particular benefit. For example, climate change impacts on marine capture fisheries are projected to be more significant in tropical regions of Africa and Asia, where warming is expected to decrease productivity. Targeted fisheries and aquaculture development interventions in these regions, addressing their specific needs for food, trade and livelihoods, can provide the transformational change we need to feed everyone, everywhere.
Part of these targeted interventions is the recognition that most food systems affect the environment, but that there are trade-offs to ensure we improve food and nutrition security while minimizing the impacts on their supportive ecosystems. Fish and fisheries products are actually recognized not only as some of the healthiest foods on the planet, but also as some of the less impactful on the natural environment. For these reasons, they must be better considered in national, regional and global food security and nutrition strategies, and contribute to the ongoing transformation of food systems to ensure we eliminate hunger and malnutrition.
For FAO, 2020 is an important year in its history. It is the seventy-fifth anniversary of its creation – FAO is the oldest permanent specialized agency of the United Nations. It is also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the blueprint that has guided fisheries and aquaculture policy development around the world. However, there is no time for celebrations. These anniversaries remind us of the reason for our existence, they are calls to action, springboards for change, for a rapidly changing world in need of innovative and transformative solutions to old as well as new problems. As this report was being prepared, COVID-19 emerged as one of the greatest challenges that we have faced together since the creation of FAO. The deep socio-economic consequences of this pandemic will make our fight to defeat hunger and poverty harder and more challenging. As fisheries and aquaculture is one of the sectors most impacted by the pandemic, the baseline information provided in this report is already helping FAO respond with technical solutions and targeted interventions.
The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture is the only publication of its kind, which for years has provided technical insight and factual information on a sector crucial for societal success. Among other things, the report highlights major trends and patterns observed in global fisheries and aquaculture and scans the horizon for new and emerging areas that need to be considered if we are to manage aquatic resources sustainably into the future. I hope this edition will have even greater quantitative and qualitative impact than previous editions, making valuable contributions in helping us meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.