By Roy Palmer*
Just viewing the opening paragraph of the agenda communicated the seafood sector’s contribution to local and regional food security through direct human consumption being well recognized as is its role in providing nutritional benefits essential to human health and development.
The documents highlighted that less attention had traditionally been given to the important role that fish trade plays as a driver of economic activity, in generating employment and as a source of foreign exchange. In this respect, the globalization of the sector, the growth of modern aquaculture and the development of sophisticated global supply chains have created more awareness of the sector and contributed to a new understanding of the crucial function that trade plays in allowing access to product and in creating value. FAO recognizes trade’s fundamental role by aiming to foster international trade in food commodities, including fish.
Seafood has been the number one traded food for a long time, coffee is well behind seafood in second place. (Figure 1).
Quoting from the paperwork “fish and fishery products are widely traded with close to 40 percent entering international markets, a much higher share than for any other food commodities. Access to international markets plays a fundamental role for producers and exporters, not the least for developing countries, which represent 50 percent in value of all exports. International trade includes regional trade, which in many parts of the world is constrained by a number of obstacles and barriers, often of a regulatory nature. In these regions, regional trade remains far below its potential.” (Figure 2).
International value-chains for fish and fishery products act as conduits for physical product but also as transmission vehicles for price and cost changes, for evolving consumer needs and values, and for new equilibrium in supply and demand. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that international markets have a strong impact on domestic and regional markets, including for non-traded products.
The role FAO has played in relation to international fish trade is extensive and I noted that Ãrni M. Mathiesen, assistant director-general of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, said it was ‘the foremost decision making program for fisheries and aquaculture.’
So where on earth was the industry? I could count industry people on one hand out of an audience of some 300/350 people.
If all of the above is true then why are we consistently seeing in countries such as the U.S. and Mexico seafood consumption falling? Why are areas like Europe, the U.S. and Australia reliant on imports for their seafood consumption with them putting their food security issues into being reliant on developing countries?
At least all of those countries were represented except for Australia, which had no representation. In Australia most of the primary industry are paying 100 per cent of cost recovery for all fisheries management. The Australian Government continues the myth of ‘what wonderful fishery managers’ they are but they fail to connect to the importance of the industry and fail dismally in communicating and working with their industry. What is that all about?
Norway has a different approach to many countries. The Norwegian Minister of Fisheries, Elisabeth Aspaker, opened the meeting outlining the importance of seafood to Norway and highlighting that it was Norway’s second most important industry and is considered an important area as Norway tries to transition and become less reliant on gas/oil areas of the economy. Their government made a commitment to many years of applied research & development in the seafood industry and created a new ministry. The Norwegian government is a major supporter of not only exporting seafood but also their technology and education/knowledge platforms and are keen to assist the world in the goals of sustainable advancements in fisheries and aquaculture.
My observations at the meeting were that fisheries and aquaculture issues are regularly put in the same box which is a tragedy and I feel this holds back aquaculture in many so called developed countries.
When these government delegates return to their homes do they actually communicate/share these issues to their industries? Does most of the global industry even know that these meetings take place and that they are represented by their governments at such events? Too many people in our industry cannot see the forest for the trees… how sad is that – it’s an indictment on both the governments and the industry.
I am personally overjoyed that human nutrition is playing a greater role in decision making when it comes to fisheries and aquaculture and I will continue to deliver information about that.