The FAO has approved a new set of guidelines on fish traceability schemes, which is now poised for adoption by all FAO members at the UN agency's upcoming bi-annual governing conference in Rome on July 3-8.
The guidelines will serve as a "gold standard" reference for governments and businesses looking to establish systems that can trace fish from their point of capture through the entire supply chain-from "sea to plate"-to stop illegally caught fish from entering the marketplace.
Globally 91-93 million tonnes of fish are captured each year, and seafood products are among the world's most widely traded food commodities, with an export value of $142 billion last year.
On top of that, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is estimated to strip the oceans of as much as 26 million additional tonnes of fish, damaging marine ecosystems and sabotaging efforts to sustainably manage fisheries.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, catch documentation schemes (CDS) offer a way to cut down on trade in illegal fish. It explained that the basic concept behind CDS involves the certification of shipments of fish by national authorities that the fish were caught legally and in compliance with best practices.
The duly certified fish are processed and marketed nationally or internationally. Only fish with valid documentation can be exported or traded to markets that necessitate a CDS requirement.
Catch schemes could be widely applied
Until recently, only a few such schemes had been established, mostly focusing on high-value species whose overexploitation prompted particular concern, such as Chilean seabass harvested in Antarctic waters, or Atlantic and Southern bluefin tuna, FAO said.
With seafood trade at record highs and consumer demand continuing to rise, catch documentation schemes are increasingly seen as a tool that could be more widely applied. Thus, the EU, since 2010, has used a CDS that covers all fish shipments imported into the bloc from overseas; and the US last year announced its own scheme, the Seafood Import Monitoring Programme.
"CDS will only succeed if there is strong, international coordination", said Audun Lem, deputy director of FAO's fisheries and aquaculture policy and resources division and concurrent secretary of FAO's sub-committee on fish trade.
"Although they are voluntary, the process of negotiation that led to the new guidelines means they enjoy a high level of buy-in by governments, while endorsement at the FAO Conference will send a clear signal of commitment to adhere to them. So, going forward, new catch documentation schemes established at the national, regional or international level will be in sync, reducing barriers to their wider use," he added.