The FAO Blue Growth Initiative

Arni Mathiesen - FAO

Interview with Árni Mathiesen – Assistant Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organsation of the UN (FAO) – Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.

How is the Blue Growth Initiative set to positively impact SIDS and how do you envisage the private sector being sufficiently incentivised and reassured to take the lead on this?

Fisheries and aquaculture make a significant contribution to food security and the livelihoods of millions of people along the world’s seashores and waterways. The FAO Global Blue Growth Initiative seeks to put the spotlight on that contribution by providing a coherent framework for the sustainable and socio-economic management of our aquatic resources. Our initiative focuses on promoting and conserving the importance of living natural resources of the marine and fresh-water environment, as well as linked ecosystems, for the benefit of present and future generations.

The FAO Global Blue Growth Initiative is composed of four key components: (i) marine and inland capture fisheries; (ii) aquaculture; (iii) livelihoods and foods systems; and (iv) economic growth from ecosystem services. These components are further described below, with particular consideration being paid to their relevance for SIDS, which cover much of the tropical and subtropical Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and the Caribbean.

As we know, fish and fisheries are the mainstay of food security and the wealth of most SIDS. Many SIDS are heavily dependent on their oceanic and coastal fisheries resources for economic growth and development, as well as food security and livelihoods, and are vulnerable to any change in the state of these resources.

Many SIDS are heavily dependent on their oceanic and coastal fisheries resources for economic growth and development.

The physical, biological and social diversity of SIDS; the demography of the regions; the nature of local economies and limitations to economic development; and the importance of oceanic, coastal and freshwater fisheries and aquaculture to economic development and government revenue, all provide opportunities for fisheries, aquaculture, livelihoods, food systems and economic growth from ecosystem services, to be further developed. At the same time, it is essential for the SIDS to protect, restore and improve the health, productivity and resilience of oceans, coastal and inland ecosystems and to maintain their aquatic biodiversity

The FAO Global Blue Growth Initiative for SIDS is a shared opportunity and responsibility and is expected to create a new sense of ownership of oceanic and island spaces, so that fisheries and aquaculture will be developed sustainably.

The initiative focuses on creating strong and meaningful partnerships, so that no one group will take the ‘lead’, yet all will have a vital role to play. In this way, the private sector can help forge strategic partnerships with the public sector and civil society. As well, the private sector can help shape and influence behaviour, practices and technologies, looking at both short-term and long-term opportunities and gains.

With the private sector on board, we will be able to reach a wider range of stakeholders – from fishers to consumers – to promote, recognise and strengthen those actions and decisions needed to ensure sustainable fisheries.

There is great potential for private sector entities to partner with SIDS towards ensuring the sustainable management and utilisation of fish resources? Which partnerships are you currently most excited about?

The role of the private sector is paramount to providing wider ecosystem stewardship and improved governance of the sector that will allow us to all move towards a goal of sustainable management and utilisation of fish resources.
The range and variety of potential partnerships with whom we can engage is wide. You can imagine that over the years the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture has been operating, we have forged excellent relations across all aspects of the sector and beyond. Today, it is simply unthinkable to envisage any project or programme or activity without including the private sector. The Third International Conference on SIDS underlined this point.

For many SIDS, the promotion of aquaculture development for food security will be crucial. That is why we have developed the Global Aquaculture Advancement Partnership (GAAP) and why we look to other networks already in action, such as the Network for Aquaculture in Micronesia (MASA). We already work very closely with many private sector organisations – from Conxemar, to ICFA, NASF and ISSF, just to mention a few – though this is very far from being exhaustive.

We are also involved in developing a Voluntary Blue Growth Network which seeks to improve people’s food security and nutrition and sustainable economic growth in the face of climate change and which will support governments, fishers and aquaculturists, scientists, businesses and civil society, as well as regional unions and international organisations, to adapt fisheries and aquaculture practices, food systems and social policies, so that they take better account of climate change and the efficient use of natural resources.

Climate change is modifying the distribution and productivity of marine and freshwater species and is already affecting biological processes and altering food webs.

Do you believe it is inevitable that climate change will lead to fish stocks migrating away from traditional fishing grounds, such that fish consumption in many SIDS will be drastically reduced? What, if anything, can be done to ward off such a state of affairs or is it a question of mitigating its effects?

Those who depend directly on agriculture, fisheries and forestry for their livelihoods are often the most vulnerable to natural hazards that affect the islands’ natural resources base, which supports local food systems. Climate change is likely to have a bigger effect on food supply than any other factor and agriculture will be affected more than any other economic sector in the developing world. The implications of climate change for food security and livelihoods are profound and it is clear that fishers, fish farmers and coastal inhabitants will bear the full force of the impacts of climate change. Many poor fisheries-dependent communities already live in a precarious and vulnerable state because of poverty, lack of social services and essential infrastructure, and suffer from overexploited fishery resources and degraded ecosystems. Climate change is modifying the distribution and productivity of marine and freshwater species and is already affecting biological processes and altering food webs.

Although efforts have been taken to create sustainable livelihoods that are climate resilient in some countries, these have tended to be fragmented. Changes in the environment need to be addressed through integrated and systematic ways that link the different SIDS into a common strategy that builds on their mutual support and help. For this, a pluralistic approach is a pre-requisite, as including stakeholders from various sectors will increase coordination and convergence towards a common objective. The FAO Global Blue Growth Initiative will help facilitate putting this need into action.

We at FAO are working closely with our partners (especially the 25+ strong Global Partnership for Climate, Fisheries and Aquaculture) and our Member states to examine and discuss the best mitigation and adaptation strategies that could be promoted.

What would you describe as the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department’s flagship achievements to date, in respect of furthering the cause of sustainable development in SIDS?

We recognise that the health of our planet and our own health and future food security depend on how we treat the blue world. Promoting responsible and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture is central to FAO’s work and purpose and much anchored in the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Adopted by all FAO member countries on 31 October 1995, the Code has become a global reference – and benchmark – for fisheries and aquaculture development. Its 12 articles, and associated technical guidelines, provide a comprehensive blueprint from fish to fork. It can be credited with introducing new governance concepts and teaching a new vocabulary to fisheries managers. As such, the Code is also the cornerstone of the recently-launched FAO Global Blue Growth Initiative.

In my opinion, the Code is hands-down our Department’s flagship achievement. It has proven to be extremely forward-looking and a truly living document which remains relevant and central to responsible and sustainable fisheries. Even though it is non-binding, compared with other international fisheries instruments, the Code has achieved an unprecedented level of endorsement by international organisations, regional fisheries bodies, governments and other stakeholders that gives it a strong moral and political footing – planners, policy-makers and managers at all levels pay attention to its principles and standards.

In concrete terms, we see that management practices in some areas around the world are starting to change. Many countries have implemented national plans of action that embody certain aspects and principles of the Code. This is particularly true with regards to the international plans of action concerning IUU fishing and the November 2009 treaty on Port State measures against IUU fishing. And I would emphasise that the Code’s principles, standards and guidelines must now – more than ever before – be fully taken into account and put into action.

Promoting responsible and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture is central to FAOs work and purpose.

Since the 1992 Earth Summit, SIDS have placed sustainable development prominently on the global agenda, with the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action and the 2005 Mauritius Strategy of Implementation clearly outlining the way forward. The outcome document of Rio+20 reaffirms the special case of SIDS for sustainable development and calls for continued and enhanced efforts to assist SIDS. As such, our FAO Global Blue Growth Initiative indeed concentrates on assisting countries in developing and implementing their respective blue economy and growth agendas. We have already begun working with several focus countries – Algeria, Indonesia, Morocco, Gabon and Senegal to name a few – to help support blue growth concepts in their national policies and strategies. This will be complemented by strengthening and working closely with Regional Fishery Bodies and Management Organisations and, of course, by putting the accent on partnerships.

Through the FAO Blue Growth Initiative, FAO will assist countries to develop and implement blue economy and growth agendas. It will contribute to the global debate and decision-making process, including in the post-2015 agenda.

For more information, please visit