Árni M Mathiesen, Assistant Director-General, FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture


Having recently spoken alongside former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the June Aquavision conference in Stavanger, Norway, Árni M Mathiesen reveals the efforts being made to harness ties between scientists, industry and policy makers to guarantee the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture towards 2050


To begin, can you outline your key responsibilities at the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department? How does the department operate within the UN Food and Agriculture Organization as a whole?

As Assistant Director-General, I am the head of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. My job is to provide my team with leadership on an array of technical and human issues and as such I am responsible for the preparation and execution of the Programme of Work and Budget. Our Department works on issues of food security and nutrition, governance and management, technology, trade and production, stock assessments and safety, gender and bio-security, disaster preparedness and resilience – to name a few – as well as running projects and programmes. We are more self-sufficient with regard to policy and economics, and statistics and information, than the other departments. Increasingly, our work is carried out in close partnership with other departments in FAO and with other agencies, industry and NGOs in larger projects and programmes.

The Department aims to make a significant contribution to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the targets set by the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the World Food Summit. What function do fisheries and aquaculture have to play in achieving these goals?

Fisheries and aquaculture provide essential nutrition (ie. at least 15 per cent of total animal protein) to over 4 billion people, are among the most widely traded food products, and form the basis of livelihoods (directly and indirectly) for over 500 million people. The role is in line with the mandate of FAO, contributing to greater and more nutritious food production. We also seek to advance production and trading systems that are more sustainable. In addition, our focus on small-scale fisheries and gender is very much in line with the MDGs.

What are your main priorities with regard to sustainable resource management and food production over the next few years?

There is not much scope for an increase in capture fisheries over the next few years, but there is much room for improvement in performance and management of production and trading systems through improved governance. Here, the principles of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries must apply. This would lead to increased contributions to the economy and poverty alleviation, as well as greater sustainability. There is also potential for increasing the production of aquaculture, which is the fastest-growing food sector. In both capture fisheries and aquaculture there are great possibilities for reducing waste through the improvement of post-harvest handling, and increasing the value of products through better handling and novel uses.

Rio+20 is a key event in bringing sustainable development to the heart of the global economic agenda. What has been FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture’s role and what are your main priorities in terms of the outcomes of the conference?

FAO has participated in numerous events at Rio and has contributed to a number of papers in the name the Rome Based Food Agencies, and in cooperation with other UN agencies. Some of the main events include the Oceans Day on 16 June with the Global Oceans Forum (among others), and the Rome Based Agencies technical conference on 19 June and the High Level Conference on 21 June. Our key message is that we will not solve our environmental issues unless we tackle the challenges associated with food and water. On the Oceans, FAO is the key agency to lead on food security and resource management and conservation, due to its mandate and technical expertise. However, for the FAO to be able to engage sufficiently, clear commitments from society are needed.

How does climate vulnerability affect food production, particularly fisheries production, and what are the FAO’s objectives in protecting and preserving marine resources in relation to climate change?

Climate change will compound existing pressures on fisheries and aquaculture and the question of how to meet increasing demand for fish in the face of climate change poses a great challenge to fisheries and aquaculture management. Changes in water temperature, acidification, sea level rise and increased storm activity are among the current and projected climate change effects that will impact the fisheries and aquaculture sector. Our main task is to increase climate change resilience of fisheries and aquaculture communities through the application of the ecosystem approach to fisheries and aquaculture, awareness raising, policy development, integrated and participatory adaptation, and mitigation planning. Through the Global Partnership on Climate, Fisheries and Aquaculture, the FAO is supporting global, regional and local climate change collaborative action.

What part will fisheries and aquaculture play in meeting the growing demand for food over the next 40 years, and what steps is the Department taking to ensure that fisheries are able to meet this demand?

Growing food demand requires an increase in food production using methods that are sustainable and do not undermine the environment. We at the Department have produced working papers on both capture fisheries and aquaculture, which look towards 2050. We are looking at various scenarios pertaining to this. It is predicted that capture fisheries’ production will remain the same, so in order for us to keep up with demand, fish supply aquaculture will have to double over the 40- year period. We are looking at what challenges there are in achieving this, and the milestones we need to pass en route.

The Department seeks to provide a socioeconomic analysis of fisheries and aquaculture, and assists in the elaboration of development policies. How do you interact with industry in order to develop management strategies and ensure that fisheries are using safe and sustainable methods of fishing?

We are trying to reach out increasingly to stakeholders to expand their understanding of the problems and what is at stake. We also aim to offer a clear picture of what gains are to be made from successful governance reform, both to industry and governments. We are developing with partners such as the Prince’s Charities International Sustainability Unit, the World Bank and the OECD at Advocacy seminars for the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The first was held in Oslo last winter as part of the North Atlantic Seafood conference, but we hope to set up further ones in the near future. We cooperate on a regular basis with the International Carp Fishing Association, both directly and through our involvement in ProFish as well as with other industrial organisations at the national level. This is mainly through participation with industry in the preparation of global public goods; presentation at and participation in various industry conferences; publications; and our projects at the practical level.

A large amount of research is being conducted on the state of fisheries and aquaculture and new technologies and methods to improve its sustainability, particularly in the Nordic Region. Do you see regional research as being important to wider policy-making networks, and if so, how?

Very much so! I often cite the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and its cooperation with the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations and governments in the North Atlantic as a good example. We now see a very similar model working well in the Mediterranean through the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), governments, and the Mediterranean projects that FAO runs. There are similar arrangements in other parts of the world but we can also see many places that could benefit from more structure in the arrangement. We could, for instance, make better use of the information gathered through the EAF-Nansen project that we run with Norway using the North Atlantic ICES model and the Mediterranean GFCM model.

What steps are the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department taking to more effectively integrate research with its policy-making activities?

Having the latest knowledge at hand and using it is the basis of our work. We are making and supporting the bridge between research and policy. In addition to providing globally-comparative statistics, our role is to disseminate scientific knowledge in ways that are useful for policy and management planning. Most scientific work based on general statistical information in this field is based on statistics from FAO. We therefore create the basis for this kind of work and use the results consequentially.

Can you detail some of your most recent activities? What has been your role at these events?

I recently gave a presentation on our future vision of aquaculture at the June Aquavision in Stavanger alongside Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General. I also took part in the side events at Rio+20, acting as a presenter, and I will be doing the same in August at the FAO/KMI Food Security seminar at the Yeosu Expo, South Korea. I would also like to draw attention to the INFOFISH Tuna conference in Bangkok in May, where FAO staff presented the latest on the tuna stock situation, as well as market and certification issues. Here, we also introduced the multipartner tuna project of the Global Environment Facility ‘Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction’ (GEF/ABNJ) programme, which FAO leads.

What is your vision for the Department and what steps must be taken to ensure this is fulfilled?

To achieve our goals we need maximum commitment from many quarters, based on the right to food – which is a basic human right – and an appreciation that we will not solve our environmental issues until we fix our food and water issues. By applying the triple mandate of the FAO, we will achieve success in food and nutrition security, as well as unprecedented gains in the field of resource management and conservation of the environment.