This month, the world celebrates a natural resource that provides employment opportunities for over 50 million people and food for billions: fisheries.
World Fisheries Day, established in 1998 and celebrated annually on November 21, highlights the importance of protecting the ocean and conserving marine life. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have made environmental sustainability a priority of U.S. foreign policy. They recognize the linkages between fisheries, food security, economic welfare and people’s health worldwide.
In Africa, where more than 200 million people eat fish as a main source of protein, sustainable fishing is critical. The economic potential is also great. The fisheries sector employs more than 12 million Africans, and fish is a leading export, with an annual value of nearly $3 billion. Fisheries provide government revenues through fishing agreements and license fees from foreign fishing fleets, which also drive economic activity in regional ports. Protecting marine environments isn’t just about fish. It’s about people.
Despite the resource’s great importance, its health and sustainability face increasing challenges. Illegal and unregulated fishing is a major environmental problem and a form of wildlife trafficking. West African fisheries, one of the most diverse and economically important in the world, lose over $1 billion a year this way.
The United States stands side-by-side with our African partners in addressing fisheries issues. Eleven African countries joined nearly 90 nations at the “Our Ocean” Conference hosted by Secretary Kerry in June, where sustainable fisheries were one of the key themes discussed. In September, Secretary Kerry joined Mozambican Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi and Director-General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Jose Graziano in hosting a follow-on meeting on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly.
We applaud Gabon’s announcement this month to create a 46,000-square kilometer network of marine protected areas in its waters. This bold step shows Gabon’s strong commitment to marine habitats, important species and local livelihoods. African countries also were key voices in developing the Port State Measures Agreement, an international treaty that will make it harder for fishing vessels to land illegal catches at ports around the world, ensuring that countries profit from fish caught in their waters.
From providing food to generating income to keeping marine ecosystems healthy, fish are an indispensable natural resource. The United States is committed to improving fisheries management, protecting the ocean, and safeguarding this marine bounty for generations to come.