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Teach a man to fish…sustainably

Baked tuna or grilled shrimp for lunch by the sea is surely enjoyable, but do you ever think about how this fish ends up on your plate? Or how and where was it caught? For the 37.88 million fishermen that are engaged in full-time or part-time fishing,[1] it is increasingly important that this information is made available to national and international traders, and understood by them. Not all fish is captured legally or sustainably. Overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) are a key cause of unsustainable fishing practices.  In 2016, illicit fishing was reported to represent one quarter of the total fish harvested annually, which is a staggering 26 million tonnes of fish valued at up to 23 billion US dollars.[2]

The management of fisheries and fish stocks to date has been largely based on the collection and exchange of large sets of data between fishery management organizations (FMOs). However, data management remains largely insufficient, and the low level of data collection coupled with the lack of timely and accurate data are key challenges. This means that FMOs are not able to use data effectively for tracing fish catches and managing fish stocks, and for the trade of fish and fish products. In many cases, data is sporadic, different data sets are used, and paper documentation is widespread. The associated data management costs are also very high.

How can the issues of data management be solved? How is it possible to have comparable data for all catches?

  • “Teach a man to fish sustainably and you feed him and his children for a lifetime”.

Although not exactly teaching “how to fish”, the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), hosted by UNECE, has come up with a standard which helps to reduce the challenges of overfishing and IUU, and hence support the sustainable management of fisheries.

The Fisheries Language for Universal Exchange (FLUX) standard provides a harmonized message standard by allowing FMOs to automatically access the electronic data from fishing vessels needed for stock management, such as vessel and trip identification, fishing operations (daily catch or haul-by-haul) or fishing data (catch area, species and quantity, date and time, and gear used). The standard will improve the traceability of fish and fish products. Not only that, the FLUX standard has the potential to safeguard fish stocks and reduce the threat to biodiversity. Therefore, it is expected that this standard will contribute to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 on “life below water”, and SDG target 14.4 in particular, which aims at effectively regulating harvesting and ending overfishing, IUU and destructive fishing practices.

The FLUX standard, which was adopted in 2016, has already been gaining attention for its high acceptability among fishermen and fish traders. The standard is being used in all EU Member States as well as in other countries across the globe. A practical tool like FLUX is essential for the preservation of fish stocks and to stop illegal fishing, for the nutrition of the estimated 1 billion people around the world who depend on fish for protein, and to preserve the costal and marine resources that are so valuable for the well-being and prosperity of present and future generations.

To learn more about FLUX, please visit: https://www.unece.org/cefact/brs/brs_index.html


[1] “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2016), p.34

[2] FAO (2016)