Cotonou-Benin — Fishery experts ended a week-long meeting in Cotonou, Benin on Friday, 31st August 2012, with the validation of the composition and mechanisms of the Regional and National Committees for Monitoring Policy Coherence in the sector. They also adopted the terms of reference and composition of three sub- committees of the Regional Committee and their logical framework.
The sub- committees are on Governance and Policy Coherence, Aquaculture and Trade. The adoption is in compliance with the directive by the ECOWAS Ministers of Fisheries in September 2010 in Banjul, The Gambia which called for the operationalization of a Regional Committee on Coherence in Fisheries Policy and counterpart national committees as instruments for participatory governance, monitoring and supervision of fishery policy in West Africa.
The Regional Committee will serve as an advisory body of national, regional and international players in the sector, as well as a forum for stakeholder dialogue and as a "think tank" for ECOWAS to provide impetus to a new dynamism in regional cooperation in fisheries. Specific responsibilities of the sub-committee on governance include strengthening and adaptation of the institutional coherence in the fisheries sector in Member States as well as their legal instruments; strengthening partnership between authorities and actors and socio-professional organizations, and deepening cooperation among stakeholders within the region.
The sub-committee on aquaculture is specifically mandated to promote the framework for consultation among authorities, researchers, the private sector and civil society. It will also encourage the sharing of strategies and initiatives likely to enhance output in terms of production and investors' revenue and create a platform for dissemination and sharing of research outcomes and experiences gained with the aim of reducing information gaps between countries and operators. The sub-committee is also charged with strengthening regional, inter-regional and international cooperation and public-private partnership to ensure efficient utilization of resources and competencies so as to optimize investments in the sub-sector.
On its part, the sub-committee on trade is to facilitate understanding of issues of trade in fishery products in West Africa, propose reforms in matters of trade policies and practices, towards the promotion of intra-regional trade and promote a West African fish label for better market access. The experts called on the Commission to provide adequate financial support for the operations of the sub-committees and national committees, help facilitate the finalization of the terms of reference and framework of the three sub- committees and make information on the regional fund for financing agriculture available to Member States.
The Commission should also ensure the operationalization of the Regional Aquaculture Training Centre in Port Harcourt in south-south Nigeria, by making it a Centre of Excellence, establish mechanisms for the effective application of ECOWAS integration texts to facilitate trade in fish products in the region and create an observatory for trade in fish products. In addition, the Commission is requested to formalize collaboration through integration of Regional Fishery Organisations and River Basin Authorities as Specialized Institutions of the ECOWAS Commission, and to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the NEPAD-Fishery Partnership in Africa to enhance ongoing complementarities of actions.
The experts called on Member States to quicken the establishment of the national committees so as to improve dialogue between the different stakeholders engaged in the development of the fishery and aquaculture sector. Member States are also expected to formulate and/or update a strategic plan for the development of aquaculture in their countries. Participants encouraged civil society organizations to establish umbrella organisations of fishery stakeholders in Member States which will contribute to the creation of a single structure at the regional level.
A field trip was organized on the sidelines of the meeting to Porto Novo, the political capital of Benin for experience sharing with the Songhaï Centre in the field of integrated systems of agro-sylvo pastoral and fish production, as well as with the Royal Fish Benin, a modern structure for the production of fingerlings and tilapia as well as catfish produced for commercial purposes. Present at the Cotonou meeting were representatives of the directorates of fisheries of ECOWAS Member States, officials from the ECOWAS Commission, non- state actors, inter-governmental organizations and development partners.