My first COFI

By Isaac Nyameke
University of Alaska, Fairbank, USA

This article reflects on the recent UN-FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) 35, which took place in Rome, Italy, on September 5-9, 2022. COFI is a high-level political meeting on fisheries, where delegates discussed many important topics relating to sustainable fisheries and aquaculture management, food security, poverty alleviation and employment creation. COFI started in 1965 and held every two years at the FAO Headquarters in Rome. Currently, it has members 126. Membership is open to all countries who wish to participate in the meeting, but it is not mandatory to be a member. Interested groups and individuals can also register to join the meeting as observers.

COFI 35 meeting. Source: Adopted from FAO recordings
COFI 35 meeting. Source: Adopted from FAO recordings

As a PhD student studying fisheries and blue economy, an early career scientist and beneficial of FAO World Fisheries University established by COFI in South Korea, I was interested in learning about COFI, what was being deliberated, and the decisions made. Due to my class schedules in Alaska, U.S.A, I was not able to virtually participate in all sessions but had access to the recordings from FAO. With my background in fisheries and coming from African country, specifically Ghana, I was particularly keen to hear inputs and contributions from African countries on various issues. I was surprised that there were little interventions from African countries on topics such as subsidies and biodiversity conservation. This observation prompted me to review the recordings of the COFI meeting to see if I missed anything.

Below is the summary of points relevant to fisheries and biodiversity conservation that I found after listening to a total of 2,080 minutes of the recordings of the COFI meeting that took place in five days, and analyzing what I heard, supplemented by my own observation during the sessions. Again, the emphasis is on the interventions by African countries.


“The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture” (SOFIA) is the report that FAO produces every two years. SOFIA 2022 report has “Blue Transformation” as the sub-title, and the discussion at COFI 35 was about issues and topics to be included in SOFIA 2024. Twenty-one (21) members made statements about this, with Kenya, Guinea, and Senegal offered statements focusing on aid for capacity building in data collection and reporting.

Key topics proposed to be included in SOFIA 2024 were:

  • Anchovies - the 10 most landed species - should be included in the biological sustainable species (proposed by Peru)
  • Climate change, world peace and trade problems and how they affect fisheries and food security (proposed by Dominical Republic, Mexico, Costa Rica, Omani and Austrian)
  • Labour and working conditions of the countries (proposed by U.S.A)
  • FAO should adopt different methods to compare countries fisheries production, example not only vessel size, capacity, length, license etc (proposed by Thailand, Costa Rica, Brazil, Suriname and Indonesia)
  • Success stories and performance of the RFMO (proposed by India).

It was interesting for me to see how member states contribute to shaping the scope of the next SOFIA reports.


Twenty (16) countries welcome the newly drafted WTO fisheries subsidies policy, which focuses on removing what has been described by scientists as harmful subsides. The new policy is highly relevant to African countries, but they were not engaged in the discussion. 

It could be argued that, when subsidies are removed, foreign vessels may not be able to fish in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of African and other developing countries. This could have negative impact on the revenues generated by the African countries through license and fishing agreement from the distant water fishing fleets of other nations. However, the new WTO subsidies policy, when accepted by member states, has a great potential to foster fisheries development in African and developing countries. This will empower African countries to build industries to add value to their catch through processing before exporting to other countries.

African delegates at the COFI 35 meeting. Source: Adopted from FAO recordings

IYAFA 2022

2022 has been declared by the Unite Nations as the ‘International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture’. A summary about IYAFA initiatives and activities was presented including campaigns around the world to pay more attention on small-scale fisheries. Some of these activities are championed by African countries thus it was good to see the enthusiastic support of IYAFA 2022. The 4th World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress regional series are organized in five locations around the world this year to help celebrate IYAFA 2022, as noted in SOFIA 2022. The final congress will be held in Cape Town, South Africa on November 21-23, for the African region, with the theme “Leading by Examples”. I look forward to participating in the congress and contribute to the discussion.

IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) fishing

IUU was the most discussed agenda in COFI 35, receiving more interventions that other topics. African countries expressed their concern, emphasizing the effects of IUU on the African marine ecosystem, such as depletion of African fisheries stock. Kenya requested for support to enable member states to implement the Port State Measures (PSM). Kenya’s request was in line with the current study by Song et al. (2020) which confirms that the IUU discussions and measures had only focused on the industry fishing and neglecting the small scales fisheries.

Concluding thoughts

Although the intervention of the African countries was not strong at COFI35, credits should be given to Madagascar and South Africa for tabling the updating track and vessel identification system. As an observer, and a learner of the process, I acknowledge the importance of COFI meetings and the influence they have on sustainability of the world fisheries and aquaculture. I plan to attend the next COFI in 2024 and would like to hear more discussion about vessel tracking and identification, how Blue Transformation Agenda is contributing to sustainable fishing, and of course to see more interventions from African countries. It will also be great if the next SOFIA report would emphasize indigenous knowledge of fisheries management, discuss how to enhance data from developing countries, and report on how the sub-committee on fisheries management is enforcing Ecosystem Based Fisheries management (EBFM).

About the Author

Isaac Nyameke is a PhD Fisheries and Blue Economy student, Teaching Assistant at the University of Alaska, Fairbank and a scholar at the Tamamta (All of Us-Indigenous student empowerment) Fellow Program.


I do acknowledge the indigenous land of Tanana people, on which I live, work, research, teach and upon which this article was written. The article does not express the views of University of Alaska, Fairbank, my department and advises. I take sole responsibility of any error and conflict.  I do acknowledge that the data set (COFI recording) used for the analysis belong to FAO and the member states, NGO and other organizations that participated in the procedures. 

Isaac Nyameke camping on Tanana River,2022. Source: Adopted from Tamamata Retreat archive