The ADB was accused in Tashkent yesterday of neglecting fisheries in its policies on food security.
Lobby groups criticised the ADBs Operational Plan for Sustainable Food Security in Asia and the Pacific for its lack of attention to fish.
John White, director for development at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), told Emerging Markets: Its a source of sadness to me that the ADBs operational plans mention fisheries once, in a footnote. And the words fish and seafood dont appear at all.
The place of fish in the food security agenda is far too opaque.
Asia accounts for the vast majority of world fishing, which is approaching the maximum sustainable levels. The key international report on the sector, the UN Food and Agriculture Organizations The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, says that 86% of the worlds fishers and fish farmers live on the continent.
The last edition of the report (2008) said that 28% of stocks are overexploited, depleted or close to depletion, and 52% of stocks are fully exploited. The Western Indian Ocean, the Northwest Pacific and the Northeast Atlantic have the greatest proportions of fully-exploited stocks.
Environmentalists argued that the ADB is ignoring a crucial element of food security. Timothy Geer, director of WWF International, said: In Asia fish is 26% of protein in the diet.
There are large numbers of people in Asia who are heavily reliant on fish both for their diet, their export markets and for secondary industries such as canneries. We fear the potential of the collapse of fisheries.
White of the MSC advised the ADB: First of all change your thinking. Dont talk about agriculture alone. Talk about natural resources and include in that both land and sea-based resources.
The Operational Plan, launched by the ADB in December, warns that the regions long-term security is at risk from food supply problems, and pledges to help developing countries with agricultural productivity, connectivity and resilience. But the banks critics say that any such strategy needs to prioritize protection of fish stocks.
Geer said that WWF International is working on fisheries governance, cooperatives, communities access and better EU access agreements so fish are not vacuumed up by foreign fleets.
He asked the ADB to make subsidy reform part of their to-do list, and said the bank should use its micro and mezzo lending programmes for small fishing enterprises. Inaction in this area will be very dangerous, he said.
Bob Dobias, head of the climate change unit at the ADB, said the bank certainly understands the importance of fisheries but admitted: The ADB will never be the biggest fisheries play in the region or the major supporter of fisheries action in the region.
He emphasized partnership, dialogue, agricultural research and education, and pointed to projects such as the Coral Triangle initiative which assists with reef protection, sustainable fishing and climate change education in the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans as an example of ADB involvement. But he did not suggest any change in policy or lending to fisheries.