The reliability of the quantities reported by many countries is also of serious concern, most notably for China, the world's largest fish producer. FAO has been working with China for over six years to try to address problems of over-reporting of fishery production which seriously influence global totals and the credibility of FAO statistics. We have met strong denial and political opposition from the Ministry of Agriculture and while we are still working with them on the issue through several studies, we have so far have failed to persuade China to make any corrections.
An article published in the scientific journal Nature at the end of 2001 indicated that China's marine capture fishery production for 1995-1999 has been overstated in statistics submitted to and published by FAO. The paper stated that a consequence of this is that global marine capture fishery production has likely been declining since 1988 rather than remaining fairly level as indicated by the statistics. According to the authors from the University of British Columbia, this would have led to understating the degradation of world fisheries and wrong policy and investment decisions. The article received extensive media attention which often reflected negatively on FAO, in some cases alleging that the distorted statistics had led to complacency about the poor state of the world's fishery resources. The whole debate has drawn much attention to the need for FAO, with its member countries, to improve the quality of its statistics if FAO's statistics are to retain credibility.
Quality of statistics
An increased emphasis on improving the quality of statistics has been placed in the Fisheries PWB for 2002-2003, but the Department's capacity to provide statistical development assistance directly or through projects is still very limited. Donor funding of statistical development projects has decreased considerably since the late 1980s. Recognizing the need to motivate major funding from donors for capacity building in developing countries, to engender greater commitment from countries to statistics gathering and analysis, and to more systematically assemble statistics and information from the national to the regional and global levels, the Department has prepared a draft International Plan of Action (IPOA). The draft IPOA was considered at the Technical Consultation on Improving Information on the Status and Trends of Capture Fisheries held in Rome on 25-28 March 2002.
The issue of quality of statistics is central to FAO's work and image. Expectations of our clients and the public are high in this regard, counting on FAO to "tell the truth", particularly regarding natural resources, despite national weaknesses or distortions. This has implications in terms of making use of any independent sources of data and FAO's capacity to detect anomalous data and to "correct" national figures when convinced that they are wrong and in the absence of cooperation from the country concerned (not the case with China). With the increasing attention being given to implementation of the Code of Conduct and rising demand for FAO's monitoring at the world level, losing credibility or being accused of complacency would be extremely damaging to FAO.