Brazil's Agriculture Minister Wants to Scrap Endangered Marine Species List

CC BY 2.0. Laszlo Ilyes – A colorful fishing boat returns to port in Cabo Frio, Rio de Janeiro, to clean the catch. The deck was covered with dogfish

It's having a negative effect on the fishing industry, he claims.

Brazil's agriculture minister has asked the minister of the environment to suspend the country's list of threatened and endangered aquatic species. It's hurting fishermen, Jorge Seif Júnior argued, and will have a significant negative impact on the fishing economy.

It's not the first time Brazil's 'red list' of threatened fish and aquatic invertebrates, first published in 2014, has met criticism. The list includes many commercially valuable species and, as conservation organization Oceana described, "sparked discord" among conservationists and fishers. It was suspended and restored by judges several times following publication and was finally reinstated in full in 2017.

Justifying his request for yet another suspension, Seif Júnior questioned the methods by which the list was created, saying, "Brazil should be guided by its own criteria for defining and adopting public policies that will affect the fauna and all Brazilians, and not by the criteria of international NGOs."

His office went on to say that it supports environmental conservation, but in a way that's economically, socially, and biologically sustainable:

"Simply preserving marine species without thinking about the whole ecosystem is not effective to either the fishing industry or the human wellbeing of those who work as fishermen in this country."

Scientists think the request is ludicrous. The list is based on the most up-to-date statistics available – which are admittedly outdated, since Brazil hasn't published national fisheries data since 2011, and that was using data from 2008.

The Folha de São Paulo cited Fabio Motta, a marine ecology and conservation researcher from the Federal University of São Paulo. Motta said the list was compiled by experts from across the country and takes into account data such as population decline over time and decrease of geographic distribution.

Anna Carolina Lobo, coordinator of WWF-Brasil's marine and coastal Atlantic forest program, called the list "very important" and thinks Brazil needs to put its own fishing situation into a global perspective.

"The fishing industry [and] economic development is already impacted, and it is not because of environmental safeguard measures, but because of unbridled overexploitation. The situation of stocks of greater commercial value threatened is not only here in Brazil, it is in the whole world."

This is a key point, that the way each country treats the ocean affects everyone, because the oceans are universal. Fish stocks are more depleted than ever, weakened by overfishing and pollution. They need time to recover. So, it's ironic that the fishing industry is fighting against the one thing that can save it.