Image courtesy of Greenpeace
Given the gusto with which we've decimated the ocean's major fisheries stocks over the past half-century, it should hardly come as a surprise that we've been extremely wasteful in the process. According to a new U.N. report, entitled "The Sunken Billions: Economic Justification for Fisheries Reform," the world's fishing fleets are pissing away close to $50 billion a year through poor management and overfishing, reports BBC News' Richard Black.
The report concludes that half of the fleet could be removed without any change in catch. The two principal reasons for this waste -- poor regulation and depleted stocks (which makes catching the same amount of fish every year increasingly difficult) -- could thus be remedied: boosting the industry's profits and sharply reducing its pressure on the world's remaining fisheries stocks.
Overfishing: A major problem that is only getting worse
Recent studies have pegged the number of significantly depleted stocks at one-third of the total; as I wrote about a few months ago, a study authored by Daniel Pauly, one of the world's foremost fisheries experts, found that catches in several tropical island countries was up to 17 times higher than officially reported, a trend that is likely replicated elsewhere around the world.
Discounting the effects of climate change and overfishing
Others have shown that the impacts of climate change -- the warming of sea surface waters and an increase in sea ice melting, for example -- are being seriously underestimated by fishing fleets and the world's regulatory authorities. This impairs fish quotas and licensing decisions, resulting in commercial-scale fisheries often benefiting at the expense of small, local fisheries in developing countries.
Many of the fish stocks the scientists examined could go extinct over the next four decades if present trends continue. Even though fishing fleets have been ramping up their operations in recent years to compensate for the decline in fish stocks, the report finds that catches have not been increasing -- they are stable at around 80 million tons -- and that fishing isn't become any more profitable.
One problem driving this trend is the excessive amount of subsidies, which researchers say has only helped accelerate it. The other major issue is the lack of sustainable fishery models and poor management approaches, which has caused many fisheries to repeat the same mistakes over the last decade.
Thankfully, a few countries, including New Zealand, Iceland and parts of Australia and (yes) the United States, have shown what conservation and good management can accomplish -- though the report says that even they could improve. Perhaps the global adoption of a catch-share system, under which fishers are granted a percentage share of the total allowable catch, could help resolve many of these lingering problems.
Via ::BBC News: Fisheries waste 'costs billions' (news website)
More about fisheries
::Catch-Share System Could Save World’s Fisheries From Collapse
::Global Fisheries Hit by Climate Change and Overfishing
::Overfishing Update: Endangered Atlantic Bluefin on the Menu at Nobu in London, EU to Reconsider Fishing Common Policy