Global fish crisis? Ban high seas fishing

Despite the decline of countless fish species due to overfishing and other threats, and the increased demand for more fish and shellfish, scientists are clearly looking for a drastic solution (fishing on the high seas). ban and switch to ‘the world’s reef’). Don’t worry, doing so won’t affect the economic profits of the fish industry, and fisheries profits will be more fairly distributed, scientists say.

Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) are defined within 200 nautical miles of each country’s coast. Beyond the EEZs are the high seas/international watersheds belonging to all nations. After exhausting their near-coastal fish stocks, many countries began fishing on the high seas. These practices lead to overexploitation of commercial fish species and threaten non-target species through habitat destruction, bycatch and other problems. Currently, the high seas catch is worth about $16 billion annually (roughly 15% of the $109 billion annual global fish catch).

Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs)/international bodies formed by countries that fish in specific areas seek to protect marine ecosystems by enforcing fisheries closures in some high seas. The only other law governing fishing in the high seas is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea / an international agreement recognizing the right of all nations to fish freely in the high seas (but laying down general principles for conservation and management). is.

“The world has tried to alleviate this problem by promoting the establishment of RFMOs,” fisheries researcher Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia. “However, most analysts have concluded that many RFMOs are unsuccessful.” It shows that it has been overfished.

Another solution was needed. A 2014 study
put forward the bold idea of ​​closing fishing on the high seas completely, and found that doing so would increase fisheries revenues and improve fish stocks.

To explore the validity and extrapolation of this idea, Sumaila and a team of international fisheries experts will use catch data from 2000-2010 from the Sea Around Us Global Catch Database and 1950-2010 from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. We analyzed the landing data for 2010 and published the paper in Scientific Reports in February.

Sumaila’s team found that only 19 of the 1,406 species targeted were caught in the high seas. 802 species were caught within EEZs and 585 straddling species (as the paper so-called) were caught in both high seas and EEZs. Less than 0.01% of the total commercial fish is caught in the high seas alone.

After examining these figures further, the researchers found that closing fishing on the high seas would have no impact on global catches. It is reasonable to assume that the catch of straddling fish species in EEZs would increase by an average of 18% if increased fish biomass in the high seas were to flow into EEZs, as the paper predicts. Mathematical models currently used in the study indicate that the biomass of straddling fish species will increase by 10-70%.

The study found that the world as a whole would see net economic gains if fishing on the high seas were closed. According to the paper, 120 coastal states, mostly developing countries, will gain, 65 will lose, and 7 will neither lose nor gain. Moreover, the distribution of fishing profits will be more equitable. Currently, only 10 fishing nations fish on the high seas and reap economic benefits.

Sumaila’s team also notes additional benefits. “Vessels that go out to catch fish on the high seas generally travel long distances and spend a lot of time looking for fish, so the price per unit weight of fish is higher than for vessels that simply fish within the EEZs. can reduce fossil fuel burning and overall fishing costs,” the authors write.

“It’s an interesting idea that many scientists and economists are investigating,” said Karen Sack, president of Ocean Unite, an advocacy group made up of Virgin Group’s corporate foundations. told com. “Given the threats to ocean health from overfishing, climate change and pollution, all of which are putting a tremendous strain on marine life, bold ideas need to be actively considered.”

“The closure will be a sustainability effort to ensure that where fishing takes place, that scientific quotas are set to ensure that fish stocks are not exhausted, and that the fishing gear used does not destroy fish habitats and associated biodiversity. We have to have a viable fishing policy,” Sack added.

The haunting question is how such a drastic closure would actually be enforced, given the narrow jurisdiction of the current governing bodies against the vast and remote high seas. The authors acknowledge that enforcing the closure would “require a radical reform of ocean governance”, but that reform is possible and ultimately will be inevitable given the increased human activity on the high seas. is clarified.

“I think the implementation of such regulations now is the most likely in human history for at least two reasons,” White in an email. “First, satellite technology enables remote monitoring of ships, no longer a cat-and-mouse game between bouncers and intruders, but from above. Second, the world spends $2 billion a year in subsidies on the high seas fisheries. The closure of the high seas may allow some subsidies to be used for regulatory enforcement.”

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