Global Fish Crisis

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“Since 1992, overfishing— the action of fishing beyond the level at which fish stocks can replenish through natural reproduction— has become one of the major natural resource con- cerns in the industrialized world, and increasingly in developing nations as well. Seventy-five percent of commercially important marine, and most inland water fish stocks are either currently overfished, or are being fished at their biological limit, putting them at risk if fishing pressure increases or the habitat degrades. In marine waters, overharvesting and habitat degradation are the main causes driving fish stock declines, while in inland waters, the principal factors threatening fisheries are habitat loss and environmental degradation.”

“Demand for seafood products has doubled over the last 30 years and is projected to continue growing at 1.5 percent per year through 2020 as global population grows and per capita fish con- sumption rises. The number of fishers and fish farmers is growing markedly as well, having doubled in the last 20 years with most of the increase occurring in developing countries as people turned to fishing for an alternative or supplemental source of income.”

Despite these troubling statistics, most people have little idea of what the “fisheries crisis” is, or what it means to them. From a consumer’s point of view—at least in most developed nations—the sad condition of fish stocks is not obvious. There are still plenty of fish available in markets and restau- rants, although the types may have changed and the prices may be higher. So are we really running out of fish? Are coastal ecosystems nearing collapse? The answers to these questions are not widely under- stood outside of the circle of fish experts and others in the fishing industry. That is unfortunate, because solutions to the problem may require decisions to regulate fishing in politically unpopular ways— measures that will need strong public support to be successfully implemented.”

“Achieving sustainable fishing practices and maintaining healthy fish stocks will not be easy. It will require action at many levels: changes in national economic development plans and structural government reforms; changes in how fishing rights are allocated to both small-scale fishers and indus- trial fleets; changes in international cooperation and international trade negotiations; and better compliance with international norms. It will also require a more concerted effort by nations to address the management and monitoring of small-scale and inland fisheries sectors, which are largely unregulated and ignored today. But the fishing sector is far too important to allow its continued downward spiral through inac- tion, particularly when some initial steps toward sustainability are possible today. Here we summarize some of these key measures and highlight some known trends in global fisheries.”

“In fact, developing nations now produce more than 70 percent of the fish we con- sume. In 2001, the top ten producers were Chile, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Peru, the Russian Federation, Thailand, and the United States. The main markets are the European Union, Japan, and the United States, who together consume about 80 percent of all the fishery products traded internationally. Developing coun- tries consume about one third of all fish imports by quantity, but these are often lower-priced items, so they only account for 17 percent of the total value of the international fish trade.”

“Part of the problem is that the World Trade Organization (WTO) trade rules are often in conflict with trade restrictions that aim to promote sustain- able fishing practices. Some steps to reconcile envi- ronment and trade rules would require granting observer status at the WTO to the UN Environment Programme and to the secretariats of international environmental treaties, incorporating the precau- tionary approach into WTO and other trade rules, and reducing...
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