Over-fishing - a problem that is not affecting the public opinion as much as it should. It's enough to read the following statement to understand the real size of the emergency:
"Seventy-five percent of fisheries are over-fished, if nothing changes, all fisheries will have collapsed by 2050" says marine ecologist Enric Sala.
"The solution is involving all levels of society, from consumers to policy makers. The solutions exist, we just need the political will to implement them at a large scale."
Greenpeace has long been warning that the world's oceans are under a very serious and growing threat from overfishing.
Greenpeace has long been warning that the world's oceans are under a very serious and growing threat from overfishing. Not only have many major fish stocks been depleted, some even collapsing completely such as cod off Canada's east coast but excessive fishing pressure is placing many other marine animals at risk. From the north Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, marine mammals, seabirds, sharks and key fish species in the intricate web of marine biodiversity are being overexploited, caught and killed as 'bycatch', or threatened by the industrialized fisheries for species that are critical links in the marine food web.
Fisheries analysts at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report that virtually 70% of the world's fisheries are fully- to over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse. Adding to the problem is the enormous waste of the industrialized fishing fleet which catches, kills and throws back overboard a large part of 27 million of marine life discarded on average each year. The most blatant cause of this destruction and waste is the unregulated growth and expansion in commercial fisheries based on large-scale, capital and technology intensive fishing vessels - the world's fleet of industrialized fishing vessels.
As more and more fish stocks decline, debt-ridden industrialized fleets are under increasing pressure to spend greater time and effort to catch fish, or to find other stocks, even new species, to exploit in a repeat of their destructive pattern of overfishing. Fish no longer have anywhere to hide from the hi-tech fishing factories that hunt them down for the kill.
Ripping Vital Links From The Marine Food Chain
The extent to which the world's marine ecosystems are threatened by overfishing, and the implications for marine wildlife populations, has been exposed in an exhaustive study led by University of British Columbia (Canada) marine scientist Dr. Daniel Pauly. Dr. Pauly's team of scientists used a mountain of data compiled over 50 years by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization on more than 200 distinct species caught in the world's oceans and seas. They catalogued how in one ocean after another fishing has caused the depletion of the biggest, most valuable stocks, and then worked its way down the marine food web, catching more and more of the smaller species. Dr. Pauly warned that at the current rate of exploitation many stocks could be eliminated within 25 years. "You can end up with the sea full of jelly fish," said Pauly. He summed up his concern in a gloomy prediction:
"The big fish, the bill fish, the groupers, the big things will be gone. It is happening now. If things go unchecked, we will have a sea full of little horrible things that nobody wants to eat. We might end up with a marine junkyard dominated by plankton."
Greenpeace has been sounding the alarm about such dire consequences for marine ecology for a decade, highlighting in particular that there are simply too many large-scale, high-tech fishing boats roaming the world's oceans on an unsustainable course of plunder for profit wherever fish stocks can be found.
Some Vital Facts You Should Know About Commercial Fishing
- The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that almost 70% of the world's major fisheries are fully exploited, over-exploited, or depleted.
Just 19 countries plus the European Union (EU) accounted for about 90% of the world's marine fisheries catch of 84.7 million tons in 1995. A further breakdown shows that the fishing nations of the EU and nine other countries took over 70% of the world total that year. In order of ranking by catch they were China, Peru, Chile, the EU, Japan, the USA, Russia, Indonesia, Thailand and Norway.
- Up to 39 million tons of unwanted fish 'bycatch' is killed and dumped back into the sea each year because of unselective fishing practices and gear.
- 1,654 new industrial fishing vessels totaling over one million GRT (Gross Registered Tons) were added to the world's fleet between 1991 and 1996.
- Of the estimated 3.5 million fishing boats worldwide, only about 35,000, or 1% by number, are classified as large-scale, industrialized vessels. These ships, however, constitute about half of the capacity of the global fishing fleet (measured in tonnage), and take between half and two-thirds of all the fish caught from the world's oceans and seas.
- According to recent FAO estimates, there are some 15 million fishers employed aboard fishing boats on the world's oceans, of whom about 90 per cent are occupied on small-scale, non-industrialized vessels.
- World Bank and FAO studies have estimated that taxpayer-funded national subsidies to the global fishing fleet, primarily the large-scale, industrialized sector, range between 25 to 50 billion dollars each year.
- Using nearly 50 years of data collected by the United Nations, a team of scientists has catalogued how in one ocean after another fishing fleets have first caught the big, valuable stocks, then worked their way down the food web, catching more and more of the smaller species. The scientists predicted that at the current rate of fishing, many fish stocks could be eliminated within 25 years.
- Hundreds of thousands of seabirds are being slaughtered each year by the 3000-strong industrialized longline fishing fleet. Scientists and conservationists agree that longline fishing is a serious threat to the survival of 12 out of 14 albatross species. With up to 100 million hooks being set each year in southern hemisphere oceans alone, there is good reason to fear that, worldwide, longline fishing threatens not only albatross but other seabird species as well.
- For many shark species, fisheries pose a high risk of serious population declines, even possible extinction for some. According to the FAO in 1994, more than one hundred million sharks are killed annually in fishing operations. Without major changes, the loss of populations of sharks, perhaps entire species may occur.
- Over a billion people in Asia alone depend on fish and seafood as their major source of animal protein.
Ocean-Going Factories Plunder The Seas
The FAO estimates that there are about 3.5 million fishing boats on the world's oceans and seas. Working from data supplied by the Lloyd's Maritime Service, the FAO Bulletin of Fishery Fleet Statistics (1994) and other sources, Greenpeace estimates that today there are approximately 35,000 ships that can be classified as large-scale, industrialized fishing vessels. Generally speaking, this is a class of fishing ships that weigh in at over 100 "gross registered tons" or GRT (as a general rule, 100 GRT vessels correspond to approximately 24 meters overall length, though there are exceptions).
Of the world's fleet, 99-per cent are small-scale and non-industrialized. Many are simple canoes powered by paddles or sail. One-third (about 1.2 million) of these boats are small-scale, motorized "decked" vessels, while nearly two-thirds (about 2.3 million) are "undecked" craft that operate in small-scale, coastal fisheries.
Though relatively few in number, the high-tech, industrialized fishing vessels, many exceeding the length of a football field, dominate the world's fishing business. Greenpeace estimates that this relatively small number of 35,000 industrialized fishing boats makes up about half of the total 'capacity' of the world's entire fishing fleet of 3.5 million vessels. Working from FAO figures published in 1994 in its Bulletin of Fishery Fleet Statistics, Greenpeace estimates that the combined tonnage of this large-scale, industrialized fleet is about 13 million GRT. The total fishing vessel tonnage on the water today is roughly 26 million tons. Put another way, the large-scale fleet - a mere one per cent of the entire global fishing fleet by number - makes up about half (50%) of the world's entire fishing capacity.
Industrialized Fleet Dominates The Global Fish Catch
How much of world's marine fisheries catches can be attributed to this industrialized fleet? Greenpeace believes this relatively small number of fishing vessels comprising the industrialized fleet take the lion's share of the world's marine fisheries landings. In doing so, these vessels are the greatest contributors to the potentially irreparable harm to the marine environment caused by overfishing.
The UN FAO reports that world landings from marine fisheries stood at 84.7 million tons in 1995. According to FAO, more than 31 million tons of this, or more than 35 per cent of the global catch, were ground up ("reduced") into fish meal and oil, most of which is used to feed farmed livestock and in growing other high-value marine species such as salmon and farmed shrimp. The vast majority of the fish reduced to meal and oil is caught by large-scale vessels.
The remainder of the 84.7 million tons of capture fisheries landings - almost 54 million tons - is destined for direct human consumption. FAO fisheries officials believe the industrialized fleet is catching somewhat more than half of this 54 million tons of fish for direct human consumption from marine capture fisheries compared to the remainder of the global marine fishing fleet of small-scale vessels.
Greenpeace concludes that the relatively small number of 35,000 industrialized vessels larger than 100 GRT - by number about one per cent of the world's entire fishing fleet - catches between half and two-thirds of the world's reported catches from marine fisheries. Greenpeace believes that the greatest conservation benefits and protection for the marine environment from the negative impacts of overfishing can be achieved if substantial reductions are made to the capacity of the industrialized fishing - the one-per cent of fishing vessels that comprise about 50 per cent of global fishing vessel capacity.
Which Countries Are Responsible?
What countries contribute most to the problem of overcapacity in the global marine fishing fleet? A straightforward answer comes from a look at the global marine fisheries catch to see which countries catch the most fish. While not every country with large fish catches has large numbers of big, industrialized fishing boats, most do (China and India have millions of community-based fishing people using mainly small craft for example).
The Call For Large Reductions In Industrialized Fleets
In 1995, the FAO Ministerial Conference on Fisheries adopted the Rome Consensus on World Fisheries, stating that the problem of overfishing and particularly the overcapacity of industrial fishing fleets threatened the sustainability of the world's fisheries resources for present and future generations. The ministers urged governments and international organizations to urgently review the capacity of fishing fleets and where necessary reduce them. This call is backed by other important international fisheries agreements such as the 1995 UN Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks which primarily addressed the control of largely unregulated high seas fishing. The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries widens the call to reduce excess fishing capacity to include fisheries inside zones of national jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, nations responsible for reducing their fishing fleets' capacity are generally failing to put words on paper into action. Greenpeace commissioned research to assess recent trends in the capacity of the world fishing fleet and the extent to which governments were taking effective steps to reduce the fishing capacity of their fleets. The research, by Chris Newton, former Chief of Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Service (FIDI) and John Fitzpatrick, former Chief of the Fishing Technology Service (FIIT) of FAO's Fishery Industries Division, was compiled in a May 1998 report to Greenpeace International titled Assessment of the World's Fishing Fleet 1991-1997.
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