Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Glimmers of Hope for Ocean Ecosystems

Two years ago, a team led by Boris Worm of Dalhousie University published an article warning that ocean fisheries were on the verge of collapse. At the time, Worm cautioned that “our children may see a world without seafood”and predicted that by 2048 most global fisheries might be in collapse. This past Friday, Worm and his team published a follow-up study that offers some room for hope.
Their new publication, entitled Rebuilding Global Fisheries (subscription required) confirmed that 63% of the world’s fish stocks are in need of rebuilding, meaning they are either overexploited or collapsed. But, the study also pointed to a few fisheries that had taken steps to reign in overexploitation, and suggested that these efforts were working.
It probably comes as no surprise that the fisheries doing the most to confront the problem of overfishing were mostly under the control of developed countries. For example, the United States’ California fisheries and the Northeast Atlantic Shelf come in for praise. However, as these developed nations take steps to rebuild their fisheries by setting lower fishing limits, the overfishing problem seems to be moving elsewhere. Fishing vessels flying flags of convenience have responded to more rigorous fishery management by simply moving to less regulated areas and recreating the cycle of overfishing.
Worst off are the fisheries in developing countries, particularly along the African coast. These fisheries face a two-fold problem: there are not many laws governing overfishing, and state capacity to enforce the laws that do exist is extremely limited.
This creates a crisis for local populations, many of whom depend on fisheries for critical protein supplies. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 923 million people were food insecure in 2007, an increase of more than 80 million since 1990. Those most food insecure tend to depend heavily on subsistence fisheries that are being jeopardized by incursions from distant water fishing fleets.
We must not forget that fisheries management is a social justice issue in addition to an environmental and economic issue. “Solving” the problem by shipping it off to the developing world cannot be the answer. It does not make ecological sense, and it certainly does nothing to help move us toward the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by 2015.


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