Fish­ing out the oceans

The Labradorian - - Editorial -

The world’s oceans are huge, but in­ter­con­nected. The trash you care­lessly throw in the ocean may end up in Ire­land or Ice­land or far be­yond, and re­cent video from the Do­mini­can Repub­lic has shown that the chick­ens (in the form of plas­tic waste) will al­ways come home to roost.

Ocean cur­rents move small fish and plank­ton along our coasts, and some of the larger ma­rine species — whales, bluefin tuna, some sharks — have long, in­ter­juris­dic­tional mi­gra­tion routes.

That’s why it’s im­por­tant to look at an in­ter­na­tional fish­eries is­sue be­ing raised at the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion. The is­sue cen­tres around whether ma­jor fish­ing sub­si­dies should be al­lowed to con­tinue.

First, a lit­tle back­ground in­for­ma­tion put out by the U.s.-based in­de­pen­dent non-profit, non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts. Pew re­search points out that 90 per cent of the world’s fish­eries are now fully fished or over­fished — but that’s not the most se­ri­ous statis­tic that the or­ga­ni­za­tion is high­light­ing.

“To­day, in part driven by fish­eries sub­si­dies, global fish­ing ca­pac­ity — the to­tal ca­pa­bil­ity of the world’s fleets — is es­ti­mated at 250 per cent of the level that would bring in the max­i­mum sus­tain­able catch,” writes El­iz­a­beth Wil­son, who di­rects in­ter­na­tional con­ser­va­tion pol­icy for Pew.

Stop and think about that for a mo­ment: there are enough boats, crews and tech­nol­ogy to catch ev­ery sus­tain­able fish in the world’s oceans two and a half times over.

In some places, fish­ing in un­fet­tered by re­quire­ments for catch records. In oth­ers, those catches are recorded in­com­pletely, and species are har­vested and sold un­der the ta­ble.

A re­cent re­port sug­gested that un­der­re­port­ing and il­le­gal fishery may be fa­cil­i­tated by shad­owy at-sea trans­ship­ment — deep-sea fish­ing ves­sels meet­ing cold-stor­age reefer ves­sels at sea and trans­fer­ring catches be­fore they can be fully recorded.

An­other thing about all that fish­ing? Much of it isn’t even prof­itable. For some na­tions, the most prof­itable catch they get by cast­ing their nets on the wa­ter is gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies they land in the pro­cess of fish­ing for ac­tual fish.

Pew’s re­search shows, among other things, that most high-seas fish­eries — like those car­ried out by Euro­pean and other na­tions on the Grand Banks off New­found­land (pri­mar­ily Spain) — would be fi­nan­cially un­sus­tain­able with­out steady gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies.

That’s not hap­pen­ing here, you might say. Maybe it isn’t to the same de­gree, though there are fish­ing sub­si­dies in the form of em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance for fish­ers and fish­eries work­ers, along with fed­eral as­sis­tance for fish­ing tech­nol­ogy and plant up­grad­ing.

But, like cli­mate change and the in­crease in the tem­per­a­ture of all the oceans, like the preva­lence of mi­croplas­tics not only in the ocean but in­side fish species we con­sume, like the ef­fects of the acid­i­fi­ca­tion of the ocean and the ef­fects of that acid­ity on cal­cium-us­ing ma­rine biota, what hap­pens in one part of the world’s oceans ends up other places as well.

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