State of the world fisheries

image from the FOA - http://www.fao.orgIchiro Nomura, Assistant Director-General, FAO Fisheries Department, notes in the forward of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2004

Developments during the past two years confirm the trends already observed at the end of the 1990s: capture fisheries production is stagnating, aquaculture output is expanding and there are growing concerns with regard to the livelihoods of fishers and the sustainability of commercial catches and the aquatic ecosystems from which they are extracted. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2004 reports on several of these issues.

It is not only fishers and fish farmers who have these concerns; they are increasingly shared by civil society at large. Moreover, the importance of international trade in fish and fish products, combined with the trend for major fishing and trading companies to operate on a multinational basis, means that such issues are becoming global in nature – affecting a growing number of countries, be they large fish producers or large consumers of fish. It is heartening to note that governments and other stakeholders have begun to collaborate with their neighbours and partners in trade in an effort to find shared solutions.

Concrete examples of positive outcomes of this “globalization of concerns” are the establishment of new regional fishery management organizations and the strengthening of existing ones. It is probable that ongoing discussions among intergovernmental organizations on topics such as trade in endangered aquatic species, the use of subsidies in the fishing industry, and labour standards in fisheries will also result in agreements of overall benefit to world society.

Given the nature and tone of the international discussion on fishery issues and the developments observed during recent years, I believe that fishers and fish farmers, in collaboration with governments and other stakeholders, will overcome the obstacles they face currently and will succeed in ensuring sustainable fisheries and continued supplies of food fish at least at their present levels.

Science magazine (3 November 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5800, pp. 787 – 790 DOI: 10.1126/science.1132294) reported a less bright future: (from the reprint summary)

A Need for a Sea Change
The significance of the ocean’s declining diversity on humanity has been difficult to assess. In a series of meta-analyses, Worm et al. (p. 787; see the news story by Stokstad [a summary, the balance by subscription]) quantify how the loss of marine diversity on local, regional, and global scales has affected the functioning and stability of marine ecosystems, the flow of ecosystem services, and the rise of associated risks to humanity. Similar relationships occur between biodiversity change and ecosystem services at scales ranging from small squaremeter plots to entire ocean basins; this finding implies that small-scale experiments can be used to predict large-scale ocean change. At current rates of diversity loss, this analysis indicates that there will be no more viable fish or invertebrate species available to fisheries by 2050. However, the results also show that the trends in loss of species are still reversible.

The abstract is available, the article is by subscription. New Scientist magazine carry more freely available coverage of the results of Worm’s (et al) research.

Many fisheries scientists have been sceptical of the idea that damage to a few non-fish species could be a threat to major fish stocks. But this study demonstrates, for the first time, that commercial and ecological health go together in the ocean. “Every species matters.”

In a separate article, New Scientist report that striking the balance between the need to conserve wild stocks and economic imperatives continue to challenge policy makers and the fishing industry; leading to some unhappy compromises.

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