Fisheries Policy Issues
Why Are Fish Gone?
Here are some factors that
have led to the decline of fisheries in many areas of the world, as outlined
Oceans, Empty Nets, written by Habitat
Media and in the American
Association for the Advancement of Science's
publication on Marine
Fisheries, Population Consumption: Science Policy.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has similar information on Fisheries
The problems include soaring demand, improved technology,
government subsidies, poor regulations, reduced fish stocks, bycatch,
and destruction of bottom organisms and habitat by bottom trawling. Essentially,
fish have nowhere to hide.
Fish provide a vital source of food for hundreds
of millions of people worldwide. Overall, the marine catch accounts
for 16% of global animal protein consumption. In general people in
developing countries rely on fish as a part of their daily diets much
more heavily than those residing in developed countries. For example,
fish accounts for roughly 29% of the total animal protein in the diet
of Asian populations, but only 7% for North Americans.
use of fish as a source of food rose from 40 million tons in 1970 to
72 million tons in 1993. Population is by far the most important factor
in this burgeoning demand, accounting for roughly two thirds of change
in total demand. At current rates of world population growth, the total
world supply of food fish (marine, freshwater, and aquaculture) would
have to grow from roughly 72 million tons in 1993 to 91 million tons
by 2010 to maintain today's per capita fish supplies, according to
From: American Association for the Advancement of Science: Marine
Fisheries, Population and Consumption: Science and Policy Issues.
To meet the demand for more fish,
the fishing industry has turned to larger, more efficient ships,
the most important being the factory
trawlers and ships.
Kapitan Nazin, [is] one of the largest factory trawlers in the
world. The Russian ship is one of three identical craft - each
347 feet (105 m) long and 10,000-tons displacement - built in
Spain in 1993. They are classified by Det Norske Veritas (DNV)
to withstand ice to Class 1B and operate year-round off the Siberian
coast in the Sea of Okhotsk. The Kapitan Nazin and its 165 crew
can process 125 tons of frozen product per day and store up to
3,200 tons in its refrigerated hold before off-loading at sea
to a freighter.
of such trawlers are fishing at sea, but not as many as conventional
General, Portland Shipyard press
release from 1999.
But what the factory trawlers lack in numbers they more than made
up for in catching power. So awesome was this power in the early
years of their prime (and so good was the fishing) [about 1965-70]
that it is perhaps best describes by hypothetical analogy to dry
land. First, assume a vast continental forest, free for the cutting
or only ineffectively guarded. Then try to imagine a mobile and
completely self contained timber-cutting machine that could smash
through the roughest trails of the forest, cut down the trees,
mill them, and deliver consumer-ready lumber in half the time of
normal logging and milling operations. This was exactly what factory
trawlers did – this was exactly their
effect on fish – in the forests of the deep.
From William W. Warner,
1983, Distant Water, The Fate of the North
Atlantic Fisherman, page viii.
The largest factory trawler is the $65 million American Monarch,
340 feet long and displacing 6,730 tons. It can net and process
about one million pounds (500 tons) of fish per day.
F/V ALASKA OCEAN. The GPA designed conversion
of the 376’ Alaska
Ocean, the largest US flagged factory trawler in the fleet, was completed
by Ulstein Hatloe AS, Norway, for Alaska Ocean Seafood LP.
Perla & Associates.
The most important
improvement was the invention of frozen foods by the inventor and fisherman
Clarence Birdseye. The invention enabled the distant water fisheries
by factory trawlers. Trawlers freeze fish at sea, and they can travel
for many months away from their home port. Trawlers from any country
can fish anywhere in the world. Before the invention of frozen food,
fish could be preserved only three ways:
drying or smoking. Fish were taken ashore, filleted, and
dried or smoked on racks. This takes months of work, and limits
the amount of fish that can be preserved.
- Salting. "Salt
preserves fish by removing water from the flesh and tying up
the remaining water so that spoilage organisms cannot use it
for growth. If enough salt is used, the fish may keep for as
long as a year in a cool, dry place. Salting is one way to store
fish until you are ready to smoke or pickle them." From Michigan
State University Extension.
on ice. Fish are caught and placed on ice in the hold.
Because cod kept at 0°C, the melting point of ice, will be
virtually uneatable after fifteen days, this greatly limited the
distance fishing boats could travel, catch fish, return, and get
the fish to market. Trawlers could fish in waters only a week away
from their home port, a distance of about 1500 nautical
Left: Clarence Birdseye in his office. From Birds
Eye Foods. Right: Frozen fish fillets. From BlueWater
life–“bycatch”– is separated
and thrown back into the ocean dead.
turtles and birds, marine mammals such as seals, dolphins and whales, and many
- According to a United Nations
report, commercial fisheries discard
an average of 54 billion pounds of fish bycatch each year [about
27 million metric tons].
- As many as 40,000 sea turtles and more
than 200,000 albatross are caught each
year on longlines.
- In 2000,
over 200 billion pounds of marine life
were brought to market for food. Estimated bycatch equaled 21%
of the total catch.
shrimp trawlers catch approximately
22 billion pounds of bycatch each year – almost half of all
- Long line fishing fleets, towing miles
of cable strung with thousands of baited
hooks intended for tuna, swordfish, and Patagonian toothfish
(Chilean Sea Bass), kill tens of thousands of albatross
each year, which get caught on hooks as they dive for bait.
- In 1992
the Alaska fishing fleet threw back 442 million pounds of
almost twice the amount of
by the entire domestic fishing effort
in New England that year.
- For every pound of
in the Gulf
of Mexico, between four
and eight pounds of marine bycatch
- For finfish, the ratio of
bycatch to target
fish can be as high as 11:1 because the
bycatch is either too young, out of season,
or the vessel has no permit to keep it.
In 1998, U.S. pelagic Atlantic longlines fishing
discarded 22,536 sword fish, 1,274 blue
marlin, 1,485 white marlin, and 1,304
bluefin tuna as bycatch."
Our Ocean Legacy.
Pollution and Habitat Loss
- Coastal Pollution.
Coastal waters provide critical spawning,
nursery or other habitat for many commercially important marine
fish populations. These waters are under a multitude of assaults
that stem principally from human activities on land. For example,
roughly 80% of marine pollution is estimated to come from land
based sources. Development along the coast has destroyed an estimated
50% of all coastal wetlands worldwide."
From: American Association for the Advancement of Science: Marine
Fisheries, Population and Consumption: Science and Policy Issues.
- Trawling and Dredging for Fish.
The National Academy report on Effects of Trawling
and Dredging on Sea-floor Habitat notes:
- A single passage of a scallop dredge can destroy or damage
living maerl, plants, and animals to a depth of 10 cm,
and the track remains visible for 2.5 years.
- Trawled sea floor areas have a 75 % reduction in total
- In the Gulf of Mexico, bottom trawling for shrimp scours
255% of the sea floor each year. This means that every
square meter of sea floor out to depths of 90 meters is
trawled 2.5 times a year on average.
studies report that repeated trawling and dredging causes a shift
from communities dominated by species with relatively large adult
body size toward dominance by high abundances of small-bodied
organisms. Intensively fished areas are likely to remain permanently
altered, inhabited by fauna that readapted to frequent physical
disturbance. Specie richness (the number of species per unit
area) and evenness (the relative abundance of resident species) – two
measures of species diversity
– can decline in response to bottom fishing..." The
percentage of area trawled off New England exceeded 307%, that
is, each square meter of the sea floor was trawled or dredged more
than three times each year (Figure B2 of the report).
A new study by the National Academy of
of Trawling and Dredging on Seafloor Habitat] released today says
that bottom trawling, a method of fishing that drags big, heavy
nets across the sea floor, is killing vast numbers of marine animals.
Coming after years of declining U.S. fisheries, the report finds
that bottom trawling damages the habitat where juvenile fishes
hide from their predators, and can significantly alter the marine
of Trawling and Dredging on Seafloor Habitat. Committee
on Ecosystem Effects of Fishing. National Academy Press, 2002.
Shrimp trawlers (see inset) off
the coast of China. The long plumes of sediment churned up by their
nets — 'mud trails' — are
a highly visible sign of the disturbance to sea-bottom ecosystems
that they leave in their wake.
From Anonymous (2007). "Snapshot: Ghosts of destruction." Nature
- Subsidies for fishing industry.
Government subsidies have lead
to overcapacity in all important fishing areas. At its core, the
crisis in over fishing stems from the fact that the world now has
a substantial overabundance of fishing capacity. Industrialized
fleets aided by sonar, sophisticated satellite technology and highly
efficient gear are now capable of fishing out vast areas of the
ocean in very short order. The predictable results of overcapitalized
fleets have been over fishing and depletion of stocks as well as
substantial economic losses. FAO estimates that to rehabilitate
fisheries to 1970 abundance levels and catch rates would require
the removal of 23% of the existing gross weight tonnage of the
Governments worldwide, anxious to preserve employment in
fishing and shipbuilding and ameliorate the economic disruption
caused by over fishing, have subsidized economic losses in the
fisheries sector to the tune of $54 billion a year, according to
FAO. Such subsidies serve to perpetuate over fishing and economic
distress in the fishing sector.
American Association for the Advancement of Science: Marine
Fisheries, Population and Consumption: Science and Policy Issues
- Failure of Fisheries Scientists to Provide
Accurate Advice. Ransom
Aldrich Myers (1952–2007) was one of the first to notice
that over fishing of cod offshore of Newfoundland, Canada, not
the voracious seals, cold temperatures
and other excuses invented by an agency that, by caving in to industry
pressure, had failed to protect this vital resource and the province
that depended on it. He was a leader among the handful of Department
of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scientists who published evidence
that excessive fishing was the sole cause of the stock's collapse.
Unsurprisingly, given the press and public
reaction to these papers, Myers was reprimanded by his superiors.
He took refuge in academia, taking in 1997 the Killam Chair in
Ocean Studies at Dalhousie [university]. From there, aided by colleagues
and several brilliant graduate students, he published a series of
papers showing that politically motivated, slothful optimism had
masked the systematic destruction of marine resources, and marine
biodiversity in general — not
just in Canada and its marine jurisdictions, but the world over.
papers, again based on judicious analysis of existing time-series
data, documented the worldwide depletion, through industrial fishing,
of skate, sharks, large bottom fishes and, finally, large pelagic
fishes such as marlin and tuna. Each new paper baited the staff
of yet another agency into angry rebuttals. Myers had the thick
skin required for such acrimonious debates. Once, when asked about
the controversy that one of his papers had generated, his response
was simply: "They are wrong, and I am right!"
In the process,
Myers helped to found fisheries conservation biology. This discipline
is devoted to identifying exploited fish populations and species
threatened with extinction, and suggesting measures for rebuilding
them, along with the ecosystems in which they are embedded. Correspondingly,
its primary clients are not the owners of trawlers, longliners, purse
seiners and other industrial vessels, but national and international
agencies mandated with maintaining marine biodiversity and ecosystems,
and the many benefits they provide for society as a whole.
From Pauly (2007). Obituary: Ransom Aldrich Myers (1952-2007). Nature 447
Ransom Aldrich Myers, fisheries scientist who dared to be right.
- Failure to regulate fishing.
In principle, fish are protected
Freedom of the high seas" is
a principle considered by a few to mean that the high seas are res
nullius or "without
law" and beyond the jurisdiction of any nation State except
that of the flag state. Res nullius is an antiquated concept. In
fact, customary and conventional international law indicate that
the high seas and its resources are subject to res communis or the "law
of the commons". Numerous treaties, including the United Nations
Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), restrict the use of the global
ocean commons to that which is "reasonable" and does not
infringe on the rights of others. "Freedom of fishing" for
example, is subject to a whole host of conditions, indicative that
the world community considers high seas fishing resources to be common
Law Governing Driftnet Fishing On the High Seas, Earthtrust.
In practice, the history of fishing regulations is mostly a history
of failure. Governments cannot agree on sustainable levels of
fishing, leading to over fishing in almost all areas. Fish in many
areas beyond the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones of coastal countries
often have little protection despite the UN
Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources
of the High Seas (1958).
Fishing ships move to countries that do not enforce the international
treaties. Or countries ignore international law. For example
the 1989 UN driftnet resolution (44/225) prohibiting further expansion
of driftnet fishing it was reported that Taiwan expanded its operations
in the Atlantic Ocean and that France increased its fleet from
37 driftnet vessels in 1989 to 78 vessels in 1991 in the Northeast
Alaska does a better job of regulating fisheries than does Texas.
Every body of water in Alaska has its own regulations.
guess is that when you live in a climate as severe as coastal Alaska,
you develop an extra-sensory consciousness of the environment.
You cannot help but notice the entire balance of nature sagging under
the weight of man. It's almost as if the general population embraces
rather than challenges the regulations Fish and Game have designed
for conservation of resources.
Johnson, Texas Salt Water Fishing, October 2006, page 5.
- Set up marine protected areas.
- New Zealand closed to
bottom trawl fishing methods, including dredging seven
Benthic Protection Areas within their Exclusive
Economic Zone. The area comprises more than 1.2 million
square kilometers of seabed. The area is 32% of the seabed in their
exclusive economic zone, 52% of their seamounts, and 88% of their
hydrothermal vents. Fishing within 50 meters is deemed to be touching
the seabed and is a serious criminal offence, and will attract
a fine of $100,000 and the vessel will be seized.
- The United States created the largest fully protected ocean conservation
area in the world, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument
in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Northwest Hawaiian Islands Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
From NOAA Papahanaumokuakea
Marine National Monument.
- California has set aside 203 square miles of Marine Protected
Areas along the California coast. Of these, 85 square miles are
Marine Protected Reserves that are are no take zones in which some
commercial and recreational fishing is prohibited. Unfortunately,
most allow recreational
taking of many species of fish, and shell fish, including red
abalone, chiones, clams, cockles, rock scallops, native oysters,
crabs, lobster, ghost shrimp, sea urchins, mussels, and marine
worm and finfish. The Marine Protected Reserves are relatively
small, extending about five nautical miles along the coast and
out three nautical miles. The limits are lines of latitude and
longitude, allowing easy determination by fishers and enforcements
agencies. The California Department of Fish and Game has a brochure listing
- Hawaii has set aside a few small Marine
Life Conservation Districts where most or all marine life is protected.
- Reduce coastal development and protect lagoons and estuaries, the
nurseries of many marine species. The pages on Coastal
Pollution Policy Issues outlines ways these areas are being protected.
- Reduce the number of fishing licenses. The State of Texas has been
buying back thousands of shrimp fishing licenses to reduce the number
of boats trawling for shrimp. "Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
has retired 1,187 of 3,231 licenses on the books at a cost of $7.2
million. The overall number of inshore shrimp vessels in Texas waters
has decreased from around 2,100 down to around 1,200 since the buyback
program began." TDPW.
By 2007 less than 700 shrimping vessels are still eligible for shrimping
activity, and only 138 were active on the first day of the shrimping
season, down from 886 shrimping vessels active on the day of the shrimping
season in 1995– Coastal
Conservation Association and Houston
- Require Turtle Excluding Devices and Bycatch Reduction Devices on
trawls. This reduces the by catch of turtles and other larger marine
animals from shrimp trawls. The Bycatch Reduction Devices mus reduce
bycatch of fin fish by 30%.
- Think locally, don't eat endangered fish. Which fish should we
eat, which should we avoid because they are over fished or because
fishing harms the environment? See the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood
Watch, their list
of fish to eat or not eat, and their pocket
- The Marine Stewardship Council certifies
fisheries that meet their standards for stainable harvests. Their label
can be found on seafood in markets,
especially in Europe. Click on their map to
find certified fisheries.
4 May, 2009