Humans are emptying the oceans of fish [1] – there may be no edible fish left in the sea by 2050 [2]. If we were to take fewer fish out of the sea each year, then fish populations would be able to increase in size again [3]. By fishing less now, we would have more fish in the future [3,4]. How can we do this?

Governments can set quotas for the number of fish that can be caught each year [5]. This means having fewer fishing boats and fewer people employed in the industry [6], so governments need to provide training in alternative occupations [7].

Unfortunately, this rarely happens for a few reasons, including [8,9]:

1) Tragedy of the commons: if one country fishes less, another country can sail into its waters and take the fish anyway [10]. This means that fishing less only works if everyone does it, which is difficult to coordinate on a global scale [10,11,12]. However, governments can assign certain areas of the ocean to specific fishing boats and strictly enforce quotas [13].

2) Much fishing is done illegally (e.g. illegal catches in West Africa have been ~40% higher than reported catches) [14,15], so even if legal fishing follows government-imposed quotas, the quota will be exceeded by illegal fishing. This can be tackled by using satellites to identify illegal fishing boats [19].

3) ‘Sustainable’ fishing quotas are usually deemed as too high by biologists due to lack of reliable data on fish population sizes and growth rates, and influential lobbying by the fishing industry [9,16].

4) Governments provide huge fishing subsidies to increase yields in the short-term [16]. Without subsidies European fisheries would be bankrupt [16]. Subsidies also cause the collapse of fish stocks, unemployment, and financial loss in the longer term; these ‘perverse’ subsidies need to be removed [17].

So sustainable fishing requires well-informed laws that are strongly enforced [18,19]. You can help by only buying sustainable seafood (such as that labelled by the Marine Stewardship Council) [20].

References

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/475007a

[2] https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn10433-no-more-seafood-by-2050/ And see journal reference within article

[3] http://www.fao.org/3/n0276e/n0276e04.htm

[4] https://www3.epa.gov/region1/npdes/schillerstation/pdfs/AR-024.pdf See: Marine reserves and fishery closures

[5] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978008045405400522X

[6] https://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=994

[7] https://www.globalafricanetwork.com/2019/07/24/company-news/subsistence-fishers-empowered-by-the-alternative-livelihoods-project/

[8] http://www.fao.org/state-of-fisheries-aquaculture See: ‘underfished stocks for 7.0 percent of the total assessed stocks’. ‘Maximally sustainably fished’ stocks will not be increasing in number, and due to illegal fishing, these quotas are exceeded.

[9] https://bioone.org/journals/Wildlife-Biology/volume-7/issue-3/wlb.2001.017/Sustainable-exploitation-a-review-of-principles-and-methods/10.2981/wlb.2001.017.full See: See: Increasing effort is simple, reducing it is painful; Abstract and 2 and 3

[10] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/environmental-conservation/article/fishermen-and-the-tragedy-of-the-commons/F6704D2267C9814BC61954B402A535F3

[11] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226716517_An_Overview_of_Fishing_Rights

[12] https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/sustainable-fishing/

[13] https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/cfp/fishing_rules/tacs_en

[14] https://www.msc.org/what-we-are-doing/oceans-at-risk/overfishing-illegal-and-destructive-fishing See: Illegal fishing

[15] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/24038261_Estimating_the_Worldwide_Extent_of_Illegal_Fishing

[16] https://www.nature.com/articles/475007a

[17] https://www.nature.com/articles/32761 See: paragraph beginning ‘So what are the leading instances of these perverse subsidies?’

[18] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/faf.12009?casa_token=Iw2GeYqT2CYAAAAA%3As_2OV7gN7-sPl0LBfBgl6vrluKC3Fio0561_LGanlFYyWFxt08rYE_uUi3JjrQpLJDe_X7BLRFpzgO71 See: Introduction, paragraphs 2 and 3

[19] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/faf.12285

[20] https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/BCA2AE37C1735785DAC932B250832914/S0030605309990470a.pdf/conserving_wild_fish_in_a_sea_of_marketbased_efforts.pdf

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