First Global Evaluation of Unsustainable Fisheries

Written by on July 10, 2009 in Policy & Ocean Law

A new study published in PLoS Biology provides the first global evaluation of how management practices influence fisheries’ sustainability.  The study evaluated the effectiveness of the world’s fisheries management regimes using evaluations from almost 1,200 fisheries experts.  They were analyzed in combination with data on the sustainability of fisheries catches.

Menhaden, fish used for fertilizer and pet food. Photo credit: NOAA

Menhaden, fish used for fertilizer and pet food. Photo credit: NOAA

“The world’s fisheries are one of the most important natural assets to humankind,” says Camilo Mora, lead author and Colombian researcher at Dalhousie University and the University of California San Diego.  “Unfortunately, our use of the world’s fisheries has been excessive and has led to the decline or collapse of many stocks.”

“The different socioeconomic and ecological consequences associated with declining fish stocks are an international concern and several initiatives have been put forward to ensure that countries improve the way they use their marine resources,” says Mora.  “Some of these initiatives include the United Nations Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  Although these initiatives have been endorsed by most governments, a global assessment on the extent to which these ideals are actually implemented and effective remains lacking.”

Mora and his colleagues selected 6 parameters upon which country-level fisheries could be evaluated.  They include the scientific quality of management recommendations, the transparency of converting recommendations into policy, the enforcement of policies, the influence of subsidies, fishing effort, and the extent of fishing by foreign entities.

In order to quantify those attributes the team developed a questionnaire, translated to five languages, designed to elicit worst- to best-case answers.  The questionnaire was distributed to over 13,000 fisheries experts around the world and nearly 1,200 evaluations were used in the study.

The results indicate that most fisheries management regimes are not reaching the standards set by international organizations.  According to the most recent report on the status of the world’s fisheries by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 28% of the world’s fisheries stocks are currently being over-exploited or have collapsed and 52% are fully exploited.  The results of this new study showed that 7% of all coastal states carry out rigorous scientific assessment for the generation of management policies, 1.4% also have a participatory and transparent process to convert scientific recommendations into policy and, and less than 1% also implement mechanisms to ensure the compliance with regulations.  Not a single country was free of the effects of excess fishing capacity, subsidies or access to foreign fishing.  The results also show that the conversion of scientific advice into policy plays the most crucial role in determining the sustainability of fisheries.

“Perhaps the most striking result of our survey was that not a single country in the world was consistently good with respect to all these management attributes.  So which countries are doing well and which are not is a question whose answer depends on the specific attribute you are looking at,” explains Mora.

The results of the study also show that wealthier countries face the negative repercussions of excessive subsidies and larger fishing capacity, even though they have predominantly better science and enforcement capabilities, which have resulted mostly from the modernization of national fleets.  The poorer countries that lack advanced science and methods of enforcement sold fishing rights to countries that did which still leads to overfishing.  The only parameter where poor and wealthy countries had the same results was their limited ability to convert scientific recommendation into policy.

“This study provided us with a look at both sides of the coin,” says Andrew Rosenberg at the University of New Hampshire, who was not involved in the study.  “On one hand, it reminds us of the difficult challenges facing fisheries management globally in protecting critical natural resources from over-exploitation and it delivers a message of hope that when policy-making is transparent, participatory, and based on science, things can improve.”

Photo credit: NOAA

Photo credit: NOAA

Copyright © 2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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