World Fisheries Decline Brings Hope for World Oceans Day on 8 June 2005

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Describes the present state of wild fisheries stocks and the challenges of aquaculture development. Reference to World Ocean day on 8 June 2005.

Canada’s Prime Minister, Paul Martin, recently opened the latest conference on the Governance of High Seas Fisheries, in St. John's, Newfoundland. On the tenth anniversary of United Nations Fish Agreement declared to combat overfishing, by conservation and management. The meeting was an appeal to international fisheries representatives to assist in halting the decline of our fisheries and oceans.

The conference venue was a poignant reminder of a once thriving fishery. For it was here five hundred years ago, that a cod fishery was born and has now died along with once thriving fishing villages. And it is here that it is frighteningly transparent that over-fishing has a negative environmental, social and economic effect and history repeated itself by a similar collapse in the UK’s North Sea fishing industry of the 1990’s.

Effects are not just being felt in the Atlantic, as nearly two-thirds of the oceans lie outside any regulations on commercial fishing and a third of the catch is either illegally caught or not reported. The United Nations. Food and Agriculture Organisation (http://www.fao.org) estimates that half of the world's fisheries are at maximum exploitation and another quarter is over-exploited. In its biennial report ‘State of the Worlds Fisheries and Aquaculture’ it comments that the rebuilding of depleted world fish stocks has become a “challenging necessity’ to the world. To illustrate this is a worldwide problem - Australia’s wild catch started to reduce by about 11% in 2003.

Preliminary estimates are that 130 million metric tonnes of fish were captured in the world’s oceans in 2003 along with 40 million MT from aquaculture serving 2.6 billion people worldwide consuming a fifth of their animal protein needs. China contributed 27 million MT from aquaculture making it by far the largest fish farming producer in the world mostly from the culture of freshwater carp species.

So what does the future hold for the fish in our seas? Our consumption has trebled over the past thirty years and an estimated 180 million MT of fish products will be required in ten years time. Most authorities suggest that we have reached the limit of our catch from the oceans and hope that aquaculture will rise to the challenge and double its world production in the next ten years to take pressure off of our wild marine fish stocks.

But aquaculture has its own problems, a relatively new science in comparison to agriculture it recorded an increased growth in production by about 30 percent from 1998 to 2002 largely attributed to improvements in technology. However, investor confidence, lack of industry and government support is still the greatest obstacles in the planning of large scale production facilities particularly in developed countries.

Closely following the fisheries meeting in Canada and on the other side of the world the annual ‘World Aquaculture Congress’ has taken place in Bali, Indonesia – hosted by the third largest aquaculture producer in the world (Australia is not even in the top ten) producing nearly a million tonnes in 2003. One of the sessions on ‘Sustainable Seafood and Public Awareness’ could unlock the key to the lack of public understanding and support towards our declining fish stocks. The idea is that if international decision makers cannot stop the rot, then it is up to the people or consumer buying public to change government and corporation perceptions.

At the conference, an organisation called the ‘World Ocean Network’ is doing just that by launching ‘World Ocean Day’ on the 8th of June 2005 , its mission is not only one of a celebration of our ‘living seas’ but the launch of a sensible seafood campaign. The initiative is to encourage and empower consumers to make sensible choices when buying seafood, a trend witnessed in North America and Europe in the rapid growth of organic and environmentally responsible products. A cheap (or maybe illegal) fillet of fish from an ‘unknown origin’ can be decided upon against a fish produced by aquaculture in an environmentally responsible manner. The project is backed by the United Nations UNESCO organisation and further information can be accessed at http://www.worldoceannetwork.org

So, we can either make choices now or wait for another ten years of international talking between governments and the inevitable collapse of our global fisheries; hope that aquaculture is taken up by government and industry as a sustainable solution or join the World Ocean Day campaign.

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Stephen Clark
FISHACE
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