Quantcast

High Seas Fishing as Economically Unsustainable as It Is Ecologically

Popular
National Geographic Creative / Paul Nicklen

By Carly Nairn

Five countries are responsible for the majority of fishing in the high seas—international waters that are not under one country's jurisdiction. All five depend on enormous subsidies to keep high seas fishing economically sustainable, concludes a study released Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.


Overfishing in the high seas is already ecologically unsustainable, said Enric Sala, executive director of the Pristine Seas project and the lead author of the study. But most fishing companies from China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Spain would not turn a profit at all if their governments didn't financially back the operations by providing tax breaks and paying for fuel, boat repair, insurance and equipment, and by subsidizing infrastructure like facilities for processing and distribution.

The study monitored fishing vessels in the high seas for two years and calculated loads, labor costs, fuel usage, and types of catches for more than 3,600 boats. "It's a little bit like the wild west," said Chris Costello, an economist with the Sustainable Fisheries Group. "No one has really estimated the cost before." Worldwide catches are estimated around 4.4 million tons a year, and by combining revenue, subsidy information, and the new tracking data, researchers were able to piece together a larger picture of the actual costs versus benefits of high seas fishing.

"It's really mind blowing," said Sala. "The subsidies are more than twice as large as the profits." The most economically unsustainable kind of fishing, the study found, was squid fishing by Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean fleets off the coast of Japan and deep trawling near Chile and Argentina.

Collaborators on the project include the National Geographic Society; the Sustainable Fisheries Group at the University of California, Santa Barbara; Global Fishing Watch; the Sea Around Us project at the University of British Columbia; and the University of Western Australia.

And as it stands, Costello said, the industry is propping up and encouraging overfishing. While subsidy reform is important, so is regulating fish catch and monitoring vessels at the regional level. Reform is tough to achieve, however, Sala said, because of the political power of large agricultural lobbies, which don't want to see subsidies eliminated as it might set a precedent for other industries.

The subsidies are also hard to justify due to the idea that all countries are shared owners of the high seas. Currently, only 2 percent of the world's oceans are fully protected, which includes less than 1 percent in high seas areas.

In September, the United Nations will begin negotiations that could result in an agreement to protect the high seas from overfishing beginning in 2020; 141 of the 193 UN member states are in formal talks and would be signers of the treaty.

The ideal solution, Sala said, would be the creation of a giant reserve covering two-thirds of the world's oceans. That would guarantee population comebacks. A complete ban on fishing in the high seas is unlikely, Costello said. What's more likely will be an agreement to use multiple approaches to counter overfishing and hopefully keep the fishing industry from rendering itself obsolete.

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Beachgoers enjoying a pleasant evening on Georgia's St. Simons Island rushed into the water, despite warnings of sharks, to rescue dozens of short-finned pilot whales that washed ashore on Tuesday evening, according to the New York Times.

Read More Show Less

Six Extinction Rebellion protesters were arrested as they blocked off corporations in the UK. The group had increased their actions to week-long nationwide protests.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
Sari Goodfriend

By Courtney Lindwall

Across the world, tens of thousands of young people are taking to the streets to protest climate inaction. And at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem last month, more than a dozen of them took to the stage.

Read More Show Less
Pumpjacks on Lost Hills Oil Field in California. Arne Hückelheim, Wikimedia Commons

By Julia Conley

A national conservation group revealed Wednesday that President Donald Trump's drilling leases on public lands could lead to the release of more carbon emissions than the European Union contributes in an entire year.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pixabay

By Marlene Cimons

For nearly a century, scientists thought that malaria could only spread in places where it is really hot. That's because malaria is spread by a tiny parasite that infects mosquitoes, which then infect humans — and this parasite loves warm weather. In warmer climates, the parasite grows quickly inside the mosquito's body. But in cooler climates, the parasite develops so slowly that the mosquito will die before the it is fully grown.

Read More Show Less
The summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which is considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians. Charmian Vistaunet / Design Pics / Getty Images

A decade-long fight over the proposed construction of a giant telescope on a mountain considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians came to a head Wednesday when 33 elders were arrested for blocking the road to the summit, HuffPost Reported.

Read More Show Less
A boy walks past a plastic-choked canal in in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Jan. 17, 2019. TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP / Getty Images

Cambodia is the latest Asian country to reject the wealthy world's plastic waste.

Read More Show Less