Global catch is declining. Since the 1950s, fishing fleets have increased their reach and capacity and now operate even in the most remote corners of the ocean. This expansion – combined with fragmented governance, weak enforcement and harmful subsidies that encourage overfishing – has resulted in a massive reduction in global catch. In many coastal areas, small-scale artisanal fishers must compete against large-scale industrial boats in a race to capture remaining fish for their own food security rather than export for commercial profit.
- Ensure proper regulations for and enforcement of high seas fisheries
- Establish functional political and economic models for sustainable fishing, especially within seascapes
- Create mechanisms to acheive sustainability in marine ornamentals (e.g., aquarium fish) trade
Why It's Needed
Fragmented governance and weak enforcement are common even along the ocean’s most regulated and accessible coastlines. Beyond that, the high seas – the 70 percent of the ocean beyond national jurisdiction, where 11 million tons of fish are harvested each year – remain a "Wild West."
The void in high-seas governance permits unsustainable exploitation of fisheries using bottom-trawling and other destructive industrial fishing techniques. More than one billion people depend on seafood as their primary source of protein, and food security for millions of coastal residents depends entirely on their local fisheries. As these fisheries continue to decline due to destructive industrial fishing, these people will be forced to search for food and livelihoods elsewhere. We can already see this happening in West Africa, where illegal immigration to Europe is at an all-time high as a result of collapsing coastal fisheries.
In addition to problems caused by food fisheries, fishers engaged in the marine ornamentals (e.g. aquarium fish) trade use destructive methods such as cyanide to remove many of the colorful fish on coral reefs, disrupting ecosystem function and leaving the reefs desolate, less able to provide food to nearby communities, and less resilient to the impacts of other threats, such as climate change.
Fisheries Reform and Human Well-Being
Overfishing of some popular food species (such as cod) has resulted in declines so dramatic that they are no longer readily available to consumers. In some cases, fisheries have disappeared entirely. Fisheries reform is a necessity to ensure the availability of seafood as a source of protein now and in the future and to allow people living in coastal areas to retain their livelihoods and cultures.
What It Will Do
Improved high seas policies will regulate fisheries on the global commons and prevent further declines in fish stocks. Improved diet and food security will benefit coastal residents. Successful models for sustainable fisheries management and marine protected areas (MPAs) in coastal areas will inspire replication around the world. Sustainable trade in marine ornamentals will reduce threats to coral reefs, help businesses to commit to environmental sustainability and raise awareness about the negative impacts that removing adult fish has on the health of the wider ecosystem.
International agreements and policy precedents are needed to improve regulation and enforcement in the high seas. CI will attend and participate in United Nations negotiations on fisheries and ocean policy and we will work with country representatives in the seascapes to promote novel policy solutions for high seas fisheries. CI will work with partners in the Seascapes program and countries where CI has field offices to encourage national governments to support high seas fisheries reform at the United Nations and in international fisheries negotiations.
In coastal regions of seascapes, CI will work with governments and the fishing sector to ensure fishing is sustainable at the national scale within Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). This will include securing rights for individual fishers, cooperatives or associations to a proportion of the annual fisheries catch or to the catch in a specific area. Such de facto ownership creates incentives for improved governance and for limiting fishing so that fish stocks can increase and sustainable catches can become bigger over time. CI will also promote co-managed MPAs as a model that allows non-destructive artisanal fishing gear, but bans destructive gear such as bottom trawls. CI will also review current practices to explore if sustainable aquaculture (i.e., farm-raised seafood) can reduce the reliance on wild-caught seafood.
To transform the $400 million global marine ornamentals trade into a sustainable enterprise, CI will work both with traders to develop industry standards and with communities in seascapes to raise aquarium fish via "larval grow-out," a practice in which fish larvae, rather than the less abundant adult fish, are captured and cultured. This process has the potential to create sustainable local livelihoods.