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Declining Fish Stocks

Three-quarters of the world's fish stocks are in distress and many fisheries could collapse by midcentury. How can we regulate industrial fishing for sustainable output?

By Evan O'Neil, William Vocke | September 10, 2010

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Three-quarters of the world's fish stocks are in distress and many fisheries could collapse by midcentury, reports the UN.

In our manufactured world, wild species perhaps deserve special protection, first and foremost as a potentially sustainable resource.

We're a hungry world, nearing 7 billion today and peaking around 9 billion in a few decades. Access to quality protein is an ethical and developmental issue. Fish account for 20 to 30 percent of the total animal protein consumed in many poorer Sub-Saharan and Southeast Asian countries.

Additionally, all nations are not equal maritime powers. Some can't enforce commercial laws in their territorial waters. While industrial fishing is economically cost effective, industrial boats scour coastal waters leaving little behind for the local people who depend on the seas.

But, fish stocks are the real losers. Undesirables, noncommercial species, and juveniles are unintentionally caught and dumped back dead. This bycatch is especially bad in the shrimp industry, where it routinely accounts for 80 percent of the haul.

Can we reconfigure the fishing industry for greater food security and ecological sustainability? Will doing so meet the growing demand for protein?

Conservation zones present a reliable solution, as does banning the trade in threatened species. Aquaculture is on the rise and also has promise. Yet, it introduces problems of breeding, disease, and pollution, and requires fishmeal to fatten the farmed fish.

Should we ban industrial fishing or regulate it for sustainable output? Can farmed fish make up the difference? Furthermore, who will police the oceans? What do you think?

Written by Evan O'Neil, recorded by William Vocke

This Global Ethics Corner is part of the Council's second annual SEPTEMBER SUSTAINABILITY MONTH, which kicks off a year of events and resources on sustainability. Generous funding of the Carnegie Council's 2010-2011 sustainability programming has been provided by Hewlett-Packard and by Booz & Company.

Photo credits in order of appearance: See Wah Cheng, John Bostock, Lamoix, Javier D., Elemento Humano, B K, Jason Tabarias, Michele Molinari, Doug DuCap, Tory, Sonya, Alpha, Quinn Dombrowski, eutrophication&hypoxia, Norsk Havbrukssenter

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