Off the coast of West Africa, thousands of boats are competing for a dwindling resource – fish.
In the virtual free-for-all, local people in traditional canoes catch less and earn less each year. Large sophisticated vessels, many with foreign flags, take advantage of the inability of developing countries to adequately regulate or police their coasts. Under open access, even industrial fleets are plagued by the same problems of decreasing earnings and catch rates.
Similar scenarios have played out from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from coastal waters to the high seas.
About 85 percent of fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited, depleted or recovering, according to the State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010. At the same time, growing populations are demanding more fish, and boats using high tech, high yield fishing methods are more than twice as efficient at catching fish as fish are at reproducing.
The result is overfishing – a phenomenon that has already spelled the end of several important fisheries, including some managed by industrialized countries.
Experts say it’s all happening in a vacuum of rules and rights that would create incentives to sustain fish stocks for future use. Today, covert and illegal fishing further undermines efforts to maintain a sustainable global supply of wild fish.
Now, developing small island states, coastal countries, and a growing number of public, private and civil society partners, want the world to take notice of what’s happening – and to help save wild fishing grounds for future generations.
The Global Partnership for Oceans is joining a world-wide effort to find ways to keep our oceans alive – and productive.
Need for Better Governance
Fisheries specialists believe that a push for better governance of the world’s oceans and seas can not only make them healthier, but regain a substantial amount of an estimated $50 billion lost each year from unsustainable practices, according to Sunken Billions, a report by the World Bank and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.
But fisheries need the full attention of economic and political decision-makers and a long-term commitment for reform, they say.
The World Bank’s PROFISH program recommends ending open access to fisheries and the single-minded competition for fish in favor of strengthening fishing rights for fishers.
Well defined and secure fishing rights provide strong incentives to fishers, communities, and fishery associations to stop waste and overfishing, many believe.
Management systems that provide these kinds of rights, backed by force of law, are successfully used in Australia, Canada, Estonia, Greenland, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States.
Among developing countries, Chile uses catch-share systems for some species and Peru recently adopted them for the world’s largest fishery, the Peruvian anchoveta fishery.