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A major new study has revealed that the global seafood catch is much larger and declining much faster than previously known.
The study, by the University of British Columbia near Vancouver, reconstructed the global catch between 1950 and 2010 and found that it was 30 per cent higher than what countries have been reporting to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome since 1950.
In the Caribbean islands, the catch was more than twice as large as previously reported and declining at a rate 60 per cent faster than the official rate, the Canadian study found.
“This trend needs to be reversed urgently, or else a lot of people who depend on the sea for affordable protein are going to suffer,” said Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist who led the study. “And climate change is just going to make things worse.”
Called the “Sea Around Us” and funded by the Pew Environment Group, the study involved more than 400 collaborators over more than a decade.
Since 1950, countries have been required to file to the FAO their entire catch of fish and seafood. Discards – fish caught unintentionally and of little commercial value – were exempted because the program was originally designed to monitor economic development, not overfishing.
But it was long suspected that some countries only bothered reporting the industrial catch by the larger vessels because these pay easy-to-track fees and because they unload their catch in a small number of places and are thus easiest to monitor.
The subsistence catch of people who fish for their families, the artisanal catch by those with small boats, the recreational catch by amateur fishermen all were thought to be greater than reported but to an unknown extent. For its part, the FAO gave no precise indications of how skewered its numbers might be. Dirk Zeller, the study’s co-author, said that virtually all countries routinely blend hard numbers with estimates and could “estimate the uncertainties around their reported data if they chose, but no one does.”
Getting an accurate handle on how much fish is being taken out is vital in a world where hundreds of millions depend on the sea for affordable protein, he said. “Fish stocks are like a stock portfolio,” explained Zeller. “Before you decide how much to sell, you want to know exactly how much you have and how much it’s growing or shrinking.”
Starting in 2002 Pauly and Zeller decided to reconstruct the global catch from 1950 to 2010 and fix the shortcomings of the FAO data set, the bedrock on which global fisheries policies stand. A task “only madmen would consider,” quipped Rainer Froese, a German fisheries scientist. “And now they have pulled it off.”
The result, published here in the British online journal Nature Communications, shows that the real catch was a third larger than the one reported by the FAO. The UN agency says the global catch peaked in 1996 at 86 million tons and stood at 77 million tons in 2010, while the Canadian reconstruction found that it peaked, also in 1996, but at 130 million tons, and stood 110 million tons in 2010.
More alarmingly, the study found that the decline was triple the amount reported by the FAO, which recently called the catch “basically stable.”
Marc Taconet, head of the agency’s fisheries statistics, reaffirmed the validity of its data and “expressed reservations” with the notion that the new findings challenged “FAO’s reports of stable capture production trends in recent years.” He declined to elaborate.
In the Caribbean, Pauly said, the researchers found that fisheries officials were largely focused on reporting catches of species for which foreign fleets paid license fees, like tuna, billfish and sharks.
“They usually forgot about the local fisheries,” he said.
Even the Bahamas, where the local recreational catch is offloaded at the main ports that are easily accessible to tourists, yielded surprising results. There, researcher Nicola Smith found that the authorities had no idea of the size of the catch of deep-sea fish like marlins, tunas and mahi-mahi that Ernest Hemingway made famous. She found that that catch was even bigger than the commercial catch, and that none of it was reported to the FAO.
“When I told the director of marine resources,” she recounted in an interview, “he was quite surprised.”
“It’s astounding,” added Smith, a Bahamian, “that a country that depends on tourism for more than half of its GDP has no clue as to the extent of the catch that plays a central role in attracting tourists.”
Overall, the study found that Caribbean islands catch soared from 230,000 tons in 1950 to 830,000 in 2004 before crashing to 470,000 in 2010.
“And that doesn’t tell the whole story,” Pauly said. “What happened is that as reef fish like snappers and groupers were depleted, islanders ventured farther offshore in search of tuna, whose catch went from 7,000 tons in 1950 to 25,000 tons in 2004,” he said.
But the tuna stocks, long beyond the reach of the islanders, had been hard-hit by the highly-subsidized European, Asian and American fleets and their own numbers have been steadily dropping. Even as more and more islanders participated in the effort to substitute their vanished reef fish with tuna, that catch declined to 20,000 tons in the six years from 2004 to 2010, the study showed.
Conversely, the catch of groupers and snappers declined by a third from 2004 to 2010.
Climate change is expected to harm the Caribbean in several ways, Pauly says. Spikes of warm water temperatures that kill corals are becoming more frequent, leaving the corals less time to recover. The population of herbivores like parrotfish, on which the corals rely on to keep algae under control, has been decimated.
Finally, adds William Cheung, a marine ecologist at UBC who works with Pauly, the Caribbean’s warming waters are driving fish away from the equator. “We estimate the shift in the center of gravity of some species’ range will be 50 kilometers per decade,” he said. In part because animals reproduce less in a new environment, the warming waters will further diminish the overall fish populations in the Caribbean, with major decreases in the south and slight increases in the north, he explained.
To counteract these trends, Pauly said, Caribbean nations need to urgently collect batter data on how much fish they have and how much are being taken out, and then impose realistic catch limits. They should also create no-fishing marine reserves, as Bonaire and Barbuda have done, to allow thinned-out fish populations to grow back, which will then allow for larger, yet sustainable catches within a decade or so.
Credit: Inter Press Service News Agency
John Francis was just 17 when he began fishing more than four decades ago. But these days, the 60-year-old fisherman from Praslin, on the east coast of the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, finds it hard to make a living.
“There used to be money in fishing. In the 70s, 80s and 90s I used to catch 500-600 pounds (230-270 kg) of fish a day,” he said. Now, “things have changed. These days I am lucky if I catch 500 pounds of fish in two weeks.”
Just as worrying, “the sea is different. I cannot explain it, but it looks like there are less and less fish, warmer temperatures and really bad storms,” he said.
He and other fishermen hit by over-fishing and climate change may soon win some relief, however, as a result of a common fisheries policy negotiated by ministers from 15 Caribbean countries to better conserve and manage the remaining fish.
The hard-won policy, announced last month, follows 10 years of negotiations by the Belize-based Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM).
Milton Houghton, the CRFM’s executive director, says the policy should aid sustainable management of the region’s over-exploited fisheries, improve food security and reduce poverty.
The policy “heralds a new era in cooperation in the conservation, management and use of marine resources,” he said.
The policy will establish a common fishing zone while allowing member states to retain management of their territorial seas. It also improves arrangements for the management of fish stocks in the Caribbean, which are presently not subject to any management regime.
For the fishermen of Saint Lucia, this could mean they will have access to greater fish reserves and a wider fishing area, albeit one with strict conservation and management measures.
Climate Change Impacts
Albert George, a 56-year-old fisherman, says he is happy that governments in the Caribbean are finally paying attention to the fishing, which he considers a crucial business, behind only agriculture in importance.
George hopes the new policy will protect fish stocks and help fishermen across the island cope with the effects of climate change, which he says have made it hard for him to make ends meet.
“The changes are everywhere,” George said. “I see the difference in the sea level and wind currents. Every year we fear the hurricane season because the storms are getting worse.
“We live on the coast and feed our families from the sea, and these days we can barely afford to send our children to school. We do not catch the amount of fish that we used to five years ago,” he said.
According to George, each fishing trip requires 1,000 East Caribbean dollars ($370) worth of fuel, but he often returns with a catch worth less than 10 percent of the fuel cost.
Changing Fish Ranges
Marine biologist Susan Singh-Renton, who served as the scientific advisor to the 15-nation CARICOM for over two decades and is now deputy executive director of the CRFM, said Caribbean fisheries face a range of pressures, including changes in the range of some fish.
“There are many challenges. Large fish such as dolphin, kingfish and tuna are being affected,” she said. “With the warming of sea water, the natural range of the fish becomes extended and they are able to move away; they are moving northward.”
For the past two years, the fishers’ problems have been exacerbated by the proliferation of an invasive species, lion fish, in Caribbean waters. Saint Lucia, Barbados and the Bahamas have eradication programmes in place.
“Sometimes we realise that our fish pots are filled, only to raise them and discover that out of 100 pounds of fish, the lion fish makes up 70-80 pounds. People are afraid of that fish and it is taking over our waters. Soon, we will not have any other fish left,” said Jeannette Francis, a fisherman unrelated to John Francis.
Despite regional efforts to encourage Caribbean people to view lion fish as a food, fishermen say it is a hard sell to those who have preferred tuna, dolphin and shellfish for decades.
According to data provided by the CRFM, the fisheries sector provides direct employment for 338,000 people in the region, generating $251 million in revenue annually.
Those involved in fishing in Saint Lucia are cautiously optimistic that the new policy will produce results – but some say they need to wait and see.
“We have had it with the talk. We just want action. We want to see people who can make things better actually do that for us,” said Margaret Jn Baptiste, 56, who has been fishing since she was 16.
“I believe it is always good when countries in the Caribbean come together to deal with a situation, but there is too much talk. We want to see the difference. They do not understand that our lives depend on this.”
Credit: Reuters News
Representatives from six Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) attended an annual gathering last week (June 11-14) on the Grenadine Island of Mustiques to contemplate actions to strengthen reef management in the Grenadines.
This is the fourth consecutive year the meeting, organized by Sustainable Grenadines Inc., was held. Members of the network include Tobago Cayes Marine Park, St. Vincent’s South Coast Marine Conservation Area, Mustique Marine Conservation Area, Sandy Island/Oyster Bed Marine Protected Area, Moliniere-Beausejour Marine Protected Area and Woburn/Clarke’s Court Marine Protected Area. Representatives from government departments in both countries, the University of the West Indies and St George’s University and The Nature Conservancy were among the other participants.
Mr. Martin Barriteau, Executive Director of Sustainable Grenadines Inc., explained, “By acting as a network, the members seek to achieve their objectives of conservation and the sustainable use of marine resources more effectively as a group than any one individual marine park could otherwise achieve on their own.”
The six MPAs have shared information and collaborated to promote the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources that are so important to local communities and to local livelihoods since 2011. Presently the health of coastal and marine resources in the Grenadines will be jointly monitored by the network.
“This means that each marine protected area agreed to setup and collect data on permanent sites which they will monitor in the long term. With this information, the network will be able to produce annual reports on the status of marine and coastal resources across the Grenadines, which will help to highlight the most important needs and concerns, and show progress made,” commented Mr. Barriteau.
“It’s an achievement and a milestone in our collaboration together.”
The meeting was hosted by the Mustique Company Ltd. and sponsored by the US National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The participants discussed sustainable fisheries practices with local fishers in addition to their meeting sessions. They also gave short talks for local school children about the marine environment.For more informaiton please contact Sustainable Grenadines Inc., Clifton, Union Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Tel/Fax: # (784) 485 – 8779. e-mail: email@example.com
Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Brief Highlights Climate Change Impacts on Fisheries and Aquaculture
The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) has issued a brief,’Climate Change: Implications for Fisheries and Aquaculture,’ which details the threats of climate change and ocean acidification to fisheries, aquaculture and marine resources as relayed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).
The brief highlights that climate change and ocean acidification are altering ocean ecosystems, leading to a loss of marine biodiversity and changes in seafood production levels, including through the displacement of stocks and rising mortality of shellfish. It notes that other factors such as over-fishing, habitat loss and pollution worsen the impacts of climate change on marine resources. The publication also highlights impending issues such as: the rapid decline of coral reef ecosystems, with the risk of collapse of some coastal fisheries; the likely increase in coral bleaching; potential increases in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing from changes in coastal resources and food insecurity; and possible mass die-offs in farmed fish due to harmful algal blooms.
The brief explains that fishers can adapt to some of the impacts, through, inter alia: changing gear or target species; increasing aquaculture; and moving to dynamic management policies. Additionally, some positive impacts of climate change are highlighted, including faster growth rates and food conversion efficiency, longer growing seasons, and new growing areas due to decreases in ice cover.
Regarding the potential for mitigation in the fisheries sector, the brief highlights options such as strengthening coastal zone management to reduce land-sourced pollution, over harvesting and physical damage to resources. It also suggests creating new habitats, such as artificial reefs, to act as fish nurseries in areas where coral reef destruction occurs. According to the report, protecting some ocean ecosystems will help moderate the speed and scale of climate change, as well as build ecosystem health.
The brief is published jointly by the SFP and the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Cambridge Judge Business School, and is supported by the European Climate Foundation. It is one of a series of publications synthesizing the most relevant AR5 findings for specific economic and business sectors, and grew from the idea that the fisheries and aquaculture sector could make better use of the AR5, if distilled into an accessible and succinct summary.
Credit: SFP News Story from the Climate Change: Implications for Fisheries and Aquaculture publication.