A Chance to Save Our Oceans, and Save Lives

A Marine Protected Area enforcement team in the municipality of Pilar (located in the Camotes Islands of Cebu province) anchoring the marker buoys that delineate the local marine protected area. (Photograph courtesy Rare)

By Michael R. Bloomberg and César Gaviria

More than three billion people around the world depend on fish for food or income, and that number is rising even as the supply of fish is falling. The amount of fish caught peaked in the 1990s and has dropped by eight percent since, because there are fewer fish in the oceans to catch. This is an increasingly urgent challenge, because global demand for fish is expected to grow by 20 percent by 2030.

Overfishing—catching more fish than can be naturally replaced—and destructive industrial fishing practices have both taken a serious toll on ocean life. That not only has environmental consequences—it has serious economic and public health consequences, too. If the number of fish in the ocean continues to shrink, local economies will suffer, people will lose their livelihoods, and hunger and starvation will increase.

Confronting this growing crisis was a top priority when leaders and diplomats from 80 nations came together last week for the “Our Ocean Summit” in Washington, hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. The summit yielded some important results, including President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. will work to create the world’s largest protected marine area in the central Pacific Ocean. But much more needs to be done to protect our oceans and the people who depend on them. We can make great and immediate progress towards that goal—if nations work together to spread fishing policies that have already been proven to work.

Here in the U.S., in response to dwindling fish populations off of our coasts, Congress passed new rules that set reasonable catch limits, established protected habitats, and discouraged destructive fishing practices like bottom-trawling, which destroys marine ecosystems. As a result, U.S. fisheries are bouncing back. For instance, the population of haddock caught off our shores rebounded by more than 2,000 percent in less than 15 years.

Photograph courtesy TKTK
Sprat onboard a trawler in the port of Hei, Poland in the Southern Baltic. (Photograph courtesy Oceana/LX)

Other countries that have enacted similar reforms have seen strong results. In Norway, better fishing policies have reversed declines in cod and herring. In Japan, smart reforms have revived the snow crab population. And in Kenya, new fishing regulations have helped increase catches per fisherman by as much as 60 percent in some places.

Just 29 countries and the European Union account for more than 90 percent of fish caught worldwide. If more of them agree to implement smart fishing regulations—and if countries that have already had success work to strengthen their own rules—we can increase the world wide catch by as much as 40 percent, protecting the health and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.

Our two organizations, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Oceana, are working to help make that happen by supporting smarter fishing management through national policy reforms in three countries—Brazil, Chile, and the Philippines—that together account for seven percent of the world’s total fish catches. And in addition to engaging these national governments and local communities, we are working with private-sector funders to help make sustainable fishing more profitable for local businesses.

World leaders can build on this work by committing to stronger fishing regulations within their own borders and by working together on better international control of illegal fishing. Seafood is one of the world’s most traded commodities, but poor tracking systems mean that we often don’t know where our fish come from, who catches them, or what practices they use, which allows illegal fishing to flourish.

President Obama took an important step this week by directing federal agencies to develop a comprehensive plan to stop illegally caught fish from entering the U.S.—one of the world’s largest markets for seafood. Chile also adopted a national plan to curb illegal fishing within its waters. More nations should implement rules on illegal fishing and collaborate to bring more accountability and transparency to the international fish trade.

By working together, we can support a vital industry and help save many lives, while also preserving an irreplaceable resource for future generations.

Changing Planet

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