Changing Planet

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.

  • Kentice Libutsuli Tikolo

    I am unable to share this on email. Is there a challenge?

  • William Holder

    Fish used to be a staple food but with so many mouths to feed it is no longer affordable or abundant. Saving our environment requires achieving a balance between ourselves and the rest of the planet. We have added 5 billion people over the last 100 years and we’re set to add several billion more before the end of the century. Our unchecked population is making it difficult for the rest of the planet – when will we act?

  • Tom Mariner

    I hate to be cynical, but a fisherman would take the last of a species if it would feed his family for one more day.

    I live on the Great South Bay off Long Island, where decades ago much of the nation’s shellfish were grown. a few minutes work with one’s toes could get a decent dinner of clams. Restaurants would serve buckets of steamers that were literally that — and a big bucket.

    Then came the .. [here’s where it gets interesting] brown tide, pollution, desalinization, etc. But the real reason was as in the article — over-fishing — you could walk from shore to shore on the clammers with their flat topped boats. Then there were the factory ships that scoured large swaths of the bottom.

    A perfect analog of what is occurring in our Oceans — Do you think China is claiming the Pacific Ocean to put conservation efforts in place?

  • Jen

    No doubt that the oceans are overfished and dangerously polluted. However I am skeptical of the report’s motive. It sounds like another “Overton window”. Where tragedy is exploited to advance a sinister agenda under the guise of doing good.

    It sounds like this report may be part of a fear and hate mongering campaign so that powerful individuals can grab more power and money. It smells a lot like “climate gate”. Fraud that disguises itself as environmentalism.

    It reminds me of the ecoterrorist and investment scammer Russ George & HSRC, that posed as a nonprofit scientific environmental organization. They polluted the ocean by dumping massive amounts of iron into the ocean, under the guise of environmentalism. It was a greedy corporate scam to get carbon credits under the guise of environmentalism. The international community had warned Russ George not to dump anymore iron into the ocean, but he and HSRC did anyway.

    Shortly after they dump iron pollution into the ocean, there were massive marine life kills. Scientists suspect that Rare Serpentine Oarfish, Sabertooth whales, washed up on the western US coast shortly after the iron dumping scheme, may have been killed by the iron pollution. Scientists suspect that the iron dumping may be the cause or a contributing factor Starfish dissolving disease that started on the West Coast of the US, shortly after the iron dump.
    legitimate scientists fear that such reckless fertilization schemes could upset the balance of nature. The iron fertilization might cause poisonous algae blooms. The algae could endanger marine life by making surface waters warmer and deep waters colder and darker; as the algae, would block more light and heat.
    HSRC & Russ George’s iron dumping schemes have thought to be responsible for fish kills by changing the pH, temperature and available light. Deep ocean and cold water fish seem to have suffered greatly and some seem to have been driven out of their normal zone because of the damage to the ecosystem done by iron pollution.

    Allegedly Russ George assaulted a coworker, and stole samples, equipment, records and data. Russ George seems to be a scammer, that masquerades his scams as science. Allegedly Russ George has often tried to take credit for other people’s scientific work.
    Russ George seems to have had many scams, including a Cold Fusion scam, that misrepresented its figures and use pseudoscience to lure naïve investors.
    Last I heard Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation & Russ George were suing each other over missing data, materials, equipment, data, etc. They haven’t released their alleged so-called scientific data, pointing fingers at each other claiming that each other is withholding the data.
    Scammers often disguise their scams as environmental causes.

  • Rodrigo Rache

    In Brazil it s crazy how the fishing vessel waste Fish (literally to the rubbish ! ) The buyers put the price down so the vessel need to fish MORE and MORE and stay some times 30 days at the sea. The quantity is big, the price down. We need to give value to this wild fish that we still have here. But it s very hard, as every body just think about price.

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