How Not to Save the Fish
Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009
Enjoy the grilled salmon on your dinner plate — it may not be on the menu for long. Asthe demand for seafood continues to rise, fueled in part by the now global appetite forsushi, we're in danger of fishing out the oceans. Once-teeming fishing territory like theGrand Banks off the eastern coast of Canada have gone fallow, and highly coveted specieslike the Atlantic cod and the bluefin tuna are becoming increasingly rare. An influentialstudy published in 2006 in the journal
predicted that if fishing around the worldcontinued at its present pace, fish stocks would begin to decline, resulting in the finalglobal collapse of wild fisheries, which could possibly happen as soon as mid-century.Luckily, there's no secret to heading off a potential seafood apocalypse: Simply fish moresustainably, allowing fish stocks time to recover between harvests, just as a forest might be managed for logging. To that end, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO) in 1995 created the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, a voluntary guideto sustainable fishing — which means controlling illegal fishing, reducing excess fishingcapacity and minimizing destructive practices like ghost fishing, when gear is left in the water after a ship departs, still killing sea life. If carried out, these guidelines could keepthe world's fisheries productive for decades.That's a big if. Sustainable fishing remains far more theory than practice, according to anarticle published in the current issue of
The study by the Fisheries Centre at theUniversity of British Columbia (UBC), the Federal University of Rio Grande and the World Wildlife Federation looked at fishing policies and practices from the 53 countriesthat account for 96% of the world's fish catch, to see how well they followed the FAO'scode. The results were sobering for anyone who enjoys a tuna steak: 28 countries,accounting for 40% of the world's fish catch, completely failed to follow the code. Only six countries had compliance scores above 60% — top performers were Norway and theU.S. — yet even these leaders failed to adhere to several aspects of the code. "We found itreally disappointing," says Tony Pitcher, a professor in the department of zoology atUBC. "We didn't think it would be quite as bad as this, but this is what we found."
Unsurprisingly, rich nations — like Canada and the U.S. — tended to score highest in thestudy, with African, Asian and Latin American nations generally failing across the board.