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Fishing for success - Developing sustainable fisheries might be a way to combat future global hunger

Thursday 23 September 2010
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Developing sustainable fisheries might be a way to combat future global hunger. Giles Crosse casts off.

In the race to find food for our rapidly rising populations, it may well make sense to look to the seas. Virtually everyone’s aware of just how much ocean is available compared with the land.

So if you take that thinking to its logical extent, there should be serious potential to develop far more food from the water than from the desert. The problem, inherent in many sustainability issues, is about shepherding resources properly, and about knowing when to allow the land and the seas to recover.

Sustainable fisheries might provide an answer to these questions. But what exactly do we mean by this, and is there any clear consensus to what a ‘sustainable’ fishery actually is?

One body looking at the problem is Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. It released research on exactly these themes earlier this year.

‘Increased aid from developed countries, earmarked specifically for supporting sustainable seafood infrastructure in developing countries, could improve food security,’ said the University’s release on the subject.

Seafood is a significant source of protein for nearly three billion people and is the planet’s most highly traded food commodity, contributing to the livelihoods of more than 560 million people.

‘To help safeguard future supply, “The price of seafood has to reflect the cost of maintaining ecosystem health in the countries that capture or farm most of it,” said Martin D. Smith, lead author of the paper and associate professor of environmental economics at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “Many imports are coming from developing countries that are not necessarily well-positioned to manage their resources sustainably.”’

“In an ideal world, each country governs its own resources well and the seafood trade contributes to worldwide economic growth and food security. But that’s not the world we live in right now,” said Smith. Developing countries need not consume all of their seafood production. They may generate more benefits by exporting it and using the earnings to purchase other foods, goods or services.’

“Issues of resource ownership and governance are at the top of the list,” says Cathy A. Roheim of the University of Rhode Island. “No one owns fish stocks or has sole control over what their catch limits should be, or what type of gear or practices can be used to catch them. This has pushed many stocks beyond maximum sustainable yields, and has led to the current precarious role of fisheries in food security.”

‘Concurrently, “Aquaculture (farming seafood) has great promise for enhancing food security but is also threatened when regulations fail to protect the supporting ecosystems,” says Smith.’

What next?

The researchers point to a few potential solutions. “Trade policies such as import bans and tariffs could be used to punish countries that fail to meet sustainability standards, but these are rather blunt instruments,” Smith said. “In the short run, you may end up hurting people who are the most vulnerable.”

Alternatively, ‘Private incentives, such as ecolabeling, that raise the price of seafood to help pay for sustainable practices, are another option. But it’s not clear from existing studies if enough consumers will voluntarily pay more for seafood.

‘And raising the price of high valued products such as shrimp or tuna, which are mostly exported to developed countries, could backfire. Consumers might then seek out less expensive alternatives that people in poor, developing countries depend on. This may raise prices of low valued products and put products with high nutritional value out of reach of the poorest of the poor.

There is, according to the work, a third option, ‘Allocating more foreign aid for sustainable infrastructure in developing countries. By specifically earmarking aid for things like sustainable fishing gear, improved management, sustainable aquaculture facilities, or traceability systems to verify sustainability compliance, developed countries will foster food security and ecosystem health, and strengthen seafood trade, without causing short term hardships to consumers or producers.’

Another nifty element to this approach would be the fact it also engenders learning, as developing countries see how modern practices can support the sustainability ethos that’s often visible in such places anyway.

The basis for the WWF’s fisheries work is ‘ecosystem-based management (EBM). This ‘aims to achieve sustainable exploitation of natural resources by balancing the social and economic needs of human communities with the maintenance of healthy ecosystems,’

It sounds similar to the approach advocated by the Nicholas School. On 28 April, 2010, the WWF put some of these theories into action, joining the EU Fish Processors’ and Traders’ Association, AIPCE-CEP, and Eurocommerce in new steps.

“In the last decade conservationists and the seafood industry have definitely changed. Where once we might have been adversaries, today we are allies and all agree that without these key reforms we will not be able to bring European fisheries back to wide scale health and prosperity,” said Tony Long, Director of the WWF European Policy Office.

“Today’s alliance already represents a very significant portion of the supply chain from the processing and trading sector and the retail sector, and from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. Sustainability is a conservation necessity and a business necessity today.”

Saving the seas

The partners are ‘seeking the replacement of “political quotas” for fish with mandatory long term management plans firmly based on science for all EU fisheries by 2015.

‘The alliance is also seeking to have all regional stakeholders play effective roles in developing fisheries plans and a culture of compliance for fisheries. Strong EU standards should also apply wherever the EU fishes and this should be reflected in EU fishery and trade policies and fishing agreements and partnerships.’

It appears that some of this thinking is actually making a difference. On 16 September, 2010, the WWF reported that Cod stocks were returning to the Grand Banks off Canada, once one of the world’s major fisheries.

‘While the nearly 70 per cent increase in fish numbers and increase in the proportion of spawning fish since the last assessment in 2007 are yet another encouraging reflection of the impact of a 16 year moratorium on catching Grand Banks cod, WWF experts are cautioning that recovery is still far from inevitable,’ said the organisation.

‘Overall stock numbers are still near historic lows, and scientific projections from the latest stock assessments clearly demonstrate that continued failure to control excessive bycatch will prevent cod recovery in the foreseeable future.’

“These new signs of recovery present a real opportunity,” said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Vice President of
WWF-Canada, Atlantic Region.

“Management tools that include targets, limit reference points and harvest control rules to rebuild stocks are already being used with success in national waters. The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) needs to act on the commitments they have already made by using these same types of tools to allow further stock growth.”

“All of the scientific data and seafood market trends are pointing to one conclusive message,” said Dr. Bettina Saier, Oceans Director, WWF Canada.

“NAFO must act now to secure the fragile recovery of Grand Banks cod and other fish populations, and to protect
vulnerable habitats. This will yield considerable long term ecological and economic benefits.”

It appears that the answers to these issues, promisingly, are actually within reach. Making sure we actually grasp them looks like the main challenge.

What are your views?  Not sure? Read the resources below for more information. Add your comment below. We welcome your thoughts and proposals. Not a Planetary Citizen? Join us and  Sign up to Our Future Planet today!

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Greenpeace Criteria for Sustainable Fisheries

WWF Handbook for Negotiating Fishing Access Agreements

Securing Small Scale Sustainable Fisheries


Comments (4)Add Comment
Scott Parsons
September 24, 2010
Votes: +0

The WWF remarks on cod recovery released in advance of this week's NAFO meeting will only serve to fuel the unbridled greed of the EU fishing fleets. The EU continues to ignore its NAFO-agreed bycatch quota, after decades of raping and pillaging the Grand Banks fish resources. The amendments to the NAFO Convention, ratified by the Harper government last December in blatant contempt for the will of Parliament, will do nothing to improve the situation but instead will further weaken Canada's ability to seek sustainable management of the straddling stocks. The WWF remarks can only be considered as irresponsible under the circumstances and damage its image as a conservation organization.Let us hope that the Canadian delegation to NAFO stands firm against any re-opening of the Grand Banks cod fishery. Any such re-opening at this time would have disastrous consequences.

September 30, 2010
Votes: +0

Fish fish fish.

March 03, 2011
Votes: +0

Me and my colleagues authored one of India's most extensive reports on Aquaculture. Fisheries & Marine Biotechnology in India. Drop me a mail if you are interested in a copy. My email is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Some of the topics we included are:

- Market Trends
- Growth Drivers
- Regulatory Bodies and Framework
- Major Players.
We interviewed over 400 individuals and firms to collect the data in what we believe is one of the most detailed study on the subject in India.

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

May 01, 2012
Votes: +0

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