November 13, 2008

Environmentalists Urge Obama To Stop Global Overfishing

Environmental and economic leaders and scientists reported on Thursday that US President-elect Barack Obama could protect ocean wildlife and save jobs in commercial fisheries by ending widespread overfishing.

The report said around 70 percent of the world's fisheries are over-exploited or have already crashed. If this long-term trend continues, scientists have predicted that all current salt-water fish and seafood species will collapse by 2048.

However, it could be remedied by instituting a system known as catch shares, where the total amount of fish allowed to be taken in a given fishery is capped and fishermen are given a share of the fishery's quota, the report said.

The conventional way of limiting the number of fish taken was to shorten the length of the fishing season, which prompts fishermen to get the absolute maximum during whatever time they are permitted to fish.

But skilled fishermen can increase their number of fish caught even with a short season.

James Greenwood, a former U.S. congressman who co-chaired a working group that wrote the report, said that fishermen feel an almost desperate need to catch as many fish as they can when they're allowed to.

"That sense of desperation ... can't be an excuse for the policymakers of the world and this country to allow that to cause the universal collapse of fisheries," Greenwood said.

Catch share management sets a scientifically sustainable level of catch for each fishery and divides this among those who fish there, giving fishers more flexibility in when they work, because they know the number of fish they can legally take is strictly limited.

The report's authors said unlike other environment problems facing the new administration, most notably the pressure to limit climate-warming carbon emissions, overfishing is an issue that can start to be fixed in Obama's first four-year term.

President-elect Obama was urged to make sure that all federal fishery management plans are evaluated by 2012 and that at least 50 percent of them feature catch share management by 2016. The report also said Congress could help by passing legislation to require that catch shares be considered in all plans by 2012.