May 17, 2010

UN Warns Of Fishless Oceans By 2050

U.N. experts said on Monday that the world faces the nightmarish possibility of fishless oceans by 2050 without fundamental restructuring of the fishing industry.

"If the various estimates we have received... come true, then we are in the situation where 40 years down the line we, effectively, are out of fish," Pavan Sukhdev, head of the UN Environment Program's green economy initiative, told journalists in New York.

The UNEP's Green Economy report due later this year argues this disaster can be avoided if subsidies to fishing fleets are slashed and fish are given protected zones, ultimately resulting in a thriving industry.

The report also assesses how surging global demand in other key areas such as energy and fresh water can be met while preventing ecological destruction around the planet.

UNEP director Achim Steiner said the world was "drawing down to the very capital" on which it depends on.

However, he told AFP, "Our institutions, our governments are perfectly capable of changing course, as we have seen with the extraordinary uptake of interest. Around, I think it is almost 30 countries now have engaged with us directly, and there are many others revising the policies on the green economy."

The collapse of fish stock is not just an environmental matter.

According to the U.N., one billion people, mostly from poorer countries, rely on fish as their main animal protein source.

The Green Economy report estimates that about 35 million people fish around the globe on 20 million boats.  About 170 million jobs depend directly or indirectly on the sector, bringing the total web of people financially linked to 520 million.

The U.N. said that 30 percent of fish stocks have already collapsed, which means that they yield less than 10 percent of their former potential. 

The UNEP report says that the main scourge are government subsidies encouraging even bigger fishing fleets chasing even fewer fish - with little attempt to allow the fish populations to recover.

Sukhdev said that fishing fleet capacity is "50 to 60 percent" higher than it should be.

"What is scarce here is fish," he told AFP, calling for an increase in the stock of fish, not the stock of fishing capacity.

The report says creating marine preservation areas to allow female fish to grow to full size, thereby hugely increasing their fertility.

Another solution is to restructure the fishing fleets to favor smaller boats that would be able to land bigger catches.

"We believe solutions are on hand, but we believe political will and clear economics are required," Sukhdev told AFP.


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