May 19, 2006

Governments Failed to Stop Overfishing: Study

GENEVA -- Governments worldwide have failed to prevent overfishing in the oceans, where a proliferation of bottom-trawling threatens to wipe out deep sea species, conservation groups WWF and Traffic said on Friday.

The environmentalists said the existing system of regional fisheries regulation, meant to control the depletion of ocean life, had responded slowly to new threats and done little to enforce fishing quotas or rebuild vulnerable stocks.

Their report, released ahead of a New York meeting on the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, argued that controls needed to be reinforced to prevent further damage to marine ecosystems and future food supplies.

"Given the perilous overall state of marine fisheries resources and the continuing threats posed to the marine environment from over-fishing and damaging fishing activity, the need for action is immediate," said Simon Cripps, director of the World Wildlife Fund's global marine program.

Illegal fishing "by highly mobile fleets under the control of multinational companies" was cited in the report as one of the top threats to the sustainability of marine life. Governments were also at fault for not respecting limits.

"Vast over-capacity in authorized fleets, over-fishing of stocks ... the virtual absence of robust rebuilding strategies ... and a lack of precaution where information is lacking or uncertain are all characteristic of the management regimes currently in place," it said.

Stocks of some deep sea species, such as the orange roughy, have collapsed in the last decade as regulators failed to respond to an expansion of bottom-trawling in deep waters.

Despite the failure of groups like the Northwest Fisheries Organization to stop overfishing -- a practice that can destroy marine life, cut off food supplies and eliminate jobs -- WWF and Traffic said regional blocs could achieve conservation goals.

Their report urged more cooperation between regulators and stricter environmental rules to "prevent empty oceans, empty plates and lost livelihoods in the future."