Fishing problems: poor fisheries management

Viarsa 1 under chase in heavy seas by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. rel=
Viarsa 1 , an illegal fishing vessel, under chase in heavy seas by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.
© Australian Fisheries Management Authority
Management oversight, government regulations, traceability of fishing activities on the seas are a relatively recent development. But while some countries are now making a huge effort to stem overfishing, much more needs to be done.
 

A host of problems

In many cases, fisheries rules, regulations and enforcement measures are not efficient; fishing capacity and efforts are not sufficiently limited or controlled.

Another important issue is that today´s fishing activities often occur far from the eye of regulators and consumers. 

Current key management problems include:

  • Inadequate fisheries regulations: In many fisheries, current rules and regulations are not strong enough to limit fishing capacity to a sustainable level. This is particularly the case for the high seas, where there are few international fishing regulations. 
     
  • Lack of implementation/enforcement: Even when fisheries regulations exist, they are not always implemented or enforced. For example, many countries have still not ratified, implemented, or enforced international regulations such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the UN Fish Stocks Agreement. Lack of political will is also responsible for failures to adopt bycatch reduction devices, for example.
  • Lack of transparency and traceability: Customs agencies and also retailers are not always ensuring that the fish entering their country and shops is caught legally and in a sustainable way. As a result, consumers are unwittingly supporting poor management by purchasing fish from unsustainable fisheries. Only when our seafood is traceable can markets and legal systems be effective and reward sustainable practices, whilst deter the irresponsible.
  • Failure to follow scientific advice: Many fisheries management bodies do not heed scientific advice on fish quotas and set catch limits above the recommended maximum amount; this is the case for for Atlantic cod and tuna, for example.

  • Flag of Convenience vessels: Countries are either failing to restrict fishing companies from owning and operating FoC vessels, or are not rigorously inspecting FoC vessels landing at their ports. This include countries with some of the biggest fishing fleets such as the EU, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan (China). This allows illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing to continue.
     
  • Too few no-go areas for fishing: Protected areas and no-take zones, where fishing is banned or strictly regulated, can provide essential safe havens where young fish can grow to maturity and reproduce before they are caught. But just 1.2% of the world's oceans have been declared as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and 90% of existing MPAs are open to fishing. The current lack of protection is especially worrying for fish spawning grounds and the deep sea, both of which are particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
Cods and haddocks (Gadidae); North Atlantic / ©: Mike R. Jackson / WWF-Canon
Cod caught in the North Atlantic
© Mike R. Jackson / WWF-Canon

Going, going, gone?

Despite the infamous 1992 collapse of Canada’s northern cod populations because of overfishing, EU fisheries ministers failed to learn from these lessons and ignored scientific advice on recommended cod catches for European waters, particularly in the North Sea.

For over a decade, the EU Fisheries Council set higher quotas for cod catches than recommended by ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea), resulting in seriously depleted populations. It was only in 2008 that the EU finally took steps to save the North Sea cod fishery.

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