Author: Dr Samantha Burgess*
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has published its 2018 State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report at this week’s biannual Committee on Fisheries (COFI) meeting in Rome. It shows that, worldwide, 33% of fish stocks are overfished – meaning that current levels of fishing will inevitably lead to population collapse – a figure which has been continuously increasing since 1974.
Rising demand for seafood has opened the door to un-monitored and highly profitable illegal practices; a 2017 Global Financial Integrity report report shows that illegal fishing has escalated to become the 6th most valuable crime globally. For the European Union (EU), the largest seafood market in the world, importing more than 60% of its seafood from other countries, these figures have serious implications for the seafood products available to its citizens and for the health of our ocean.
The European seafood market is part of a much bigger picture. The global community has committed to sustainable use of the ocean by 2020 (Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14)) and we’ve had hundreds of commitments at international conferences to advance objectives in ocean conservation and sustainable fisheries practices (e.g. 433 commitments made at Our Ocean in 2017).
But are these actions enough and still in good time to end overfishing, prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, halt fishing practices that are destructive to marine life, and restore fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2020 (SDG 14.4)?
The answer is, arguably, no. The failure of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) — the primary bodies tasked with sustainably managing fisheries resources — to adopt and enforce best practices in line with international laws has been described in great detail by Chatham House in 2007 and again by The Pew Charitable Trusts in 2016.
The bottom line is, despite all the international commitments, we are still missing the political will of many RFMO member countries to put the biological sustainability of fisheries ahead of short-term economic gains.