World’s Fisheries Headed for Crisis

The world’s oceans appear to be in shocking shape, if a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is anything to go by, which says the global fish catch peaked in 1996 and has been flat or declining since.

For the 34 members of the OECD, the deterioration is even more concerning. Their share of landings has fallen by 39 percent for the member countries since the peak in 1988 according to the report, the OECD Review of Fisheries: Policies and Summary Statistics 2015.

“There has been a continued decline in OECD fisheries and rebuilding stocks remains a challenge for fisheries management,” the report says. That comes at a time when global population growth has combined with increasing prosperity to raise the consumption of seafoods. Pollution of coastal waters presents another problem.

In an effort to make up the shortfall, aquaculture has consistently been the fastest growing of all food commodities and has become more important for human consumption than capture fisheries, with production centered in China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Together, those five nations account for 80 percent for global production. The OECD producers are Norway, Chile, Japan, Korea and the US – which account for only 6 percent between them.

However, the United States, South Korea, and South Africa are moving aggressively to develop aquaculture. Indonesia in 2014 invited the World Fish Center to work jointly in preparing a master plan for aquaculture development by 2020.

At the same time the wild catch has fallen so precipitately from overfishing, oceanic acidification from the sequestration of billions of tonnes of carbon from human activities has resulted in danger to shellfish, corals and other marine organisms to grow, reproduce and build their shells and skeletons according to an Oct. 15 report in the New York Times by Richard W. Spinrad, the chief scientist of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser to the British government’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, wrote that the capacity of the oceans to sustain a healthy marine life population is facing increasing problems.

The developed nations have been attempting to make inroads on the problems through the adoption, by the European Union of a Common Fisheries Policy in 2014 and a Total Allowable Catches system to try to limit depredations in their waters. Individual countries including Chile have adopted their own fisheries laws to measure the availability of fishery resources and adopt international sustainable management standards.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, however, may have adopted the most spectacular policy, in December 2014 ordering the dynamiting of foreign vessels that were illegally entering his country’s exclusive economic zone to take fish. Since that time, the country has blown up at least 41 foreign vessels in spectacular fashion, scattering debris over the on nearby ocean and serving notice to stay out of Indonesian waters. So far, fishing boats from Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines have been destroyed, kicking off a regional uproar. At least eight Chinese vessels have been detained but haven’t been sunk as a result of intense diplomatic pressure from Beijing.

Indonesia and China between them account for nearly one quarter of global fish harvests. Asian countries overall now dominate production although most consume the majority of production domestically. China’s steady economic growth has meant that per capita annual consumption of seafood in China’s cities rose by 41 percent, from 10.34 kg to14.62 kg between 2000 and 2011.

China is moving to protect its own ocean interests through a unified marine governance regime and to develop their own ocean-related industries, although not nearly as dramatically as Indonesia.