Fisheries management shrouded in secrecy, corrupted by politics: study
Fisheries management in most of the world’s coastal states is shrouded in secrecy and corrupted by political pressures, according to a new study that says stock survival hinges on more transparent conservation efforts. The international team of scientists found that only seven per cent of countries bordering water conduct rigorous scientific assessments in drafting their fisheries policies.
The study was published in this week’s issue of PLoS Biology and provides the first global evaluation of how management practices influence fisheries’ sustainability. The study assessed the effectiveness of the world’s fisheries management regimes using evaluations from nearly 1,200 fisheries experts, analyzing these in combination with data on the sustainability of fisheries catches. The Faroe Islands and the Falkland Islands had the best overall rankings, while African and South Pacific countries had some of the worst.
According to the most recent report on the status of the world’s fisheries by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, fisheries supply at least 15% of the animal protein consumed by humans, provide direct and indirect employment for nearly 200 million people worldwide and generate $US85 billion annually. “The world’s fisheries are one of the most important natural assets to humankind,” says lead author Camilo Mora, a Colombian researcher at Dalhousie University and the University of California San Diego. “Unfortunately, our use of the world’s fisheries has been excessive and has led to the decline or collapse of many stocks.”
“The consequences of overexploiting the world’s fisheries are a concern not only for food security and socio-economic development but for ocean ecosystems,” says Boris Worm, a professor at Dalhousie University and co-author of the paper. “We now recognize that overfishing can also lead to the erosion of biodiversity and ecosystem productivity.”
“The different socioeconomic and ecological consequences associated with declining fish stocks are an international concern and several initiatives have been put forward to ensure that countries improve the way they use their marine resources,” explains Mora. “Some of these initiatives include the United Nations Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Although these initiatives have been endorsed by most governments, a global assessment on the extent to which these ideals are actually implemented and effective remains lacking.”
Mora and his colleagues analyzed a set of attributes upon which country-level fisheries could be evaluated. They pinpointed six parameters, including the scientific quality of management recommendations, the transparency of converting recommendations into policy, the enforcement of policies, the influence of subsidies, fishing effort, and the extent of fishing by foreign entities. The results of the study show that wealthier countries, though they have predominantly better science and enforcement capabilities, face the negative repercussions of excessive subsidies and larger fishing capacity, which have resulted largely from increased modernization of national fleets.
In contrast, poorer countries largely lacked robust science and enforcement capabilities and although these nations have less fishing capacity nationally, they disproportionally sold fishing rights to nations that did. The study showed that in 33% of the coastal states classified as low-income (commonly countries in Africa and Oceania) most fishing is carried out by foreign fleets from either the European Union, South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan or the United States.
The only attribute in which poorer and wealthier countries overlapped significantly was their limited ability to convert scientific recommendations into policy. “Transparent policy-making is at the centre of the entire process,” explains co-author Marta Coll, at the Institut de Ciènces del Mar in Spain. “If this is heavily influenced by political pressures or corruption, it is unlikely that good scientific advice will ever be translated into proper regulations. Similarly, authoritarianism in this process is likely to reduce compliance with the resulting policies.”
“This study provided us with a look at both sides of the coin,” says Andrew Rosenberg at the University of New Hampshire, who was not involved in the study. “On one hand, it reminds us of the difficult challenges facing fisheries management globally in protecting critical natural resources from overexploitation. On the other hand it delivers a message of hope that when policy-making is transparent, participatory, and based on science, things can improve.”