Economic benefits of sustainable fisheries managementOverfishing of stocks is not only an ecological problem. It is also uneconomic. As fish stocks decline, the effort required to catch a given quantity of fish increases. The fishermen spend more time at sea and use more fuel to catch a given quantity of fish. So it makes sense to manage stocks in accordance with the MSY principle. One problem is that even now, many countries are still heavily subsidizing their fishing industry. Government subsidies allow the fishery to be maintained even when the direct costs of the fishing effort, in the form of wages or fuel costs, have already exceeded the value of the fishing yield. Fishermen’s individual operating costs are reduced in many cases by direct or indirect subsidies. Every year worldwide, around 13 billion US dollars is paid to fishermen in the form of fuel subsidies or through modernization programmes, with 80 per cent of this in the industrialized countries.
- A recent study concludes that restructuring of subsidized fisheries would pay off because it would put an end to overfishing. Stocks would recover, leading to higher yields in future. Restructuring would mean that fishing would have to be suspended for a time or substantially reduced in certain regions. Instead of subsidizing the fishing industry, the money would be used to support fishermen who were unemployed, even if only temporarily, as a result of these measures. The great importance of social protection schemes is shown by the closure of the herring fishery in the North Sea between 1977 and 1981. Although stocks were able to recover, small coastal fishing companies did not survive this enforced break, and today, the North Sea herring fishery is dominated by a small number of major companies. However, if periods when restrictions on fishing activity are in force can be managed in a socially equitable manner and stocks recover, fishing can then be resumed. Of course, the fishing industry loses revenue as a result of the closure of a fishery or a reduction in fishing activity. However, the study concludes that this type of restructuring measure would only take around 12 years to pay for itself and would generate as much as 53 billion US dollars in additional revenue for the fishing industry annually. These calculations are very much in line with older estimated figures produced by the World Bank. It estimates the loss of net benefits due to overfishing, inefficiency and poor management to be in the order of 50 billion US dollars annually worldwide – a substantial figure compared with the total annual landed value of fish globally, i.e. around 90 billion US dollars. Admittedly, this global analysis is based on generalizations to some extent, as there are strong variations between countries’ fishing industries, but experts regard the estimated figures as sound.
- 5.17 > Generous subsidies, large fleets: the Spanish fishing fleet in particular – part of which is seen here in the port of Muros – was dependent on state subsidies for many years.
Certificates increase the appeal of sustainable fishingOverall, the status of fish stocks worldwide still gives cause for concern. On a positive note, however, sustainable fisheries management is becoming increasingly attractive to many fishing companies. The reason is that fishing companies that fish sustainably can now market their products under an ecolabel. For many food retailers in Europe and North America, the most important importing regions worldwide, these labels are now a key prerequisite for including a given fishery product in their ranges. Various certification schemes are now in operation. Two of the best-known schemes are run by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Friend of the Sea initiative. The MSC was established by a well-known environmental organization and an international food corporation in 1997 and became fully independent in 1999. There are currently 133 MSC-certified wild capture fisheries worldwide, harvesting more than 5 million tonnes of MSC-certified fish and shellfish annually. This represents almost 6 per cent of the total global wild capture catch. The Friend of the Sea initiative was also established by an environmental organization. Both schemes aim, among other things, to support the sustainable management of fish stocks in accordance with the MSY principle.
- As a rule, certificates are granted to individual fisheries, not to individual species, and certification is contingent on compliance with various criteria. The condition of the fish stock, the impacts of fishing activity on the marine ecosystem, and the management of the fishery are all factors that are considered in the assessment. Certification to MSC standard, for example, is based on 31 separate criteria, and fisheries are required to meet a specific number of them. They include the following:
- Fishermen should utilize modern and improved fishing gear that reduces bycatch to a minimum.
- The fishing operation should implement appropriate fishing methods designed to minimize adverse impacts on habitat. For example, instead of heavy bottom trawls which churn up the seabed and destroy bottom-living fauna, rockhopper trawls should be used. These are fitted with large rubber tyres or rollers that allow the net to pass fairly easily over the seabed.
- The fishing operation should minimize operational waste such as lost fishing gear, oil spills, etc.
- The fishing operation should be conducted in areas where fisheries management systems are in place and in compliance with these systems. Areas where industrial fishing would compete with traditional coastal fishing should be avoided.
- The fishing industry should engage in intensive dialogue with scientists. Comprehensive data relating to the current status of fish stocks should be collected for use in fisheries science.
- The fishery should also prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The certificates also state which ports are to be used. Landings are limited to a specific number of ports where there is proper monitoring of catch landings. A certificate is awarded for 5 years and can be renewed. Checks are carried out at intervals to ascertain whether the rules are being complied with. This takes the form of logbook checks and perusal of records, as well as onboard inspections. These audits may also be attended by observers from non-governmental organizations or environmental associations. Observers also travel out with the ships in order to carry out random checks to determine how much fish is being caught and from which species. In the case of the South African hake fishery, the South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association provides the funding for the deployment of observers. These are experts from various environmental organizations and South African ornithological associations with a particular interest in seabird bycatch. The catch is also subject to video camera surveillance. In the cod and pollock fisheries in the Barents Sea, observers commissioned by a government-funded Polar Research Institute of Marine Fisheries and Oceanography have an onboard presence on 5 per cent of all fishing expeditions. Critics argue that the certification procedures are not stringent enough as only a proportion of the criteria must be fulfilled. They claim that certificates are in some cases awarded to stocks that are in a less than optimum condition or that have not yet fully recovered. This applies to stocks with biomass growth lower than the level needed to supply a maximum sustainable yield. The critics are therefore calling for even more restrictive certification. From the certifiers’ perspective, however, ecolabelling is entirely justified, as it imposes obligations on companies to fish in a manner that enables stocks to recover. The certificate establishes clear targets and objectives for the companies, which must be achieved within a specific timeframe.