Fish and sharks in high seas in danger of depletion, UN agency warns

6 March 2007

Although the percentage of fish stocks assessed as depleted or on the verge of depletion has remained steady over the past 15 years, several species fished on the high seas outside the reach of national jurisdictions are in danger of overexploitation, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned.

Twenty-five per cent of all fish stocks monitored by the agency are either overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, according to a report it released on Monday.

More than half of highly migratory oceanic sharks and two-thirds of high-seas fish stocks, including hakes, Atlantic cod and halibut, orange roughy, basking shark and bluefin tuna, are either depleted or at high risk of collapse, the report, entitled “State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture,” said.

“While these stocks represent only a small fraction of the world’s fishery resources, they are key indicators of the state of a massive piece of the ocean ecosystem,” said Ichiro Nomura, FAO’s Assistant Director-General for Fisheries.

Of particular concern are “straddling stocks,” or species which frequently navigate between national maritime boundaries and the high seas.

The report said that the global trade in fish and fishery products, the most traded food in the world, has reached a record high, with an export value of $71.5 billion, up 23 per cent from 2000.

Additionally, the monitoring of fishing on the high seas is inadequate, the report states, thus hampering efforts to more responsibly manage stocks and assess them accurately.

The report also calls for bolstering the world’s regional fisheries management organizations, which are multilateral institutions established by governments to further cooperation to curb exploitation of fish stocks.

In recent years, a lack of political commitment by the members of some of these organizations and “unyielding positions that mitigate against sound regional fisheries management has thwarted, if not stalled,” efforts by some to meet and address conservation and management challenges, according to the report.

However, in the report’s estimation, these organizations are the only realistic mechanisms by which exploitation of fish stocks can be scaled back. Strengthening them in order to conserve and manage fish stocks more effectively “remains the major challenge facing international fisheries governance.”

 

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