Adverse effects of shrimp fishing need to be addressed, warns UN report

17 February 2009

A new United Nations report released today urged countries to increase efforts to halt the economic and environmental threats posed by shrimp fishing, a major source of income for many developing countries.

Rampant overfishing, harmful trawling practices and poor management of fishing sites are causing significant damage to seabeds and endangering important fish stocks, warned the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report.

Shrimps and prawns are among the most important internationally-traded fishery products, with a value of $10 billion, or 16 per cent of global industrial fishing exports, and shrimp fisheries generate substantial economic benefits, especially for many developing countries.

The Global Study of Shrimp Fisheries reviews current problems and solutions of shrimp fishing in ten countries: Australia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Kuwait, Madagascar, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States.

“For millions of poor vulnerable households, shrimp fishing is an important source of cash and employment,” said Jeremy Turner, Chief of the FAO Fishing Technology Service.

“But shrimp fishing is also associated with overfishing, capture of juveniles of ecologically important and economically valuable species, coastal habitat degradation, illegal trawling, the destruction of seagrass beds and conflicts between artisanal and industrial fisheries,” added Mr. Turner.

Trawling in tropical regions can result in large amounts of unwanted catch that is either discarded or kept on board, further threatening endangered species and already heavily exploited fish stocks. Bycatch often includes juveniles of important commercial fish species, such as cod, rockfish, red snapper, croaker, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and weakfish, as well as sea turtles.

FAO estimates that shrimp trawl fisheries are the single greatest source of bycatch, accounting for over 27 per cent or 1.86 million tons of discarded fish.

The report recommends that bycatch reduction efforts should focus on medium and large-scale shrimp fisheries, where significant cutbacks have already been achieved by applying modifications to fishing gear, catch quotas, discard bans and improvements in bycatch handling and marketing.

Many of the problems caused by shrimp fishing can also be mitigated by promoting sustainable, fishing management schemes, reducing fishing capacity and addressing the issue of open access according to Mr. Turner.

The report cites Australia’s prawn fisheries and some cold-water shrimp fisheries as some of the best managed in the world, based on fishers’ participation, managed bycatch, reduced discards and the use of property rights in management. The report also urges countries to make agencies more effective and to provide legislation protecting access to fisheries.


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