Economic losses in marine fisheries resulting from poor management, inefficiencies, and overfishing add up to US$50 billion per year, according to a new World Bank-FAO report released today. Taken over the last three decades, these losses total over $US2 trillion, a figure roughly equivalent to the GDP of Italy.The press release about the report concludes:
But, The Sunken Billions: The Economic Justification for Fisheries Reform also argues that well-managed marine fisheries could turn most of these losses into sustainable economic benefits for millions of fishers and coastal communities.
According to the Report, the bulk of losses occur in two main ways.
First, depleted fish stocks mean that there are fewer fish to catch, and therefore the cost of finding and catching them is greater than it might be. Second, fleet overcapacity means that the economic benefits of fishing are dissipated due to redundant investment and operating costs.
The Report stresses that figure of US$50 billion represents a conservative estimate – it excludes losses to recreational fisheries and marine tourism as well as losses due to illegal fishing.
Excess fishing capacity
The build up of fishing fleets, deployment of increasingly powerful fishing technologies and increasing pollution and habitat loss has depleted fish stocks worldwide. Global marine catches have been stagnant for over a decade, hovering at around 85 million tons per year. Meanwhile, fisheries productivity -measured in terms of catch per fisher, or per fishing vessel-has declined, even though fishing technology has advanced and fishing effort increased.
If world fish stocks were rebuilt, the current marine fisheries catch could be achieved with approximately half of the current global fishing effort, the Report says.
According to FAO, over 75 percent of the world’s fish stocks are either fully exploited or overexploited.
Underperformance and hidden costs
But, the focus on the state of stocks has tended to obscure the even more critical economic health of the fisheries. When fish stocks are fully exploited, the associated fisheries are almost invariably performing below their economic optimum, the Sunken Billions reports. In some cases, fisheries may be biologically sustainable but still operate at an economic loss.
And while many fisheries are profitable, the global picture is that fish catching operations are buoyed up by subsidies, the Report finds. “At the global level, each ton of fish caught uses almost half a ton of fuel – much of it wasted in redundant harvesting effort,” it notes.
“For each person employed at sea another three people are employed on shore,” noted Willmann. “Fish is the main animal protein for over 1 billion people. It provides livelihoods for over 200 million people and 90% of these people are in developing countries.”
Signs of progress
The good news is that governance reforms have turned the tide in some fisheries, The Sunken Billions notes. “Strengthening fishing rights systems is fundamental to addressing the problems facing the sector,” said Ragnar Arnason, a Fisheries Economist at the University of Iceland and a co-author of the Report, pointing to successful experiences in Iceland, New Zealand, and Namibia.
Strengthening the use, access, or ownership rights of fishers is supported by a growing number of organizations that see the need to create incentives for responsible stewardship. Promotion of ‘rights-based fisheries’ features in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s Resolution on Sustainable Fisheries for Food Security for the ASEAN Region. The Abuja Declaration on Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture in Africa, adopted by the Heads of State Meeting of The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) “Fish for All Summit” Abuja, Nigeria, 25 August 2005 also endorsed ‘rights-based fisheries’. The world’s largest fishery, Peru’s anchoveta fishery, is also moving towards a rights-based approach, where it is proposed to make the fishery pay for a social safety net for fishers.
“Governance reforms are often politically difficult, particularly if some reduction in fishing fleets or in the numbers of fishers may occur,” says Kelleher. “And the rights and livelihoods of fishers should be secured in any reform process,” he added.