Seaweek, but not many fish in the sea
The Australian Government has loudly proclaimed its leadership of marine conservation issues during Seaweek 2007 (4-11 March), but has failed to mention the biggest current marine issue in the world – that high seas fisheries, especially bottom trawlers, are an ecological and economic disaster in the making.
“High seas fisheries have decimated fish populations all over the world. This is not conservationist scaremongering, it is a fact admitted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), many international Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) and scientists. On top of that, the fuel used by global fisheries is equivalent to the annual oil consumption of the Netherlands. And economically, Australian fisheries are arguably over-subsidised by the Government. Their total fuel subsidy is US$41 million per year. The high seas bottom trawling fleet is subsidised by US$9.95 million, while the fishery lands a total value of only US$9 million. This fleet would not even survive without the Government subsidies,” said Michael Kennedy, Director of Humane Society International (HSI). “This week is Seaweek, so the Commonwealth should be acknowledging the reality of the biggest issue of the sea – overfishing – before it’s too late.”
The FAO’s “State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture” report, published this week, found that some of the most depleted populations are those where Australia’s fisheries are most active – the high seas tuna fishing grounds of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. 46–66% of these lucrative populations of southern bluefin, albacore and bigeye tuna are overexploited or depleted. The report condemns members of the management bodies for high seas fishing as “lacking political commitment” to implement sustainable management measures. The FAO’s Committee on Fisheries (COFI) is meeting this week to discuss, among other issues, how to strengthen these 39 RFMOs so they can meet their responsibilities.
The FAO report comes in the wake of other reports highlighting the fundamentally perverse nature of deep-sea trawl fisheries. “These fisheries only exist because other shallower ones have been grossly overfished. They are equivalent to clearfelling an entire species-rich forest in order to find a few individual trees, they are dependent on government subsidies to remain economically viable, and finally, in a world waking up to the reality of climate change, they guzzle huge quantities of fuel – subsidised fuel - in order to do all this,” added Mr. Kennedy.
“In the face of a wave of conclusive scientific information the Commonwealth should act on marine conservation issues and take the strongest possible stance at the RFMOs of which it is a member1. The Commonwealth cannot honestly claim to be a leader in marine conservation while it continues to issue fishing quotas for a commercial fish it just recently listed as a threatened species and which was assessed as being endangered (orange roughy)” said Mr. Kennedy.
1 The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), and the developing South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO).