As pointed out in earlier posts, the Bruntland Commission of the early 1980s emphatically stated that the growth era for fisheries was over. This in reference to 1979 world fisheries and aquaculture producing in the range of 70 million tonnes annually. And yet by 2005, world fisheries and aquaculture had reached 141 million tonnes. In 2006 over 143 million tonnes. Actual catches, as opposed to aquaculture, have largely stagnated since the late 1990s at around 90 million tonnes.
In 2006, aquaculture accounted for a little over 50 million tonnes – growing from lows of 1 million tonnes in the 1950s. Aquaculture production is growing rapidly worldwide.
However, the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization released a report in 2009 The Sunken Billions: The Economic Justification for Fisheries Reform.
This report suggests:
The contribution of the harvest sector of the world’s marine fisheries to the global economy is substantially smaller than it could be. The lost economic benefits are estimated to on the order of $50 billion annually. Over the past decade three decades, this cumulative global loss of potential economic benefits is on the order of $2 trillion.
The study suggests that significant changes in fisheries management and governance could stem the tide of losses – as well as maybe turn the tide on the negative environmental and economic consequences of many fisheries.
The $50 billion a year is a very conservative estimate as it does not account for the “losses to recreational fisheries and to marine tourism and losses attributable to illegal fishing… it excludes the value of biodiversity losses and any compromise to the ocean carbon cycle”. It also does not include government subsidies like license buy-backs, fuel subsidies, and other bail-outs. It does not include the cost of the actual fisheries management. It does not include economic benefits such as healthy coral reefs and estuaries and healthy sea floors.
In essence the study suggests that the total catch of world’s fisheries could be done at half the current cost and with much less environmental and economic costs. Two suggested approaches: 1) reduce fishing effort and therefore increase productivity, profitability, and net economic benefits from a fishery; and 2) rebuild fish stocks which will increase yields and lower fishing costs in the long run.
Of course the warning given is Canada’s northern Atlantic cod where despite complete fishery closures for many years the stocks are not rebuilding.
The crisis in the world’s marine fisheries is not only a fisheries problem, but one of the political economy of reform. Fisheries reform requires broad-based political will founded on social consensus. Building such a consensus may take time and may require forging a common vision that endures changes of governments.
My editorializing – yes, I agree, despite some of the fluffy sentiment such as “forging common vision” and “founded on social consensus”. It is fluffy phrases such as those that I wonder if the reports authors have ever really sat in on multi-stakeholder fisheries meetings. These are pissing matches at a grand scale. The polarized nature of say, for example, British Columbia salmon fisheries – it’s almost like listening to boxers or Ultimate Fighting combatants trash talking about how quickly they’re going to knock out the opponent.
People leave meetings wondering if their tires have been slashed on their car.
Of course, sitting in on a meeting where actual “fisheries management” is being discussed can leave one stabbing themselves in the eye with a pen because they can be as about as exciting as watching a house plant grow.
However, losing something as iconic as salmon in one stream or another may very well start to spawn some sort of social consensus (pardon the pun). One could ask: is there a parallel with this and say when a small community loses a child or family? No matter how polarized a community may be, loss or tragedy can bring them together like no other event.
Unfortunately, like many rural fishing communities around the world – often times the loss, or tragedy, is the loss of the community itself.