one fish, two fish… in the red, debt fish.

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.

State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2008

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.

4 thoughts on “one fish, two fish… in the red, debt fish.

  1. LAL

    Hmmmmm…. So I wonder, does the government realize that fish just aren’t 1’s and 0’s- that you cannot just hit the multiply button and create more fish? That it takes time and space for fish to re-populate? One cannot create a FISH CREDIT, they either exist or not, no interest, no down payments, will not see more until the next four years and even then we are lucky… Maybe we should start looking for recipes for paper fish 🙂

  2. Trav

    I love the UFC analogy, it is so true. I can not find a research paper that does not leave me wondering who or which industry funded this paper.
    I think both the wild and the farmed Salmon industries are needed because it allows choice in the marketplace. If they could work together to increase wild stock numbers for their long term sustainability it would be a world first and as BC is a world leader in high standards the world would follow. Hopefully the Seafood Summit in 2011 in Vancouver will shed some light on this.

  3. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the comment.
    And, ah yes, who has got the better scientist? I don’t really see much difference in the scientific debates, as say the adversarial approach of our legal system – who’s got the best lawyer? Similar to the legal system – sometimes it’s which scientist has done a better job of marketing themselves or their work. If a scientist becomes a celebrity – Einstein, Hawking, etc. – then all of a sudden their science becomes more “credible” at least in the public eye. Like a lawyer who wins big cases. And then of course there are defense lawyers who become sought after based on their reputations.

    Your comment about “choice in the marketplace” certainly has me thinking… And obviously the “choice” factor is there – and the salmon farming industry has capitalized – for example, three quarters of the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of salmon consumed in the U.S. is farmed. In Europe, farmed salmon dominates the market.

    Then of course there are the other economic links – the direct costs of producing farmed salmon have dropped significantly over the years (maybe even by 10x less). This means farmed can hit the market cheaper – this in turn has driven the cost of wild salmon down; and as my post alludes to maybe leaving the wild commercial fishery at a net economic loss.

    However, if we look at the true costs of farmed salmon maybe the price wouldn’t be so cheap. Those farmed salmon still need to be fed fish meal, which is caught in other fisheries – generally in the waters of developing countries. That fish ground into fish meal requires transportation, the fish meal is transported in turn to salmon farms, farmed salmon are in turn transported to processors, and in turn transported to markets. This isn’t a lot different than being able to eat New Zealand apples in Canada during the winter.

    In this time of serious concern over carbon costs – and carbon credits, etc. should anyone be able afford a farmed salmon by the time it hits the market? Or wild for that matter – unless like the old days the fish goes from fishboat deck to fish market beside the dock?

    Added to the issue of “choice” is the entire marketing industry. As you may have read in some other posts the Marine Stewardship Council an “ecocertifier” of “sustainable” fisheries. Several of the fisheries that they have “ecocertified” are really not all that “sustainable.” Yet in the marketplace (now over $1 billion of seafood MSC stamped) there is a perception of making a good responsible choice.

    I’m guessing we are not too far off from farmed salmon being labeled “organic”.

    So, yes, it would definitely be great to see a little more working together – and there is more chatter these days of salmon farmers trying out “closed containment” systems. Sure there’s some bitching about how much that “costs” – but really, as already asked what’s the true price of the choice in the market.

    If we look at vehicles – I definitely have a choice… I can buy a Hummer or I can try and make a more “responsible” choice by buying a Prius or other hybrid. Maybe we can suggest that consumer choice will dictate the markets and the right choices will be made – however that still brings us back around to marketing, potential green washing, and other schemes. Plus, there’s the comfort in allowing completely “free-markets” – theory being that the markets will dictate and control themselves. Unfortunately, we saw the result of the U.S. financial industry looking after themselves.

    You raise good points – and yes, it will be curious to see how the Seafood Summit goes in 2011.

  4. salmon guy Post author

    the paper fish is a great point. This is how wild salmon are managed – almost all on paper, in an office. Equations, models, benchmarks and strategic planning guide how salmon are looked after – at least in terms of dictating catch numbers. Why get as many people as possible out there actually physically counting real spawning salmon when we can do “mark-recapture” on a small percentage and use elaborate equations to estimate a population – on paper?

    Why worry about all those small streams that probably comprise bigger numbers of fish – when we can just concentrate on the big systems where we focus fisheries and use equations to show how many salmon are out there – on paper?

    Why meet in small communities throughout Pacific Salmon’s range and see the devastating consequences of turning a commercial fishery into a corporate-concentrated affair, instead of small boats run by families for generations? On paper – in the offices of Vancouver, everything looks fine.

    Our equations – on paper – said there should have been this many fish? Our equations – on paper – are not wrong it must be something “out there” in the real world? Must be that darn ocean, or climate change – because we have tonnes of fish right here in our office – on paper….
    (there’s your recipe)

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