By G.D. Zaney, Esq.


The oceans are suffering from the depletion of important fish species―big and small ―due to overfishing and loss of key habitats like coral reefs.  Ocean overfishing is, therefore, the removal of wildlife from the sea at rates too high for fished species to replace themselves.

In general, overfishing has been defined as the harvesting of a species of fish from a body of water at a rate that the species cannot replenish in time, resulting in those species either becoming depleted or very underpopulated in that given area.

Overfishing, which can occur in water bodies of any sizes, can result in resource depletion, reduced biological growth rates and low biomass levels, while sustained overfishing can lead to critical depensation, which is the effect on fish population whereby, due to certain causes, a decrease in the breeding population (mature individuals) leads to reduced production and survival of eggs or offspring.

The earliest overfishing occurred in the early 1800s when humans, seeking blubber for lamp oil, decimated the whale population and by the mid-1900s, some fish species, including Atlantic cod and herring, and California's sardines, were also harvested to the brink of extinction.

In the middle of the 20th century, fishing capacity was increased through concerted efforts by governments, such as support of favorable policies, loans and subsidies.
This led to the rapid development of big industrial fishing operations, which quickly displaced local boatmen.

Fishing fleet across the globe is estimated to be two-and-a-half times the capacity needed to catch what is actually needed.

This means that overfishing has been boosted by the overcapacity of fishing vessels due to the subsidies or support provided to the fishing industry to offset the costs of doing business. In other words, the scale of subsidization provided a huge incentive to expand fishing fleets, leading to overfishing.

Systemic overfishing is worsened by illegal catches and trade. Without doubt, some of the worst ocean impacts are caused by pervasive illegal fishing, estimated at up to 30% of catch or more for high-value species.

It is estimated that Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing―any type of fishing that is practiced in contravention of existing legal, management and conservation measures― earns up to US$36.4 billion each year, globally.

Thus, by the year 1989, yields had begun to decline or stagnate when about 90 million tons (metric tons) of fish were harvested from the seas, with the most preferred species disappearing.

And over the past 55 years, available information indicates, the fisheries industry has recorded decreased yields, leading to the understanding that the oceans are rather highly vulnerable.

With the collapse of large-fish populations, commercial fleets have turned to exploring deeper down into the ocean and farther down the food chain for better catches―a situation which is triggering a chain reaction that is upsetting the ancient and delicate balance of the entire marine ecosystem, with global catastrophic consequences.
Ending overfishing

The world is, however, reassured that most fish populations could be restored with aggressive fisheries management, better enforcement of laws governing catches and the increased use of aquaculture.

Some of the key tools to stop overfishing have been identified as ending fishing subsidies; and creating and, expanding marine protected areas.

Overfishing in international waters, according to the experts, also requires a thorough knowledge and understanding of the major players, what they are fishing, and where they are carrying out their activities.

To that effect, electronic monitoring has been recommended as a cost-effective way to improve the transparency of fishing activities, while traceability—the ability to track seafood from bait to plate—has also been recommended as one of the key tools needed to combat IUU fishing.

Following the identification of the solutions and the tools to employ in containing overfishing, actual efforts have begun in that direction.

One such effort to fight illegal fishing, including overfishing, is by the European Union (EU) under a four-year fisheries governance project dubbed: Far Ban Bo (FBB) project.
With funding from the EU, FBB is designed to contain the challenges of overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices such as IUU fishing.

It is also designed to address low compliance with fisheries regulations and the weak capacity for the enforcement of fisheries laws.

The project, therefore, seeks to empower community participation in the management of their resources by forming IUU Community Monitoring Groups (CMGs) that will plan actions for improved IUU monitoring at the local level that links to national level multi-stakeholder platforms for follow-ups on arrest and prosecution for cases reported.

If effectively implemented, FBB is expected to contribute significantly to improving livelihoods and the nutritional status of smallholder fishers as well as other users of fisheries resources, through social and economic safeguards.

FBB is being implemented by a consortium of three― CARE (the lead), Friends of the Nation (FoN) and OXFAM-in-Ghana ―in collaboration with key fishery stakeholders, such as Smallholder Fishery Associations, Fisheries Commission and the Fisheries Alliance.

One can hardly also ignore the interventions of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which works to stop criminals from stealing from legal fisheries and also advocating through the World Trade Organization to encourage nations to eliminate the harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to overfishing.

Together with partners worldwide, WWF aims to close borders in the major seafood importing countries to illegally- and unsustainably-harvested seafood through governments’ regulatory and voluntary private-sector actions.

While individual states are working tirelessly to end overfishing, United Nations (UN) Agenda 2030 is also determined to end unsustainable fishing practices.

Thus, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, Target 4 aims to promote sustainable fishing through effective regulation and harvesting, end overfishing, IUU fishing and other destructive fishing practices, and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks, in the shortest time feasible, to, at least, levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics.

UNSDG 14, Target 5 is also directed at ending subsidies contributing to overfishing by the year 2020, through the prohibition of certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing; eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies.

The writer is a freelance Journalist and a lawyer.

Hits: 6043