Overfishing has put too much stress to the Earth’s remaining fish supply. The question is: how do we manage a natural resource that has a global demand? We look at dealing with fish catch through the lens of “ecosystems” and bring some local solutions to light.
Almost everyone loves to eat fish. A 2009 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study estimated that the world’s population eat up to 110 million tons of fish each year. In Asia, one billion people rely on fish as their main protein source. For others, fish are not just healthy food on the table, but also the means to put food on the table. Fishery is a huge industry with estimated sales value of USD 90 billion, with motorized fishing fleets estimated to be 2.1 million.
State of the world’s fisheries
We have yet to explore the deepest parts of the sea, but in terms of fisheries, FAO has concluded that we might have already gone beyond the ocean’s maximum fishing potential.
Along with the booming human population and appetite, fish are being overexploited in unprecedented ways. In fact, around 80 per cent of the global fish population are fully exploited, overexploited, or recovering from overexploitation.
It means that these areas produce less fish than they normally do. Thus, we have only a little over 20 per cent of moderately exploited areas remaining.
In addition, FAO reports that illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing around the world accounts for losses between USD 10 to 23 billion every year.
Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management
The worst case scenario is having no more fish to eat in the future. This is why one of the biggest challenges of this generation is rethinking the way we fish and eat fish. Experts recommend changing our approach when it comes to managing fish supply. That is, looking at the big picture and putting together different puzzle pieces.
Technically, this strategy is called the ecosystem approach to fisheries management or EAFM. It means that when we want to manage a certain species of fish, we take care of its physical environment and the other animals that interact with it. Also, we consider the interaction among the ecological, social, economic, and political aspects of fishing. Finally, we find local solutions to counter old practices that negatively affect fish supply.
“As we work towards one goal, that is, managing our fish supply for the present and future generations, we don’t forget to integrate environmental concerns in economic activities, such as fishing,” says Dr. Annadel Cabanban, EAFM Specialist.
So how does this look on the ground? In Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, we
- study the natural environment and fish life cycle;
- upscale the management skills of different players in the fishery world such as fishers, businessmen, consumers, resource managers, and local government leaders; and
- educate the public on how to live with concern for the environment.
CTI-SEA has teamed up with fisheries managers, fishers, and local leaders in Kwandang Bay, Sulawesi, Semporna, Sabah, and Dumanquillas Bay, Philippines to show that working together in managing fish supply can be made possible. We nurture a culture of learning-by-doing, and through it, we hope that pilot activities will be self-sustained, and that experiences will be passed on.
From sea to land, we work on educating and engaging the public in taking care of our natural resources. Dumanquillas Bay residents joined the global celebration of Coral Triangle Day every June 9, picking up trash on 140 km of beach. The trash data collected was reported to the International Coastal Cleanup. Around 4000 volunteers joined the event.
Choosing better seafood
EAFM may seem to be a bit of a challenge to apply in daily life. Depending on our role in society, we can:
- stop marine pollution that will destroy the coastal waters by being responsible with our trash,
- help protect mangrove forests where young of fish and shell fish grow,
- buy fish that are caught with legal gears (this will allow young fish to grow and adult fish to replenish harvested stocks),
- buy local fish or from sustainable farms, and/or
- contribute to the implementation of an EAFM Plan in a locality.
Doing our bit will keep fish on our plate. Now and tomorrow.
Written by Dana Rose Salonoy with inputs from Dr. Annadel Cabanban, CTI-SEA EAFM Specialist and Mr. Raul Roldan, CTI-SEA Philippine Deputy Team Leader. Images courtesy of Angelo Jose Lumba, Raul Roldan, Eric Avelino, and James Berdach.
United Nations. 2010. Resumed Review Conference on the Agreement Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/reviewconf/FishStocks_EN_A.pdf
University of Michigan. 2006. World Fisheries: Declines, Potential and Human Reliance. Retrieved from http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange2/current/lectures/fisheries/fisheries.html
Green Facts. n.d. Fisheries Latest data. Retrieved from http://www.greenfacts.org/en/fisheries/