Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Industrial Fishing in International Waters and Oceans Ecosystems

The discussion of a high-seas ban began several years ago, but is gaining rapid momentum now as member states of the United Nations convene in New York City to negotiate a treaty on protecting high-seas biodiversity from industrial activity, including fishing.

 Marine Reserves

Some marine reserves already exist in international waters. Deep-water seamounts where fish aggregate and where ancient coral beds grow have been protected from destructive bottom trawling through national agreements. More such reserves are necessary, the current discussions in New York "will help focus attention on what's wrong with these fisheries."

That's why some activists and scientists are now discussing the idea of creating a marine reserve so big it would cover most of the ocean. Specifically, they want fishing banned in international waters.

Fishing in International Waters

In this largely unregulated area, fishing boats use voluminous trawl nets, long lines miles in length, and other industrial gear to catch migrating tunas and bill fishes, sharks, and seafloor species like tooth fish, usually sold as Chilean sea bass.

The environmental impact of these fisheries can be devastating. Deep-sea trawling destroys seafloor habitats, including ancient corals, while killing many creatures that are ultimately discarded. Meanwhile, the total contribution to the world's food supply from these fisheries is negligible, catch records have shown.


Only a handful of nations catch most of the fish in the high seas, especially Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Spain.

Because most species in international waters at some point migrate through coastal zones, a ban would not necessarily prevent these fish from being caught, but it would give every nation — even those without long-distance fishing fleets — a fairer chance to catch them.

Deep-sea trawling

Bottom trawling is an industrial fishing method where a large net with heavy weights is dragged across the seafloor, scooping up everything in its path – from the targeted fish to incidentally caught, centuries-old corals.

New Zealand and Japan, are the world's leaders in deep-sea trawling. "That deep-water trawling really needs to stop, irrespective of what happens with the United Nations biodiversity talks,"

While some experts have suggested that it might be politically easier to establish smaller marine reserves surveillance and enforcement actually gets easier as a reserve gets larger.

 How Much?

 How much of the world’s oceans are affected by fishing? In February, a team of scientists led by David Kroodsma from the Global Fishing  The figure at 55 percent—an area four times larger than that covered by land-based agriculture. The paper was widely covered, with several outlets leading with the eye-popping stat that “half the world’s oceans [are] now fished industrially.”

The researched tracked 70,000 industrial fishing vessels from 2012 to 2016.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing are the main activities by which humans appropriate the planet’s primary production  and reshape ecosystems worldwide. Recent advances in satellite-based observation have allowed high-resolution monitoring of forestry and agriculture, creating opportunities such as carbon management , agricultural forecasting , and biodiversity monitoring  on a global scale.

 In contrast, we lack a precise understanding of the spatial and temporal footprint of fishing, limiting our ability to quantify the response of global fleets to changes in climate, policy, economics, and other drivers. Although fishing activities have been monitored for selected fleets using electronic vessel monitoring systems, logbooks, or onboard observers, these efforts have produced heterogeneous data that are not publicly available.

Fishing vessels exhibit behavior with little natural analog, including circumglobal movement patterns and low sensitivity to energy costs or seasonal and short-term interannual oceanographic drivers. It appears that modern fishing is like other forms of mass production that are partially insulated from natural cycles and are instead shaped by policy and culture.

The absolute footprint of fishing is much larger than those of other forms of food production, even though capture fisheries provide only 1.2% of global caloric production for human food consumption, ~34 kcal per capita per day . We also find that large regions of the ocean are not heavily fished, and these areas may offer opportunities for low-cost marine conservation.


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