Lasse Gustavsson is the Executive Director of Oceana in Europe, the world’s largest international advocacy organisation focused solely on marine conservation
Have you ever thought about why the hake you eat might originate from Argentina or Namibia rather than the Mediterranean? Well, it’s because of a global environmental problem called overfishing. In short, overfishing means catching too many fish at a faster rate than the fish stocks can naturally reproduce.
In European seas, two thirds of fish populations are currently overfished, mainly because politicians are more focused on the short-term economic interests than the long-term sustainability of the fishing industry, leading to the depletion of a collective natural resource. The European Union is only two years away from its legally-binding 2020 deadline to fish all its stocks at sustainable levels.
However, the big question is: will the politicians actually be able to reach this goal?
For years decision-makers have been emptying our seas by making irresponsible decisions on fishing quotas based on short-term interests, and ignoring most of the scientific recommendations. This is worrying, given that the negative impact ‒ less fish in the sea ‒ will persist, often beyond their political terms. Already today we can see very clear evidence of the consequences of rampant overfishing.
41% of European Atlantic stocks (commercially important species, like cod, hake, sole and haddock), including those in the North Sea, are currently overfished. Last December, the EU’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council made yet again a disappointing political decision that allows continuing overfishing in 2018.
In European seas, two thirds of fish populations are currently overfished
Over the last couple of years we have seen some progress on the path to sustainability. But ministers have no reason to celebrate as time is running out. If the politicians continue their business as usual, they will fail to meet the legal obligation of stopping overfishing of all EU stocks.
The situation in the Mediterranean is even worse. According to the European Commission, 93% of species are overexploited. Species such as red mullet, hake and monkfish are on the verge of depletion, as they have been harvested at levels much higher than what is scientifically considered as sustainable.
The percentage of the dwindling stocks in the Mediterranean has been increasing over the years, marking it as the worst hit region in Europe. Scientists, fishermen and coastal communities are worried about the future of the Mediterranean, and they should be. The future of their families is at stake because of the rapid decline of the valuable resource which their livelihoods depend on.
To help turn this negative tide, the European Commission last year launched the #MedFish4Ever declaration, a ten-year pledge to save Mediterranean fish stocks and the region’s ecological and economic wealth. They now need to put words into action. Only a serious commitment and the proper implementation of the proposed strategy can make these promises a real success story.
There are reasons to be optimistic. If we manage fish stocks better, they will bounce back, and they will bounce back fast. Last year, Oceana published a new study that takes a closer look at the social and economic benefits of healthy and thriving fisheries. There’s no doubt that more fish in the oceans will generate more food, more jobs and more money.
Scientists, fishermen and coastal communities are worried about the future of the Mediterranean, and they should be
Because of overfishing, fish are caught from smaller stocks than their potential size. The EU catches currently 3.5 million tonnes of fish annually, but if we let stocks rebound and if we manage them sustainably, this could increase to 5.5 million more, maximising the long-term catches. More catches mean more food.
At the same time, more fish in the ocean creates the opportunity for 92.000 new full-time jobs in the fishing sector as well as in fisheries-related industries (food manufacturing, retail, consumer goods), thereby boosting the wider economy, as over 60% new employment positions could emerge. Each job in the fishing sector can, on average, create three more jobs further down the supply chain.
Finally, the report reveals that if we stop overfishing now and replenish the fish stocks to sustainable levels, in less than a decade, the EU’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could increase by almost 5 billion euros a year. France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and Denmark are the countries that could yield most benefits.
Ministers from all 28 EU member states are already equipped with the necessary knowledge and tools to make the right decisions for the environment, the economy and society as a whole. There is no more time to waste, there are no excuses to continue overfishing in EU waters. If we want to avoid a future crisis, the time to act is now.
The only question left is – will there be enough political will to finally stop overfishing in 2018?
IMAGE CREDIT: ilirjan rrumbullaku/Flickr