Ok, “without fish” is a little bit of an overstatement, but a new report out by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and leading economists warns us that if fishing policies don’t change, all commercial fisheries could collapse in the next 40 years, which is pretty dramatic. UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner has made it clear that we really are heading towards unprecedented disaster if policies aren’t changed:
“Fisheries across the world are being plundered, or exploited at unsustainable rates. It is a failure of management of what will prove to be monumental proportions unless addressed.”
Luckily, governments can make a huge difference in this arena and can generate economic growth in the meantime if they changes course now, as UNEP shows in a preview of its Green Economy report (which will be published later in the year) that it unveiled on May 17, 2010.
To get into the matter, consider this:
- The total value of fish caught per year is approximately $85 billion.
- An additional $27 billion is dished over as government subsidies.
- $8 billion of those subsidies are classified as “good” and the rest are classified as “bad” or “ugly” by the Green Economy report because they contribute to over-exploitation of stocks.
The result of these massive “bad” or “ugly” government subsidies, mismanagement and lack of enforcement is that approximately 30% of fish stocks are now classified as “collapsed” (meaning that they are yielding less than 10% of their former potential).
Furthermore, only 25% of commercial stocks are considered to be in a healthy or reasonably healthy state. And maintaining current trends, all commercial fisheries could collapse by 2050 “unless urgent action is taken to bring far more intelligent management to fisheries north and south.”
What’s the Cost (or Benefit) of Governments Saving Fisheries (and All Those Who Rely on Them)?
In order to bring fishing to a sustainable level, the report predicts that “an investment of between US$220 to US$320 billion world-wide is required,” equal to approximately $8 billion a year. However, this investment would come with significant benefits as well. It would:
- Raise total income of fishing households, including those engaged in artisanal fishing, from US$35 billion to around US$44 billion a year;
- Increase annual profits for fishing enterprises from US$8 billion to US$11 billion annually;
- Increase the marine fisheries catch from about 80 million tonnes to 112 million tonnes a year worth US$119 billion annually versus the current US$85 billion.
So, overall, the economic benefit of bringing fishing to a sustainable level would be much greater than the cost.
“Discounting this flow of benefit over time at three per cent and five per cent real discount rates, gives a present value of benefit from greening the fishing sector of US$1.05 trillion and US$1.76 trillion, which is three to five times the high-end estimate of US$320 billion as the cost of greening global fisheries,” says the preview report.
The best option seems clear. Hopefully, the necessary action to implement that option will follow.