The World Bank is no bastion of environmental conservation, but they have joined the swelling ranks of governments, environmental NGOs, fishery managers, and even the WTO (!) in speaking up about the state of the world’s fisheries.

According to a new World Bank study circulated at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress now underway in Barcelona, Spain, streamlining global fishing fleets and catching fewer fish could conservatively save $50 billion per year—at least half the value of the existing global seafood trade.  The report, “The Sunken Billions: The Economic Justification for Fisheries Reform,” estimates that the total economic loss to the global economy over the past 25 years has been approximately $2.2 trillion USD!

Zoinks Scoob!  $2.2 trillion!

Global fish stocks have been diminished to their lowest levels in history, and now ‘too many fishers chasing too few fish’ has made fishing incredibly costly, a sinking ship buoyed by yearly global subsidies of at least $30-34 billion.  Experts estimate that  upwards of 75% of the world’s commercial fish stocks have seen dramatic declines in the last couple decades.

Think this is a minor issue? Think again! Healthy fisheries are fundamental to the global food security and economic security of many of the earth’s poorest people. Fish was once the main animal protein for over 1 billion people.  It provides livelihoods for over 200 million people—90 percent of which are in the developing world. For these people, the loss of fish stocks is devastating, and a matter of economic justice.

‘Sunken Billions’ notes that despite recent large increases in global fishing effort and cost, marine catches have been stagnant for over a decade. The report estimates that current levels of marine catch could be achieved with approximately half of the current global fishing effort—illustrating the massive amount of overcapacity and the inefficiencies of the global fishing fleet.

The World Bank study identified three major ways global fisheries could create an economic surplus and drive economic growth rather than being a net drain on the global economy.  It recommended a reduction in fishing effort, the rebuilding fish stocks, and the elimination of fishing subsidies to increase productivity and lower fishing costs.  In the absence of fishery reform, the World Bank report forecasts increasingly inefficient fishing operations and growing poverty among the world’s fishing communities.

The World Bank report comes on the heels of World Trade Organization deliberations on how to reduce fishing subsidies and simultaneously address the destructive influences of subsidy-driven overfishing.  Reigning in over-fishing has become a rising international priority on the agendas of world leaders in the face of forecasts of future global fishery collapse.

STRP will continue to protect sea turtles and other species from longlining and other harmful fishing practices.  Today, however, it appears destructive industrial fishing practices are heading towards Davy Jones’ Locker.