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World Bank Report Slams Overfishing at World Environmental Meeting

Wasteful Fishing Practices Cost Global Fleet $2.2 Trillion between 1974-2007 while Driving Sea Turtles, Seabirds and Sharks Toward Extinction

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—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.  The report, “The Sunken Billions: The Economic Justification for Fisheries Reform,” estimated that the total economic loss to the global economy over the past 25 years to be approximately $2 trillion USD.  These losses represent the difference between the potential and actual net economic benefits from global marine fisheries.

Read the report: <http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTARD/Resources/336681-1215724937571/SunkenBillionsAdvanceWebEd.pdf>

“Modern fishing practices are not only kill hundreds of thousands of endangered sea turtles as by-catch each year, they are now economically marginal activities increasingly funded by governments, not private companies.” said Mike Milne of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “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,” added Milne.

‘Sunken Billions’ notes that despite recent large increases in global fishing effort and cost, marine catches have been stagnant for over a decade, hovering at around 85 million tons per year.  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 authors cite the build-up of redundant fishing fleet capacity, deployment of increasingly powerful fishing technologies and increasing pollution and habitat loss as main reasons why fish stocks have collapsed.

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 report was presented at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Congress currently underway in Barcelona, Spain.   The IUCN—the world’s first and largest professional global conservation network with more than 1,000 member organizations—brings governments, non-government organizations, United Nations agencies, companies and local communities together to develop and implement international policy and law.

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.

Healthy fisheries are fundamental to the global food security and economic growth.  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.