New surveillance technologies are needed to rein in illegal fishing; one promising related development is the Agreement on Port State Measures, a global treaty intended to curb illegal fishing vessels’ access to ports. However, more countries must back the agreement.
The scientific philosopher Thomas Henry Huxley assured everyone in 1883 that it would be impossible to deplete populations of prolific fish like cod, mackerel, and herring. Within a century, he was proven wrong. Fish are being removed from the sea faster than they can be replaced.
Illegal and unreported fishing are growing problems. According to a study published in Marine Policy, up to a third of all wild seafood imported in the US is believed to be illegally caught. In the case of long-living, slow-growing marine species, a single incident of illegal fishing can set an ocean ecosystem back decades.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported in 2018 that about a third of global fish stocks are overfished - not least because fishing laws promote the philosophy that anything fishermen fail to harvest themselves will just be taken by others. Research published in 2016 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that replacing antiquated fishery governance systems with rights-based fishery management tools could increase fisheries’ collective annual profit by $53 billion. These tools can be used to allocate individual fishing rights to local fishermen and fishing communities, and their successful adoption has been documented in Australia, Iceland, and Mexico. Another issue is wasteful inefficiency; many fisheries capture, kill, and potentially discard marine species like sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles regardless of their suitability as potential food, and the damage that this causes imperils broader ecosystem health.
There are a variety of other ways to combat overfishing, including a closer review of the billions of dollars spent on fishery subsidies that can promote economically-irrational overfishing. Meanwhile the World Trade Organization is pushing forward negotiations for reform in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, which aims to end harmful subsidies by 2020.
Replicating the European Union’s yellow/red card program, which blocks market access to non-compliant foreign supply nations, is another option for combating illegal fishing. Controlling overfishing and illegal fishing is an increasingly critical element of safeguarding global food security - and of ensuring the health and prosperity of coastal economies.