Creating national parks of the sea may be the only effective
way to reverse trends that have left 76 percent of world fish stocks
fully- or over-exploited and marine biodiversity at severe risk,
according to the new report, Oceans in Peril: Protecting Marine
Biodiversity, released today by the Worldwatch Institute.
Marine reserves are essential to protect the biodiversity
that maintains ecosystem integrity, say the reports authors,
Michelle Allsopp, Richard Page, Paul Johnston, and David Santillo.
The four environmental experts call for a radical change in fisheries
management, from a single-species approach to one that is ecosystem
based and also includes the use of precautionary measures to tackle
pollution and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that are changing
the temperature and chemistry of the oceans.
The oceans cannot save themselves,
says Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute.
Collective commitments to thriving ecosystems are needed to
save overfished species from being systematically depleted from
Major reasons for the depletion of fish stocks
include overfishing, the use of bottom trawling and other destructive
fishing techniques, unsustainable aquaculture, and illegal, unregulated,
and unreported (IUU) fishing.
Bottom trawling has been likened to forest clearcutting.
As fishers drag heavy nets and other gear across the sea floor,
this causes massive collateral damage to corals and other features
that offer protection and habitat for many creatures.
Bycatch is a growing problem, killing or injuring
hundreds of thousands of seabirds, turtles, marine mammals, and
other marine species annually. In some cases, industrial fishers
discard nearly half their dead or dying catch back into the sea.
While fish farming adds to the worlds fish
supply, in some intensive aquaculture systems the weight of fishmeal
inputs is greater than the weight of farmed fish produced. Producing
some carnivorous fish, like salmon, requires amounts of fishmeal
between 2.5 and 5 times the amount of fish produced. For tuna raised
on ranches, the weight of wild fish used is about 20 times the weight
of tuna produced.
IUU fishing accounts for up to 20 percent of the
global catch and is worth $49 billion a year. As industrial
countries see their own fish stocks fall and impose stricter controls,
fishers often move to developing-country waters where effective
control is absentjeopardizing the livelihoods of fishing communities.
Human-induced climate change is predicted to increase
sea-surface temperature, raise sea levels, and reduce sea-ice cover.
Polar regions may already be suffering from climate change. In one
sector of the Southern Ocean, krill densities fell by an estimated
80 percent between 1976 and 2003, correlating with losses in the
extent and duration of sea ice the previous winter and leaving penguins,
albatrosses, seals, and whales especially vulnerable. In parts of
the Arctic, the impacts of climate change on sea ice and snowfall
may be affecting the breeding success of ivory gulls, ringed seals,
and polar bears.
Pollution from chemical, radioactive, and nutrient
sources; oil spills; and marine debris can contaminate the marine
environment, kill organisms, and undermine ecosystem integrity.
Of particular concern is the effect on marine wildlife of persistent
organic pollutants (POPs), especially those chemicals not yet regulated
under the 2001 Stockholm Convention, such as brominated flame retardants.
Marine debris, including plastics and derelict fishing gear, is
responsible for causing death and injury to many marine species,
among them seabirds, turtles, and marine mammals. Large oxygen-depleted
dead zones, made worse by excessive nitrogen runoff
from fertilizers, sewage discharges, and other sources, are further
signs that the oceans are under severe stress.
A well-designed global network of marine reserves,
covering key ecosystems and habitats, could help reverse the devastating
toll human actions are taking on the worlds oceans, note the
authors. Marine reserves are a proven method for restoring fish
At the Soufriere Marine Management Area in St.
Lucia in the Caribbean, three years of protection tripled the biomass
of commercial fish species within the closed reserves. After five
years, in areas outside the reserves, biomass doubled and average
catches per trip increased 46 to 90 percent depending on the size
of trap used.
Marine reserves established in the Red Sea in
1995 increased the catch per unit of effort in surrounding areas
by more than 60 percent after five years of protection.
There is currently no mechanism under existing
international agreements to create a global marine reserve network
encompassing the high seasareas beyond national jurisdiction.
The authors suggest a new implementation agreement under the United
NationsConvention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to establish and
manage such reserves. They call for an integrated, precautionary,
and ecosystem-based approach to the conservation and sustainable
management of the marine environment in the high seas.
The authors also recommend moving negotiations
on fish and fish products out of the World Trade Organization and
into other multilateral fora where commercial and trade interests
do not dominate. They call for an end to sweetheart
agreements that allow industrial countries to fish liberally in
developing-country waters: in the case of tuna fishing in the Pacific,
the economic return from access fees and licenses paid by foreign
fleets is at most 5 percent of the $2 billion the fish is worth.
Fairer deals would allow coastal states to manage resources more
sustainably and ensure continued livelihoods for communities.
A holistic, ecosystem-based approach, where demands
on marine resources are managed within the limits of what the ecosystem
can provide, is needed to protect marine biodiversity. Current
presumptions that favor freedom to fish and freedom of the seas
will need to be replaced with the new concept of freedom for the
seas, notes the report.