Threatened Fish Stocks Need More Management, Analysts Say

An Indonesian fisherman examines part of his day’s catch.
An Indonesian fisherman examines part of his day’s catch.

By Kathryn McConnell
IIP Staff Writer
Washington
January 15, 2013
With climate change and illegal fishing threatening fish stocks and ocean health around the world, countries need to work together and with industry to manage access to fish, analysts say.

“We need to redirect aquaculture and fish farming toward sustainable and responsible practices that contribute to food security,” Barbara Best, senior coastal resources adviser at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said at a January 14 forum on fish and food security in Southeast Asia. The forum was held at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Around 1 billion people in Southeast Asia depend on fish for food, she said.

Roger Pulwarty, a climate expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), outlined the challenges to sustainable fisheries.

Climate change is being seen in rising sea levels and in warmer oceans and land surfaces, he said. Those factors and industrialization all affect the quality of the water in oceans and the water going into oceans.

“The chemistry of oceans is changing,” Pulwarty said, noting that the waters are becoming more acidic, which is weakening reefs that serve as habitat for many commercially important species. In addition, the heat of the water is altering fish migration patterns, which is drawing fish away from communities that rely on catches for protein and income, he said.

Climate change has the potential to reduce global catches 40 percent. In addition, the fish being caught are smaller and smaller, Pulwarty said.

Blane Olson, U.S. director of Anova Food LLC, represented industry based in Indonesia at the forum. He said illegal, unregulated and unreported catches have resulted in serious overfishing that has reduced the amount of legally caught tuna to 20 percent of the amount caught in 2006. Anova is the largest importer of frozen sashimi and tuna steaks from Indonesia to the United States.

Olson applauded a seafood retailer scorecard developed by the environmental group Greenpeace that rates supermarket chains for the degree that they demand that the fish they buy are from sustainable stocks.

While countries in Southeast Asia know that fish are vital for food, nutrition and livelihoods, many lack the tools to sustainably manage their fisheries, Best said.

Recognizing this, in 2007 Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste established the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security “to safeguard the vast marine and coastal resources upon which many people depend,” Best said. The United States, through the State Department, USAID and NOAA, was an early supporter of the country-led initiative, she added.

Indonesia’s waters are also protected by the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership created in 2008. That includes a five-year, $35 million marine resources program focused on ocean research, maritime law management and law enforcement capacity-building, Best said.

The partnership aims to restore marine biodiversity in Indonesian waters; promote sustainable, resilient fisheries management while maintaining profitability; increase resilience to climate change and natural disasters; and reduce poverty and food scarcity, she added.

She said better management of fisheries has been shown to increase the resilience of coral reefs to rising ocean temperatures.

Indonesia has more than half of the world’s reefs and three-fourths of all known coral species. Fisheries generate about 20 percent of Indonesia’s national income and contribute to 60 percent of its protein consumption, Best said.

“We are confident that by working together with Indonesia and other partners in the region, we can find sustainable solutions to preserve marine assets for future generations,” she said.