The Prince’s Charities’ International Sustainability Unit (ISU) was created to help build consensus on solutions to some of the major environmental problems facing the world. Over the past two years, the ISU has commissioned research and worked with numerous organisations to develop an understanding of the sustainability and resilience of food systems.
This work has led to two in-depth research and consultation processes that have in turn led to the production of two reports – this one summarising the emerging consensus on solutions to sustaining and increasing food production from the sea, and the other concerned with food production on land.
The increased pressure on marine capture fisheries – from growing populations, rising demand for seafood, and a rapid increase in fisheries exploitation – has caused a decline in the productivity of many fisheries. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 32 per cent of fish stocks are now overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, and this figure is rising every year.
As well as delivering less food and income and supporting fewer livelihoods than they could, overexploited fisheries are also more vulnerable to external pressures such as climate change and pollution. However, research and consultation undertaken by the ISU shows that practical solutions are available. The ISU Marine Programme was initiated to help strengthen consensus around these solutions and to catalyse action through partnerships between the public sector, the fishing industry, the wider private sector and NGOs.
This report presents a synthesis of research commissioned by the ISU, together with findings from a broad stakeholder consultation. It seeks to outline the critical importance of wild fish stocks and the benefits that come from their sustainable management. It shows how these benefits are already being realised in fisheries around the world through the implementation of a wide range of tried and tested tools for sustainability. If managed responsibly, wild fish stocks can play a crucial role in food security, sustainable livelihoods and resilient economies.
The benefits of sustainable fisheries – profits, jobs, food security, resilience
Wild fish stocks are of enormous importance to economic output, livelihoods and food security. If degraded fisheries are rebuilt and sustainably managed, they can make an even larger contribution. The transition of global fisheries to sustainable management will secure these benefits for the long term.
Fisheries contribute approximately US$274 billion to global GDP. However, they are currently an underperforming asset.
The World Bank estimates that if fisheries were managed optimally they could deliver an additional $50 billion each year. At a local level, one study concluded that the Hilsa Shad fishery in Bangladesh could be worth nearly US$260 million more annually, while research commissioned by the ISU estimated that recovering the North-East Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery could lead to economic gains of up to US$510 million per year.
In addition to these studies of the potential benefits there is also clear evidence of their existence in many fisheries, such as in the Pacific halibut fishery where the introduction of a catch-share system lengthened the fishing season and consequently increased the value of fish sold from $1 to $7 per pound.
Economic benefits will flow to those operating in well regulated and sustainable fisheries. Directly and indirectly, fisheries provide employment for hundreds of millions of people. The vast majority of these people are in developing countries where the sector often plays a key role in preventing and reducing poverty; it is likely that millions more people are involved in fishing activities than appear in official statistics.
Only sustainably managed fish stocks can ensure the viability of these livelihoods and, following recovery, generate more employment in the long term. For example, the Ben Tre Clam fishery in Vietnam, after making the transition to sustainability, is now able to support 13,000 households compared to 9,000 in 2007. It goes beyond numbers as sustainable fisheries often also provide a better quality of employment with higher safety standards. In light of recent crises, the contribution of fish and fish products to national and global food security has never been of greater importance. Fish is a renewable and healthy food source which currently supplies 1 billion people with their main source of protein.
Beyond the direct economic, social and food security benefits to be gained from rebuilding fisheries, the transition to sustainable management is likely to make marine ecosystems more resilient to external stresses, including those stemming from climate change and pollution. Fisheries are vital components of ecosystems, and healthy ecosystems are key to the continued productivity of fisheries.
Climate change is one of the biggest threats to marine capture fisheries and there is research suggesting that those countries most vulnerable to its impacts are often amongst the poorest and most reliant on wild fish for food security.
Tools for rebuilding global fish stocks – smart economics, the ecosystem approach, robust management
Research commissioned by the ISU shows that there are many fisheries around the world that have already embarked in these fisheries are varied and context-specific. There is no universal method. However, it is possible to group the available tools under three headings: smart economics; an ecosystem approach; and robust management. Before these instruments can be implemented, there is one overarching requirement: good governance involving comprehensive stakeholder engagement.
Good governance is a prerequisite for sustainable and profitable fisheries. Frameworks which uphold good governance are accountable, transparent, responsive, efficient and subject to the rule of law.
And while top-down frameworks are most effective when they allow for differences at a local level, stakeholder participation at every level, particularly by the fishers themselves, has emerged as one of the most crucial elements of good fisheries governance. Such broadbased participation allows for the incorporation of local and traditional knowledge that, when it comes to the management of fish stocks, can help to instil a sense of responsibility.
Many of the case studies outlined in this report highlight the importance of co-management models as a way of incorporating stakeholders into decision making processes.
Tools for smart economics
The implementation of smart economics has improved the sustainability of many fisheries. In some instances this has been achieved through the introduction of limits on the capacity and usage of fishing vessels (effort restriction) and the allocation of access rights.
As in so many other economic sectors dependent on natural resources, having the right to a portion of these resources creates incentives for fishers to maintain the resource in the long term. There are many different ways to establish access rights. They vary from the more advanced individual transferable quota (ITQ) system, implemented with success in countries such as New Zealand and the US; to the territorial user rights system (TURF), implemented in sedentary fisheries such as the Ben Tre Clam fishery and the Chilean Loco fishery; to less complex systems in countries such as Fiji where local traditions dictate access rights.
In many parts of the world the transition to more sustainable fishing will require that the question of perverse public subsidies is addressed. These typically encourage excess fleet capacity and the over-exploitation of stocks. Such subsidies are estimated to total approximately $16 billion per year globally. Developed countries spend twice as much on these types of industry support as they do on protecting the ocean. Examples of the successful redirection and reduction of subsidies include the fisheries of Norway and New Zealand.
Tools for an ecosystem approach
An ecosystem approach, defined as one that reflects the diverse and dynamic nature of marine ecosystems, is essential to sustainable fisheries management. Many tools exist to help implement the ecosystem approach. These include:
Data collection and analysis
It is difficult to make effective management decisions in the absence of good, usable data. Collaboration between scientists and fishers can be extremely valuable, as shown in the Isle of Man scallop fishery, where strong fisher-scientist partnerships have yielded benefits for stock recovery and fishers’ livelihoods.
Flexible and dynamic management practices are needed to cope with the uncertainty inherent in marine ecosystems. An example is that of real-time management in the Spencer Gulf prawn fishery in Australia that enables changes to fishing activities to be made in just one hour in the event of undersize prawn catches.
Managing competing uses
In areas where there are competing users, such as the energy, extractive and tourist industries, marine spatial planning with comprehensive stakeholder engagement is important. Case studies have shown how conflicting interests between artisanal, recreational and industrial fishing activities can be resolved by this tool.
Establishing protected areas
Permanent, temporary or rolling closures of some areas of the marine environment can have benefits for both conservation and fishing activities. One example of this is in the Mediterranean where the fishers of the Prud’hommes de la pêche organisation have implemented their own protected area and have noted larger and more abundant fish as a result.
The reduction in the catch of non-target species is critical to the sustainability of a fishery and the maintenance of ecosystem health. There are many examples of techniques being developed that aim to reduce bycatch. The ‘eliminator’ trawl is one such innovation which is able to differentiate between cod and haddock behaviour, and thus reduce the catch of non-quota cod.
Tools for robust management
Robust management through monitoring and enforcement ensures compliance with sustainable fishery goals and regulations. This is necessary for the creation of a level playing field, whereby fishers can operate in the knowledge that the resource is not being overexploited by others. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities are estimated to account for approximately one quarter of global marine capture landings.
Technologies such as vessel monitoring systems (VMS) and unique vessel identifiers (UVI) are helping to address the problem. Observer systems, such as the voluntary scheme in the Australian northern prawn fishery also encourage compliance. In other fisheries such as in Sierra Leone, community surveillance has succeeded in reducing IUU fishing activities. On the high seas, international cooperation is fundamental.
In the majority of case studies the transition to sustainability was not based on one or other tool or intervention, but on a package tailored to the needs and constraints of the individual fishery. The implementation of these tools for the transition to sustainability in capture fisheries is beneficial at many scales – local, national and international, and demonstrably achievable.
Enablers of change – knowledge and awareness, transition finance, private sector
Significant steps are being taken in fisheries across the world to move towards more sustainable management and these fisheries provide grounds for considerable optimism. However, many fisheries are still in a perilous state, not least because the tools and interventions highlighted in the case studies are not being deployed, or if they are, at inadequate scale.
In turn, this reflects the fact that transition from business as usual to a sustainable state is a complex process which involves tradeoffs and losers as well as winners, especially in the short term. In many cases, the transition requires upfront investment, and leads to temporary decreases in jobs and income, before the economic, social and environmental benefits are realised. It requires strong will and leadership from the fishing industry, government and local communities.
The critical question, therefore, is how can the transition to sustainable fisheries management be more widely enabled and the pace of change accelerated? This report suggests that there are three key enablers of change:
1. Increasing knowledge and awareness of the importance of sustainable fisheries, both by raising the relative importance given to fisheries in international and national discussions and by increasing data collection and collaborative research between scientists and the fishing industry;
2. The provision of significant funding for fisheries in transition so as to finance management changes and tools, and to mitigate the impact of short-term reductions in fishing activity and incomes; and
3. Greater participation from the private sector along the supply chain, in the form of support for fisheries improvement projects, demand for seafood that is certified sustainable, and taking responsibility for supply chain traceability and the sustainability of inputs such as fishmeal and fish oil.
ISU Next Steps
The next phase of the ISU’s Marine Programme will involve convening stakeholders to take forward two interrelated areas of work. The first of these is to continue building on the emerging consensus between stakeholders about the importance of sustainable fish stocks and the solutions required to achieve their sustainable management. The second is to help facilitate agreement on how the ‘enablers of change’ described above might be developed to support and increase the number of sustainable fisheries around the world.