Will we have a future with seafood?

Ami writes*

Seafood is popular globally. It is delicious, nutritious, and supports workers in numerous coastal communities. But overfishing threatens aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity.

Industrial fishing occurs across 55% of the oceans, an area four times the land area used for agriculture. Industrial fishing results in wasteful bycatch; trawling and longline fishing harm marine ecosystems and bioproductivity. Only 67% of fisheries are sustainable [pdf], and the Mediterranean fisheries are under the most pressure [pdf]. It is projected that the entire seafood ecosystem will collapse by 2048.

Japan is particularly dependent on fisheries. Japan was the second-largest importer of fish in 2017, after the United States. In 2007, Japan was also the fifth-highest producer of fish products in the world, and paid the largest subsidies for high-seas fishing. North-East Asian people depend on marine resources. China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Spain are responsible for 85% of high-seas fishing.

Japan has imported most of its seafood from China since 1998. This relates to the illegal fishing problem. Every now and then, illegally fished fish species have entered the Japanese markets. ‘Illegal, unreported, and unregulated’ (IUU) fishing is difficult to monitor or control, leading to detrimental humanitarian and environmental impacts. In Japan only five fisheries are sustainable enough to be Marine Stewardship Certified.

Subsidies that encourage overfishing have increased despite resistance by conservationists. Captive breeding attempts to offset overfishing. Captive breeding for bluefin tuna in Japan aims to replace stocks that have fallen by 96% since 1960. But captive breeding is costly and ineffective (low survival rates). It also reduces genetic diversity [pdf], for example, with Atlantic salmon.

While this marine resource depletion continues, it could result in similar consequences seen with the Amazon forest, i.e., where nations ask for (or offer) funds to reduce overfishing. Even if funds are provided, they need to be complemented by policies that prevent other countries from taking the resources instead.

High demand, difficulties in monitoring and control, and climate change  will continue to harm fisheries. Fifty euro sushi menus may become the new normal for future generations.

Bottom Line: Marine resources have been depleted and marine biodiversity is in serious decline. Industrial overfishing in North-East Asian countries, difficult monitoring, and inadequate policies could result in a fish-free future.

* Please help my Environmental Economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice :).

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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