CANCUN, Mexico – Mitigating overexploitation of the oceans will require reducing the subsidies provided by various governments to fisheries, something that fosters irregular competition and overfishing, said Maximiliano Bello, the top official in an NGO dedicated to improving public policies.
On the occasion of the World Ocean Summit – being held in Cancun, Mexico, from March 7-9 –, the expert with The Pew Charitable Trusts, a US non-governmental organization, said that at least $20 billion is allocated annually to subsidies that go to industrial fishing fleets instead of to small fishermen.
“The countries that subsidize their fisheries cannot continue extracting the sea’s resources in an inflated way, since these (resources) do not respond to the money from subsidies but rather to specific biological characteristics,” he said.
The measure would fit within a “blue economy” policy that interacts with the ocean by taking into account basic elements of conservation and approaches the issue not just from an extractive point of view.
Bello said that it is necessary to end the exploitation paradigm, and he believes that governments must choose between conservation of the oceans and progress.
“There is no progress if there’s no conservation. There’s no business in a sea that’s dead,” he added.
Among the measures required by this approach is also reducing illegal fishing, a $23.5 billion a year business that “is unfair to those who carry out legal and in large measure sustainable activities,” he said.
As a result of this clandestine fishing – which provides one-fifth of the fish humans consume, according to Bello –, governments lose income, coastal communities lose food supplies and, often, certain marine habitats are destroyed.
Bello, who teaches natural resource management at the University of Edinburgh, also emphasized the need to consider protecting the habitat of marine species as an “investment that benefits many other activities, not only fishing but also tourism, and which ... safeguards coastal infrastructure.”
Just 3.6 percent of the world’s oceans are protected to any degree at all, and only 1.8 percent is considered to have “high” protection, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Coastal ecosystems – mangroves, salt marshes and algae beds – are breeding grounds for essential fish and absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide, mitigating the impact in threatened communities of sea level rise, which is ever more worrisome because of climate change.
These “blue economy” measures come in response to the needs of the oceans which, because of mistaken human actions, “are starting to fail” given that the resources of the sea are not limitless, according to Bello.
For instance, estimates are that between 5-13 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean annually, causing economic losses of at least $13 billion.