Stop fishing on high sea – or at the coast?

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Trawler of the German Democratic Republic on high sea, 1983
(Photo: Jürgen Sindermann, Bundesarchiv, Wikimedia Commons)

Some redoubtable marine researchers have come to the conclusion that high sea fishing should be stopped at all in order to save the fish stocks we still have and to even boost the actual catch volume!

The University of British Columbia based researchers around famous fishery biologist Daniel Pauly claim closing the high seas to commercial fishing could be catch-neutral and distribute fisheries income more equitably among the world's maritime nations.

If fishing in international waters (200 miles off the coast) was banned, this could become the world’s «fish bank», the researchers propose. And while today 10 nations alone land 71 per cent of value of catches in international waters, fishing restricted to the 200 miles national exclusive economic zones (EEZ) would distribute this value more equitably among the coastal states. As a matter of fact the high seas are part of the «common heritage of mankind» as charted 1982 by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Abstract: Science Daily
Study: Winners and losers in a world where the high seas is closed to fishing. U. Rashid Sumaila, Vicky W. Y. Lam, Dana D. Miller, Louise Teh, Reg A. Watson, Dirk Zeller, William W. L. Cheung, Isabelle M. Côté, Alex D. Rogers, Callum Roberts, Enric Sala, Daniel Pauly. Scientific Reports, 2015; 5: 8481

The problem of a high seas fishing ban however is that many species of commercial interest are dwelling within the EEZ rather than far off the coast. High sea ban may save tuna and swordfish stocks but not the ones of groupers, seabeams, mackerels, and many others.

Instead, should we not reduce fishiung the nearer it comes to the coast? Coastal waters are the most prolific and are the nursery ground of most aquatic species.
As a matter of fact, says star marine biologist Jeremy Jackson, mankind is well on the way to destroy the coastal marine ecosystems. To stop it, we have to «protect a third of the ocean completely from fishing», Jackson urges. Actually we protect not even one per cent and by that we cause a lot of ecological and social problems beyond just oberfishing, Jackson explains.

No more fishing on one third of all ocean surfaces? Greenpeace is calling for one forth which sounds already far out for fishermen as well as for fish enthusiasts. But let’s face it: 33 per cent, and it should not be just unproductive ocean regions but a mixture of it all, the most prolific areas included to cut the mustard: rebuilding healthy stocks and preserving the functions of the marine and coastal ecosystems.

Thus we better create big and plenty enough no take zones as well on high sea as along the coasts.

Interview with Jeremy Jackson
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