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Good fisheries management - the only solution to overfishing globally - FAO

Friday 19 June 2020

The 2020 State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture report (SOFIA) has landed from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

This United Nations publication runs to more than 200 pages and covers technical insights and global trends in fisheries, as well as an annual assessment of sustainability by region.

The headline news is that the SOFIA has now calculated the percentage of seafood that comes from biologically sustainable fish populations – something the report has not previously done.

And at 78.7 percent the number, while not perfect, is good.

The report says when fisheries are properly managed, stocks are consistently above target levels or rebuilding, giving credibility to governments around the world, like New Zealand’s that are willing to take strong action. The opposite is true of governments with no fisheries management plan and those jurisdictions have poor or deteriorating stocks.

This should be of interest to the detractors of New Zealand’s Quota Management System (QMS), as this is yet another international endorsement of its effectiveness.

The FAO report says it is abundantly clear that intensively managed fisheries, such as New Zealand’s have decreased fishing pressure and increased biomass while those that do not are in poor shape – and they are bringing the total level of sustainable fisheries globally down.

Well managed fisheries are critical to feed the world and the FAO has a vested interest in keeping stocks healthy. That’s reinforced by the report which says global fish consumption is growing faster than any other protein. An average increase of 3.1 percent each year while other animal protein like meat and dairy are growing at 2.1 percent. Fish gives 3.3 billion people 20 percent of their animal protein each year and in countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia that rises to 50 percent.

Unfortunately, because of poor management of fisheries in developing countries, the percentage of unsustainable fisheries has increased from 33.1 percent in the last SOFIA update to 34.2 percent.

The waters of the Pacific southwest, eastern central and northeast are leading the sustainability charge. Those are the waters off New Zealand, and the United States, both of which have robust fisheries management regimes in place. However, the Mediterranean and the waters off South America are in dire straits.

While developed countries are more likely to have fisheries management in place and harvest fewer fish, developing countries with less strict management harvest three times more fish and have half the abundance of waters which have good fisheries management in place.

The good results in countries like New Zealand and the United States are not sufficient to reverse the damage being done elsewhere.  The FAO says this highlights the need to urgently replicate successful management systems, such as New Zealand’s QMS in poorly performing fisheries.

All of which highlights the danger of falling for the rhetoric around calls for an overhaul of New Zealand’s fisheries management system.

While the industry will be the first to admit the QMS is not perfect and will continue to advocate for small changes to be made, the system is still one of the best in the world.

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