Worldwatch Institute

“Greening” fisheries could calm troubled waters


Source: Worldwatch Institute

The global fishing industry is suffering from a 'failure of management' that will likely lead to the collapse of several fisheries unless unsustainable subsidies are scaled down or phased out, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Fishing is a critical means of providing food, livelihood, trade, and economic growth in many developing countries, as well as the United States and other developed countries. In many small island developing nations and coastal countries-such as Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, and Ghana-fish provide at least 50 percent of the population's total animal protein intake. And approximately 43.5 million people's year-round incomes depend on fish production while another 4 million people depend on seasonal jobs as fishers and fish product workers.

Yet, despite the important role of fisheries in maintaining economic and social wellbeing, 'fisheries around the world are being plundered or exploited at unsustainable rates,' said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director. Speaking about the release of the UNEP's Green Economy Initiative Report, Steiner argued that the current fishing industry suffers from 'a failure of management of what will prove to be monumental proportions unless addressed.'

The Green Economy Initiative report, scheduled for release later this year, argues that investment in greening the economy across a range of sectors-including agriculture, fisheries, and water-can drive global economic recovery and lead to future prosperity, job creation, and improved environmental conservation.

Currently, some 52 percent of the world's marine fisheries are fully exploited and producing at or near their maximum limits. Another 28 percent are categorized as overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. When fisheries collapse, the result is more than just the loss of fish life: livelihoods, communities, and entire economies are ruined.

Though the current outlook for fisheries may be troubling, researchers say that all is not lost. According to the Green Economy Initiative's report, an $8 billion annual investment in rebuilding and greening the world's fisheries could have a positive and lasting impact on the fishing industry worldwide. The funding would come from scaling down or phasing out the nearly $30 billion worth of subsidies currently in place worldwide. Researchers say this investment has the potential to both increase fish catches and generate $1.7 trillion in longterm economic returns over the next four decades.

Some possible methods for greening fisheries highlighted in the report include providing job training in alternative jobs industries, reducing the size of fishing fleets to limit excess harvesting capacity, and providing additional funding for fishery management to expand marine protected areas.

Visit Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet blog to learn more about the role of agriculture in stimulating local economies and enriching the lives of individuals across the world.

This article originally appeared on the Worldwatch Institute blog Nourishing the Planet. For permission to republish this report, please contact Juli Diamond at

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