High Seas Fishing and Marine Protected Areas
For centuries, we thought of the ocean as a huge and almost never-ending source of food. Today, after decades of unsustainable coastal fishing and supertrawlers fishing kilometers deep into the ocean, that initial affirmation is looking more and more dubious. During this short blog, we will introduce the dangers of deep-sea fishing and present some of the challenges and solutions.
To begin with we should look at what high sea fishing (HSF) is. HSF is the practice of fishing beyond the countries’ jurisdiction with different techniques such as surface or deep-sea fishing using huge nets with the capacity of containing up to 12,747 jets.
But why is this practice so bad? HSF is a highly destructive way of fishing… it not only decimates the fish population in the area by taking huge numbers in one catch, but also destroys corals and the sea floor at the same time, not to mention harvesting accidental “bycatch” at the same time.
Thanks to satellite technology and a project led by Enric Sala we can now track every supertrawler or fishing vessel anywhere in the world. Using artificial intelligence algorithms, this project is now able to calculate the costs and revenue of HSF. This research concluded that more than 50% of HSF is not profitable without government subsidies and these subsidies are actually four times larger than the total profit of HSF! Furthermore, if the overfishing industry maintains the same pace, fish populations will continue to decrease resulting in higher prices and decreased profits. This results in a lose-lose situation for the environment and the economy.
Thankfully, we believe that there is a solution… Many places are being decimated by continued and unsustainable fishing. This was the case in Cabo Pulmo for years and years. After making the area into a Marine Protected Area, commercial fishermen stopped their activity and nature was given a chance to recover. After 10 years, fishermen now earn more income through tourism and it has become a rich and diverse ecosystem. Marine Protected Areas do work and when they are managed correctly, it is possible to continue to create jobs and food for local communities. We are seeing examples of this every day in Xcalak with the different zones within the National Marine Park area. We believe that more Marine Protected Areas need to be introduced and fishermen encouraged and trained in more sustainable fishing methods and alternate livelihoods… by stopping HSF, the ocean fauna will begin to thrive again (as it has been proven in Cabo Pulmo and Xcalak, Mexico) and a healthier and more prosperous ocean translates into cheaper close-to-shore fishing and higher tourism incomes for the local people. This is what we call a win-win situation both for the environment and the economy.
Unfortunately, whilst there is such a high demand for fish in people’s diet all over the World, these unsustainable fishing practices will continue to meet this demand. On a personal level one of the biggest changes that we can make to help is to reduce our consumption and thus contribute to lowering the demand. We were pleased to see that XTC Dive Center doesn’t offer any seafood on any of their menus and has created specific vegetarian and vegan options.
We believe that marine conversation charities need to bring more awareness to people about the destructive and unsustainable high sea fishing practices and work with governments to create more Marine Protected Areas. We need to reduce our consumption of fish and look for alternative sources of protein in our diets and continue to use our voices to spread the message.