02 / 1998
The preface to Alain Le Sann’s book `A Livelihood from Fishing: Globalization and Sustainable Fisheries Policies’, written by Jean Chaussade, highlights critical issues in fishery management. These are summarised.
The period of the last five decades has been characterized by staggering technological and social progress for mankind. Nonetheless, human misery and hunger, which should have been abolished in this modern era of medical advancement, have only spread to affect more and more of the world’s populations.
It is in this context that the issue of how oceans ought to feature as a source of food for mankind assumes importance, given that nutritional needs are set to grow along with the world population, which is estimated at six billion in 2000, and predicted to pass nine billion in 2050. Furthermore, agricultural production will almost certainly reach a plateau or even decline.
There is an enormous discrepancy between the North and the South in the consumption of seafood-27 kg per person per year in the North, compared to 9 kg per person per year in the South. This can not be explained solely by the superior biological fertility of coastal waters off the developed countries. The discrepancy, as the authors of this book argue, is, above all, due to the fact that the underdevelopment and indebtedness of Southern countries oblige them to forego part of their own fish supply.
While, overall, production from fisheries and aquaculture has grown enormously over recent years in the South, the produce has increasingly been exported to earn foreign currency. The net result is that supplies have gone to the more industrialized regions of the world, where demand is continually on the rise. They have gone to serve the nutritional needs of local populations. In other words, ocean resources are benefiting populations that already enjoy high levels of food intake, rather than those that are short of protein.
Simultaneously, another anomaly can be observed- the mismanagement of fisheries resources, including fish, molluscs and shellfish, whose nutritional value is unanimously acknowledged. It is an unpalatable and immoral fact that a third of all fish catches (about 30 million tonnes)is destined not to feed humans, but to fatten livestock (poultry, cattle, pigs, salmon, shrimps, and so on). Not only is this utterly wasteful, it is biologically nonsensical.
Similarly absurd is the fact that tens of millions of tonnes of fish and other marine animals are thrown back into the sea from fishing vessels just because nothing has been done to sell them. Hundreds of shrimp trawlers work to supply the dining tables of a few rich countries while, out at sea, other fish (the so-called by-catches)are discarded just a few miles away from the African or Asian coasts. At the same time, nearly one billion men, women and children struggle on in poverty and hunger.
Aquaculture is often billed the great hope for aqua-production of the future. Over the next 20 or 30 years, aquaculture production is predicted to grow to the same level as current production from capture fisheries. Can aquaculture really provide an alternative to wild, capture fishery? We believe that it can, but only if due respect is paid to nature and to the environment. Ominously enough, spurred by speculative interests, most intensive aquaculture units are concentrating on high-value species, such as salmon and shrimps, rather than on
producing food to supply those in need. These units simultaneously pose a threat to the biological fertility and quality of the neighbouring environment and coastal waters.
The only sensible way forward is through extensive or perhaps semi-extensive aquaculture, i.e. only systems sensitive to fragile ecosystems. A reduction of investment at all levels is required. Its socio-economic viability has been clearly demonstrated by China, where, for centuries, the culture of freshwater fish has been successfully integrated into agricultural systems in combination with, for example, pig rearing or rice cultivation.
Effective management of the oceans’ resources will depend on our ability to organize its exploitation for the interests and benefit of each and every stakeholder.
Classical fishing development strategies, conceived by research bodies and implemented by governments, rarely achieve their objectives. The harsh reality of competition and the yearning for quick, short-term gains inevitably make us continue to behave as though fish stocks and ocean resources are inexhaustible. The assaults on the hydrosphere have become veritable raids on the world’s precious fish stocks. That the seas are overfished is the logical outcome of a system that drives ship owners to intensify their fishing effort and to extend their areas of
operation without any regard for the medium- or long-term effects on the marine ecosystem.
Clearly, codes of good practice that will help define responsible fishing techniques and processes are long overdue. Without such codes, we will continue to endanger prospects for survival. Substitute selfishness with solidarity, and short-term carelessness with thoughtful deliberation -that should be the message for the 21st century.
Articles and files
CHAUSSADE, Jean, Living the fishing in. Samudra Report, 1998/01, 19