New Scientist 10th August 1996
THE state of the world's fishing industry was under intense scrutiny last week in Brisbane at the second world fisheries congress attended by 800 delegates from 49 countries. What they heard makes sombre reading. About a loo million tonnes of fish are caught each year and about a quarter of that is fish that are not wanted in the first place-most discarded fish do not survive. In 1990, 20 kg of finfish and shellfish were harvested for every person on Earth. The world fishing fleet has doubled in size since 1970 and now has twice the capacity needed to bring in the maximum sustainable fish catch. Little wonder that the conference keynote speaker, Pamela Mace, a fisheries scientist with the US National Marine Fisheries Service, said that the global fishing fleet should be cut to half its present size. Mace, a graduate of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, said that the size of the fleet was being propped up by govemment subsidies. The subsidies, she said, are approaching the total value of the catch which is about A$70 billion. By my rough maths-and extrapolating from fisheries where figures are available such as Queensland, Chile and British Columbia-Mace is talking about taking half a million fishing boats off the sea. That would be a revolution in a very traditional industry. There will be a pressure to maintain the status quo, said Mace, but the status quo is no longer a viable option. "The ftiture industry must emphasise longterm sustainability over short-term gain," she said. Drastic action-such as reducing the fishing fleet-seems to be what is required. Several speakers at the conference said that setting catch quotas often don't work because of the difficulty of enforcement. But in Canada, there is some evidence that regulating the length of the fishing season or the number of permits does help.