The Associated Press reports today that “The wealth of Asians [is] straining world fish stocks.”
Wealthier consumers prefer protein. Contributing to the stress of fish stocks, according to the UN Environment Program, is population growth. Consider, India and China alone account for one third of the world’s population. The middle class is rapidly expanding in the two emerging economies and elsewhere throughout Asia. Demand for fish and other protein will only rise. The graph shows the top 10 nations for metric tons of fishing landings, with China leading in the biggest overall catch. But then consider the catch per person: Norway, Peru and Chile are catching far more fish than their citizens could possibly eat, and of course, are exporting to other markets, including Asia.
Besides population, other reasons the stocks are stressed: growing awareness about the benefits of eating fish, government energy subsidies that allow fishing vessels to chase preferred species around the globe, pollutants, and limited data on fish stocks.
“In 2002 the world fishing fleet numbered about four million vessels,” reports the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “The average size of decked vessels remains about 20 GT (around 10-15 metres). Those larger than 100 GT (or longer than 24 m) amounted to about 1 percent of the world fishing fleet. China has approximately 50 percent (25 600) of these larger vessels, while no other country has more than 10 percent of this fleet and about 10 countries together account for 80 percent of the total.”
Sadly, the FAO also reports that the fisheries data are “scarce, incomplete and of low quality.” The FAO also covers how data are collected.
Without adequate data collection and international regulations on fishing, adequately enforced, the fishing industry will continue to grow and expand, possibly endangering stocks. Fishing methods are another critical factor. Regulations should favor those that minimize waste.
A resource that is open to all countries requires careful regulation or the stocks will collapse, otherwise known as the Tragedy of the Commons. As Garrett Hardin argued in 1968, “Freedom in a common brings ruin to all.”
The fishing industry cannot survive without regulations.
Data from FAO and NationMaster.com