Turning the tide of ocean exploitation

by Suzanne Orme

A large expansion of marine sanctuaries, stronger enforcement of laws to prevent illegal fishing and better consumer information are the keys to protect marine biodiversity and fish stocks.  Seafood is a food source for 3,000 million people worldwide according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the US (FAO) (6).

In 2012 the Australian government created the largest network of protected marine areas anywhere in the world…. a great step forward.  But according to the IUCN and UNEP (1) only 1.6% of the world’s oceans have this level of protection and continue to be at risk of overexploitation.

The world’s oceans are the last frontier, a modern day example of Gareth Hardin’s  “tragedy of the commons”.

This is because the greatest risk to global fish stocks today is overfishing. According to another study from the FAO, (2) only 15% of fisheries are considered under or moderately exploited meaning they are able to produce more than their current yields.

The proportion of marine fish stocks that are overexploited or collapsed has increased considerably in recent decades and was valued at up to US$36 billion in 2000 by one study published in the journal Bionature (4).

An international agreement that balances biodiversity protection with sustainable management of seafood resources has the potential to set up the framework for international cooperation on this important issue.

According to one report from UNEP (5), a priority is the removal of unrealistic quotas and government subsidies of US$27,000million/yr that encourage an expansion capacity “by a factor of two relative to the ability of fish to reproduce”.

Ultimately better consumer information and labelling are the keys to successful transformation of the fishing industry. While one research study (3) indicated that in 2007 only 7% of fish products were certified as coming from sustainable fisheries, the number of certifications is now rapidly increasing.

Market changes are being driven by some major supermarket chains and branded canned fish producers implementing sourcing policies that favour certified Marine Stewardship Council  labelled seafood.   The Australian Marine Conservation Society is an NGO that provides an on –line sustainable seafood guide and an phone “app”. These can be accessed at: http://www.sustainableseafood.org.au/Sustainable-Seafood-Guide-australia.asp?active_page_id=695

Greenpeace have produced a guide to the canned fish products currently on Australian supermarket shelves. Access the guide at: http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/what-we-do/oceans/Take-action/canned-tuna-guide/

There are two simple questions to ask….  Firstly “Where does this fish come from?” and secondly “How has it been caught?”

Stronger labelling and an informed and enlightened public that is in possession of the facts have the potential to turn the tide of ocean exploitation.



1)  IUCN and UNEP-WCMC (2011) The World Database on Protected areas  http://www.wdpaorg

(2)  FAO (2010) The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture (2010), Food and Agriculture Organisation, Rome

(3) Jacquet, J. et al Conserving wild fish in a sea of market-based efforts. Oryx 44(1) 45-56

(4) Srinivasan, U.T et al (2010) Food security implications of global marine catch losses due to overfishing. Journal of Bioeconomics 12, 183 -200

(5) UNEP ( 2011)Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development

and Poverty Eradication – A Synthesis for Policy Makers. United Nations

Environment Programme, St-Martin Bellevue

(6) FAO (2011). Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Food and Agriculture

Organization, Rome   http://www.fao.org/tc/resourcemobilization/ifas/ccrf/en/

8 thoughts on “Turning the tide of ocean exploitation

  • Kirsten H
    February 27, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    Knowing the sad state of the world,s fisheries is depressing. i’m certain ther are many people who cherish our oceans AND love eating all types of seafood which are a healthier alternative than meat. The product listings are very good to know about. Now we can have our fish and eat it too!

    • Suzy Orme
      March 10, 2013 at 10:47 am

      To Kirsten,

      thanks for your comment. Knowing the product listings is one thing, being able to purchase the items on the list is quite another! I spend an hour yesterday morning at Sydney Fish Markets trying to find a supplier of wild Australian Salmon….. not one fishmonger stocks it. All salmon available at SFM at the moment is farmed, unfortunately. I was also disappointed that the staff, who you expect to be knowledgeable about the seafood they are selling, seemed unsure of where most of the fish came from and perplexed as to why I was asking. I did not see one label indicating how the fish had been caught……VERY SAD!!!

  • Amanda
    February 28, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Yes, education is key!

  • Robert W
    February 28, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    yes letting everyone know where products come from and what is sustainable is vital.

    But also important is to get agreement on the situation and this needs to come from community leaders and politicians who acknowledge the experts in this area

    • Suzy Orme
      March 3, 2013 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Robert W,
      Yes I agree!

  • Kleervue
    March 3, 2013 at 2:57 am

    The third simple question to ask is “Why am I eating animals at all?” All animals are handled cruelly and despatched barbarically. It is about time the author converted to vegetarianism.

    • Suzy Orme
      March 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      Hi Kleervue,
      I’m the writer and think your question is insightful. Yes eating animals needs to be questioned on many fronts – cruelty and environmental impact to name just two of them. I’m not sure though whether I’d call a fish an animal. Do they feel pleasure or pain like a cow or lamb. I thought that “sentience” starts somewhere between a chicken and a fish

  • James McGhee
    March 7, 2013 at 9:01 am

    All I can say is – if the smoking lobby can make the government – make the tobacco maker’s packages go green..then there is hope for truth in labelling – on many wider fronts. The plain and simple facts are – big brands used to be a measure of trust…for society. But – that is now not the case – as everything is made in China…and quality controls have slipped off the radar. Price is the main driver…and it is a fast dive to the bottom.
    The things we took for granted – that there was some one – somewhere..who worked out uniform standards – that have to be met – as a minimum to protect us punters in society. Well – it is a fallacy. With a more educated society – the norm is to ask the question and the norm is to have an answer available. But, the real world is painfully catching up. The answers are not to be found.
    So, the squeaky wheel has to loundly squeak – to get any oil…in this modern noisy world of squeaks. The more people talk about it – the better. But, just like the anti-smoking lobby…the road is long and the end – is never near. With each achievement made – with each mountain climbed..all that can be seen is – that there are more mountains out there!!!
    More people acting and writing to the Government and politicians and media and anyone else who will listen – is the key. A little bit…and often. Each step counts.
    I recall recently speaking to a lady who had just returned from a swin around the Greek Islands. The weather and the water was beautiful. But amazingly – she saw no fish!!!
    The Mediterranean has been completely fished out – centuries ago – was the simple answer – to her humble question. Ouch!!!

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