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 0f 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/