Despite the efficiency of the modern fishing industry, the supply of fish has actually been falling in the last few years. About a third of the world’s grounds are now over-exploited, according to the World Bank, which also blames pollution, ecosystem damage, and climate change for the ongoing collapse.
As the human population increases towards 9 billion plus, we’re going to need the protein that fish provides. By 2030, demand for fish could rise another 20%, meaning the gap between supply and what’s needed is likely to widen unless the industry makes serious changes.
A new initiative from Bloomberg Philanthropies lays out a few ideas for what could be done. Michael Bloomberg’s foundation is donating $53 million to support the work of three groups in Brazil, the Philippines, and Chile. The hope is their approaches, if successful in renewing stocks, can then be transferred elsewhere.
Oceana plans to lobby the governments to enforce fishing quotas, or what they call “science-based limits on the amount of fish that can be caught,” and stop industrial operators sending large amounts of unwanted catch back into the ocean.
Meanwhile, Rare, another conservation group, will focus on smaller fishers nearer the shore. “Over-fishing is a ubiquitous problem, but the solution for local communities is relatively simple–empower local fishers with exclusive access to their fisheries and build their capacity to set-up protected areas within that fishery where fish can reproduce unharmed and populate the surrounding area,” says Brett Jenks, the group’s CEO.
Perhaps most interestingly, Bloomberg is also encouraging market-based responses to the problem. EKO Asset Management, a New York-based firm, is developing a scheme where investors and fishers will share in the extra revenue produced from ending over-fishing. “The first time I saw a graph of what a fish stock recovery looked like, it looked a lot like a J-curve in the investment business,” EKO managing director told the Financial Times. “To us, what is exciting about fisheries is that the science of the biological recovery is proven.”
Studies show that replenishing stocks could pay off big-time. The World Bank estimates the fishing industry currently loses a potential $50 billion because of overfishing. Another study, from the University of British Columbia, found that replacing fish stocks could bring in even more than that.
Whatever happens to the world’s ocean stocks, though, it seems likely that aquaculture will come more into the picture. The World Bank recently estimated that fish farms will account for 62% of fish consumed by 2030. While that could raise environmental issues of its own (for example, in shrimp production), its report says other species (oysters, scallops, and some carp, for example) can be grown with very little impact.
“Aquaculture will be an essential part of the solution to global food security,” says co-author Jim Anderson. “We expect the aquaculture industry to improve its practices in line with expectations from the market for sustainable and responsibly produced seafood.”