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Keys to the worrying UN report on the state of world fisheries

Keys to the worrying UN report on the state of world fisheries

According to Ernesto Jardim, Director of Fisheries Standards at MSC, the UN report # Sofia2020 shows what are the sustainable practices of fishing in the sea.

Here are the five most important conclusions drawn from the report prepared by FAO: "The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020: Sustainability in Action".

1. One third of fish stocks continue to be overfished

It is disheartening to see that the percentage of fish stocks that are overfished continues to increase and how this percentage has tripled for half a century. In 2017, less than two-thirds of fish stocks were fished within biologically sustainable levels.

By allowing fish stocks to deteriorate, due to mismanagement and insufficient regulations, the ocean produces less food and the long-term survival of ecosystems is undermined. Fish populations affected by overfishing account for more than 34% of the total, although they only generate 22% of landings. In contrast, properly managed fisheries are seeing a reduction in fishing effort and an increase in average biomass.

We need to see that these sound management policies are replicated around the world and that governments strictly enforce the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. This means organizing and strengthening scientific capacity at the local level, establishing a series of science-based fisheries management regimes, curbing illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and ending harmful subsidies. Our desire is to put all fisheries on the Sustainable Path.

2. Better management of fisheries is the key to reducing poverty and ending hunger for millions of people.

Almost 20% of the average animal protein intake of half the world's population comes from fish. In some countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Gambia, Ghana, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, and Sri Lanka, their dependence on fish for protein exceeds 50%.

In these circumstances, fish stocks and the fishing industry need to be properly managed to ensure that all can benefit from their natural resources.

It is important to bear in mind that half of the almost 60 million people who work directly in the fishing industry are women who are often the lowest paid, occupying informal positions and are not yet recognized by the sector. This situation and others that generate poverty and reduce social ascent, are unlikely to change with such strong pressure to extract natural resources and unsustainable fishing practices.

Communities will only prosper and make optimal use of their natural and human resources when countries have well-managed fisheries and fish stocks are sustainable.

Therefore, on an environmental and humanitarian level, it is imperative to ensure that all fishery products are sourced sustainably. Goal 14.4 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to end overfishing by 2020, is unlikely to be achieved. Although SDG 14 (Life Underwater) and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) can be achieved in 2030 if we put all our efforts into it.

In their own interest, all countries must manage their fisheries resources well and improve regional and global food security. It is obvious that for some it will be more difficult due to the large differences between the fish populations of the northern and southern hemisphere. The goal of our global accessibility program for developing country and small-scale fisheries is to ensure that the benefits of the MSC Program are accessible to all fisheries, regardless of size or region of origin.

3. Sustainable species do not exist, there are only sustainable populations

Tuna continues to be a favorite for consumers around the world. The world catches of all tuna species together have reached historic levels. But there are wide variations in what this means for the 23 known populations of 5 different species of tuna.

Much of this growth in catches has occurred in the Western and Central Pacific, where hard work is being done to manage the most important stocks and keep them at biologically sustainable levels. Skipjack tuna is being managed well and is already the third most fished species in the world, with 3 million tons per year. In contrast, bluefin tuna, a highly valued species, continues to be fished despite the status of various stocks being questioned.

The percentage of tuna from overfished stocks has dropped 10 percentage points in just two years, which is a real advance. Although currently one third of the almost 8 million tonnes caught per year is still unsustainable, it is therefore worth checking the label of the fish before buying.

4. Fish and seafood production reaches historic levels, but consumption is growing faster than ever

All of us, on average, consume more than 20kg of seafood per year, a consumption that exceeds population growth and is growing faster than our appetite for meat.

The volume of catch stands at more than 96 million tonnes per year, a 14% increase since 1990. But consumption has increased dramatically by 122%, the difference corresponds to the 82 million tonnes from aquaculture . On the other hand, the percentage of fish certifiable as sustainable, or that has been obtained in a responsible way, is also higher than ever.

To protect our oceans, however, we must ensure that fish feed that is produced from sea fishing is sustainable as well. The volume of unsustainable catches of species that are traditionally destined for feed production has decreased, although this is not a reason for consolation, since we do not know if it is due to improvements in fishing practices (such as better use of the by-product that would otherwise be wasted), or a fall in catches as a result of overfishing of stocks.

5. A third of the world's fisheries go to waste

Of the 179 million tonnes of caught or farmed fish, about 88% is directly destined for human consumption. Most of the remainder is used to produce fish feed and fish oil and some ends up as pet food, bait, fodder or in the pharmaceutical industry.

It is estimated, however, that one third of the catch is lost, or wasted, as it travels through the supply chain each year. It is such a problem that one of the goals of the Sustainable Development Goals is to cut it in half by 2030. Up to 70% of processed fish can end up as a by-product, which does not have to be discarded, since it can be used as feed in the aquaculture or as fodder. Preserving the quality of fish requires a reliable, continuous and uninterrupted supply and cold chain, designed to keep the product within certain temperature limits and in optimal hygienic conditions.

It is discouraging that in richer countries with better infrastructure, more is wasted. In North America and Oceania, up to half of the fish is wasted. In the southern hemisphere, this loss is mainly due to a shortage of clean and affordable water, ice, and a lack of cold storage facilities and refrigerated transportation.

In the world there are many people linked to fisheries who are not prepared, or cannot, become involved in market-oriented eco-labeling programs. But for those that do, there are fisheries around the world that have voluntarily chosen to adhere to the MSC Fisheries Standard, which is based on the FAO Code of Conduct, and who are working with partners who, in turn , comply with the MSC Chain of Custody Standard.

The full FAO report is available at the following link: The State of Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020.

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