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Sustainable fishing is profitable

Countries that have applied the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries have improved their fishery resources and the quality of catches, according to a new study led by CSIC. The most sustainable fishery is in Canada (Pacific coast), Australia and the USA (Pacific coast); the less sustainable is in Turkey, South Korea and Malaysia. Fishing boat. Image: Marta Coll - CSIC.To reduce overfishing is profitable in a lapse of time not very long, according to an international study led by CSIC scientist Marta Coll, at the Instituto de Ciencias del Mar (ICM) in Barcelona. The research analyzes the catches of 53 countries and jurisdictions during 13 years. The study, published in Global Environmental Change, shows that countries that have implemented to some degree the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries have improved their fisheries resources.

The authors are scientists at the CSIC’s Instituto de Ciencias Del Mar, at the University of British Columbia (Canada), at the Istituto Nazionale DI Oceanografia e DI Geofisica Sperimentale (Italy) and at the WWF organization.

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries was developed by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in 1995 to reduce the negative impact of fisheries on ecosystems. Experts are convinced that the Code is a good tool for a sustainable management of fisheries. Nevertheless, no country is obliged to accomplish the Code and the ones which have signed it are more or less successful in its implementation.

On the other hand, the lack of quantitative figures that demonstrate the Code’s efficacy could explain the delay in its implementation. Therefore, the aim of the scientists was to obtain empirical figures to test whether the effects of the Code implementation were noticeable or not.

13 years analyzed

The study analyzes the catches of 53 countries and other subsidiary jurisdictions, contributing to 96% of the global marine catch, from 1990 to 2003. To assess the ecological benefits of the Code, the study compares the Code’s accomplishment with five ecological indicators: the mean  trophic level of the catches (which is related to the size of the fish caught); the total volume of the catch; the primary production (which is the basis of the food for marine organisms) that has been necessary for the ecosystem to yield the catch. Also, the probability of the ecosystem being sustainably fished  and the loss in production index. The last index is  based on the notion that catches represent a net export of mass and energy that can no longer be used within the exploited ecosystem, and that the more production is being lost, the more vulnerable the ecosystem becomes.

Countries that have implemented the Code have less catch volume, but its quality and diversity is higher

An improvement derived from a sustainable fishery supposes a decrease in the figures of total catch, as well in the primary production required and in the loss production index. On the contrary, there are increments in the mean trophic level of catch and in the sustainable   probability of the ecosystem figures. As Marta Coll explains, this is because although countries that have implemented the Code have less catch volume, its quality and diversity is higher. This can be seen in the fact that they have recovered populations of larger organisms  such as cod or tuna, which are higher in the trophic web and more commercially valuable.

Fisheries and countries

In relative terms, says Marta Coll, “the 10 countries and regions that have progressively improved their fisheries and were more sustainable in 2003 compared to 1990 are: the USA (Atlantic coast), Namibia, Chile, Denmark, Ireland, Holland, Portugal, Ecuador, Russia (Pacific coast) and Germany. On the contrary, countries whose fisheries have worsened on the same period of time are Ghana, Filipinas, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Iceland, Egypt and South Africa”.
Marta Coll adds: “Our study sends a positive message about international agreements for environmental issues: compliance with the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries can contribute to increase sustainability, independently on the geographical position of the country”.

“Since the compliance with the Code is in general low or very low worldwide, these results can encourage countries to adopt the necessary measures to improve the ecological sustainability of their marine resources”.