Asia faces future of dwindling fish stocks

As many as 500 million people around the world could be affected by dwindling fish stocks in both inland waters and the high seas due to overfishing, climate change and pollution

Dwindling fish stocks are a threat to global food security, particularly in China and other Asian countries, according to the Global Ocean Commission, an organisation campaigning for better ocean governance.

As Chinese appetite for fish increases – they ate more than 30% of the world’s total consumption in 2009 – the depletion of fish stocks in the high seas could cause health problems for millions of people who depend primarily on fish for their protein.

“This is a looming crisis,” said Andres Velasco, a commissioner and former finance minister of Chile, at a press briefing in Hong Kong.

Fishing in the high seas is currently managed by Regional Fishery Management Organizations, international bodies made up of coastal countries or countries whose fleets travel to certain areas to fish. The RFMOs, whose decisions are often highly political, have so far failed to prevent overfishing in the high seas. “They do a pretty bad job,” Andrew Cornish, World Wildlife Fund Hong Kong’s conservation director, told chinadialogue.

China, which sits on the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization, is increasingly competing with other Asian countries for fish stocks.

Taylor Fravel, a South China sea expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes that China is strengthening the rule of fishing in the disputed areas to support a large fishing industry in Hainan Province.

The commissioners said the depletion problem will get more serious if no action is taken. A 2006 study published by the journal Science warned that the populations of all seafood face collapse by 2050 if current trends continue.

A more detailed package of ocean rescue and restoration measures will be presented to the United Nations in June, members of the commission said at the press briefing.