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Can International Health Initiatives Help Ensure Sustainable Fisheries?

05 October 2015

GLOBAL - A new research paper from WorldFish and Stockholm Resilience Centre suggests that global marine resource exploitation can spread following patterns that are analogous to disease epidemics.

Contagious exploitation of fish stocks calls for re-thinking of global fisheries governance

The study highlights how the speed and connectivity of seafood commerce is challenging the capacity of existing regulatory institutions with the potential to cause further damage to fisheries and the livelihoods of those that rely on them.

The report’s authors propose that international cooperative initiatives, modeled on global-health-sector experiences in managing contagious diseases, could help to ensure the future sustainability of fisheries.

Multi-level and multi-scale coordination can help control and mitigate the effects of what is described as ‘contagious exploitation of marine resources’ says the study published in peer-reviewed Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Hampus Eriksson, Scientist, WorldFish: “Globalized markets connect distant sources of supply with metropolitan areas of demand. Exploitation expands so fast across the world in these modern sourcing networks that overfishing can occur before the resource is even perceived as threatened by management agencies.”

Carl Folke, Scientific Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre: “I call on the international community to consider global governance measures to control and mitigate negative effects of rapid large-scale exploitation to ecosystems and people.”

One example of a model that could be used to control contagious resource exploitation is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global coordination systems to mitigate and control the spread of disease.

Existing international initiatives aimed at policing global seafood trade and global fishery operations are limited, but include the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). However the report notes that these organizations have varying levels of authority in terms of implementing coordinated actions.

The analyses undertaken by the team of WorldFish and Stockholm Resilience Centre scientists was based on the sea cucumber trade.

In just 15 years(1996–2011), the sea cucumber sourcing network has expanded from 35 to 83 countries. Sea cucumber fisheries supplying Chinese market demand now operate within countries that cumulatively account for more than 90 per cent of the world’s tropical coastlines. Traditionally sourced from the Indian and Pacific Oceans, sea cucumber exploitation is now burgeoning in Europe.

Sea cucumbers were chosen for the study given their wide geographic sourcing, but specific market in China. Sea cucumbers are important source of livelihoods for many in poor communities with more than three million people worldwide engaged in harvesting. Overfishing of sea cucumbers is common with 16 species considered to be vulnerable or endangered.

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