Asia's Small-scale Fishers Vulnerable to Global Fish Crisis, says New WRI Report
In the rural provinces around Southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake, the Tonle Sap in Cambodia, violent conflicts are increasingly becoming routine between small-scale fishers and operators of large- scale, commercial fish pens. The local fishers accuse the wealthy outsiders of having corrupt ties to the government and using destructive fishing methods. In turn, the commercial owners say that the independent fishermen poach their stocks.
Such conflicts and other issues related to the complex problem of the global fish crisis are examined in a new report released today by scientists from the World Resources Institute (WRI). The report, Fishing for Answers: Making Sense of the Global Fish Crisis, is written by WRI's Yumiko Kura, Carmen Revenga, Eriko Hoshino, and Greg Mock. The report also investigates the depletion of global fish stocks and details actions consumers can take to achieve sustainability in fishing.
Most people have little idea of what the ˜fisheries crisis' is, or what it means to them, said Yumiko Kura. From a consumer's point of view at least in most developed nations the sad condition of fish stocks is not obvious. There are still plenty of fish available in markets and restaurants, although the types may have changed and the prices may be higher.
Fishing is an ancient activity that predates even agriculture. Yet only in the last 100 years has the nature of fishing and the condition of marine and freshwater resources changed most radically. New technology from diesel engines to driftnets has swept aside the limits that once kept fishing a mostly coastal and local affair.
The result has been a rapid depletion of key stocks, and serious degradation of ecosystems. For instance, the quantity of the most commercially desirable fish including cod, tuna, swordfish and salmon has dropped significantly in the world's oceans over the past 100 years.
It is difficult to determine exactly the condition of all marine fish stocks, and whether they are depleted or not,said co- author Carmen Revenga. Nonetheless, as of 2002, 75 percent of the 441 fish stocks for which information was available are in urgent need of better management. Analysis reveals that of the 200 fish stocks that are commonly most valuable, 35 percent show declining yields, indicating that the state of these fisheries continues to deteriorate.
The authors stressed that consumers also need to be more conscious of which fish are sustainably harvested. People need to make the best of what is in season or abundant, and not focus on the top five fish in the market. For instance, consumers in the U.S. don't eat a lot of mackerel, but there are plenty of them. At the very least, consumers can be aware and start asking where the fish came from and whether they're farmed or wild, said Kura.
With global consumption of fish at an all- time high, the annual global fish catch was valued at US$81 billion in 2000 and the international fish trade was worth US$55 billion. Still, the revolution in fishing practice and world's fishers live in developing countries and the majority are small-scale fishers.
In Southeast Asia, small-scale fishers usually work in family-run operations with low-technology boats and fishing gear. Inland fishing by these fishers accounts for a large proportion of their food supply and income.
In China, more than 80 percent of the 12 million reported fishers are engaged in inland fishing and aquaculture. In the Lower Mekong river basin (covering Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, an estimated 40 million rural farmers are also engaged in fishing, at least part-time. In Laos alone, more than 70 percent of all farm households also fish to augment their family food supplies and incomes.
As previously noted, conflicts between small-scale and large-scale fishers and pressures from agriculture, dams and coastal development have increased. For example, complaints filed by small-scale fishers with the Cambodian Department of Fisheries have more than doubled between 1998 and 1999.
Rights and responsibilities of resource users are not well defined, and the competition among the fishers intensifies as the resources become scarcer, Revenga said. Even where clear laws and regulations defining rights exist, enforcement is a challenge for industrial nations and developing countries alike, often resulting in conflicts between different user groups.
To make matters worse around the Tonle Sap in Cambodia, the small-scale fishers' widespread outcry over the numerous hydroelectric dams being constructed by China and Laos has been ignored by government officials and financiers.
Finally, the report outlines numerous management approaches that have both worked and failed, and the authors make numerous recommendations for improvements. Central to these recommendations is a need for policymakers to acknowledge and appreciate small-scale fishers and inland fisheries for their positive contributions to global food security as well as being an important source of employment in developing countries.
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World Resources Institute