A group of scientists led by UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University published a policy paper this month, calling for more regulation on fishing worldwide.

Fishing has a vital role in the quality of life of the global population, adding vital omega-3 acids necessary for brain development to the diets of 2.9 billion people and providing jobs for 520 million people.

Seafood, according to the paper, is “an often overlooked component of global food security. It provides essential local food, livelihoods and export earnings.”

In light of this significance, NCEAS and Duke organized an international group of economists, environmentalists and marine biologists to publish the paper to propose a series of global policy changes to help make fishing more sustainable.

Martin D. Smith, lead author of the paper and associate professor of environmental economics at Duke University, explained that since a nation’s fishing practices have implications on the global fish population, it may affect the fish supply of other nations.

“In an ideal world, each country governs its own resources well and the seafood trade contributes to worldwide economic growth and food security. But that’s not the world we live in right now,” Smith said.

Despite this interdependence, governments are reluctant to give up control over their nation’s natural resource, which creates political obstacles for any global regulation, according to Cathy Roheim, an environmental economics professor at University of Rhode Island who contributed to the paper.

“Issues of resource ownership and governance are at the top of the list [of obstacles to sustainable seafood]” Roheim said.

The sustainability concerns raised by the paper include the impact of aquaculture, the farming of seafood. According to Smith, aquaculture institutions need to pay attention to the effects of their farming on the surrounding environment.

“Aquaculture has great promise for enhancing food security but is also threatened when regulations fail to protect the supporting ecosystems,” said Smith.

Specifically, the paper urges fish farms to take steps to prevent waste pollution, disease spread, and fish escape, which can have devastating consequences on the area’s ecosystem.

Also discussed was the viability of existing methods of regulating the fish trade.
Tariffs and similar trade controls, according to Smith, may be a misguided approach because they punish developing countries for being unable to meet sustainability standards, instead of creating incentive.

“In the short run, you may end up hurting people who are the most vulnerable,” Smith said.

Raising prices to support more sustainable fishing practices could also be unviable, according to the paper. Higher prices could deter consumers and ultimately harm sustainable fisheries by reducing revenue.

The most viable option, the scientists conclude, would be the allocation of more foreign aid for the creation sustainable fishing infrastructure in developing nations.

“We’re not suggesting that foreign aid for sustainability should replace other aid that contributes to food security,” Smith said. “We’re just saying this is an option that is often overlooked.”