World fisheries could feed extra 20 million people

Researchers vastly increase the estimated value of global seafood – but find that harmful government subsidies reduce their benefits and that an extra 20 million human mouths could be fed with better management.

by Deborah Jones
VANCOUVER, Canada, September 2010

A landmark study by scientists and economists has estimated that better management of the world’s wild fisheries could feed 20 million more people, especially in impoverished countries.

Researchers at the Fisheries Centre in Vancouver released the first global estimate of the value of the industry, set at 240 billion dollars, but warned that government subsidies encourage over-fishing that is destroying the resource.

The work is “the first big-picture analysis of the value fisheries have for people worldwide,” said Rebecca Goldburg, a scientist with the Pew Environment Group, which funded the research. The reports were released via a telephone news conference from the Pew Trusts in Washington.

Key findings of the series of four reports, published in the Journal of Bioeconomics, include:

– Global wild fisheries are worth 240 billion dollars annually when multipliers such as processing are included.

– Fisheries could feed 20 million more people if over-fishing were eliminated.

– Ocean-related sports fishing, whale watching and diving, account for one million jobs, a value up to 47 billion dollars.

– Of 27 billion dollars in annual fishery subsidies, such as for cheap fuel, 16 billion dollars worsens over-fishing that destroys fish stocks.

“Maintaining healthy fisheries makes good economic sense,” said Rashid Sumaila, director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia in western Canada, which led the research.

The value of fisheries was historically measured by the landed value at dockside, which in 2000 was 85 billion dollars worldwide, Sumaila told AFP in an interview.

The study was the first globally to put a figure on the industry taking into account the many economic spin-offs, he said.

“In terms of the global economy, this is not a big amount, you’re talking a small fraction of trillions,” Sumaila acknowledged. But he said an accurate assessment of the ocean harvest — as well as its food security worth — will give governments an incentive to better manage stocks.

Sumaila told AFP up to half of all wild fish populations are now over-fished and in the process of “crashing” or have already crashed — as did once-bountiful northern cod in the North Atlantic nearly 20 years ago.

“If we don’t do something now, we are likely to lose most of these benefits,” said Sumaila. With better management, “we could have met the needs of 20 million people in malnourished countries.”

He recommended governments start by redirecting industry subsidies from fuel and other areas that worsen over-fishing, to research and helping fishers adopt sustainable methods.

“Large developed countries are spending twice the amount of taxpayer money on global fisheries subsidies that encourage overfishing than they are on subsidies that protect oceans,” said the report.

The researchers used data from international catches of wild fish in 2000, within the economic zones of all countries. Further research now under way using data up to 2008 will include an analysis of the corporate structure of the fishing industry, said Sumaila.

Copyright © 2010 Deborah Jones

Originally published by Agence France-Presse, September 15, 2010

References and further reading:
University of British Columbia press release
Oryx: the International Journal of Conservation