Ten ways to ensure there are plenty more fish in the sea

Sustainable fisheries must be central to the new global development goals that all nations will pursue from 2015, says Essam Yassin Mohammed.

28 January 2014
Fish for sale in a Sri Lankan market. Credit: Dhammika Heenpella (Flickr / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Fish for sale in a Sri Lankan market. Credit: Dhammika Heenpella (Flickr / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

As governments prepare to negotiate the text of a global set of goals that will form the post-2015 development agenda, they must look to the seas.

Marine ecosystems support a diversity of living resources that sustain the livelihoods of millions of people. In many developing countries, fish trade provides an important source of revenue to service international debt, fund national governments and pay for food imports for domestic consumption.

But world fish stocks are running dangerously low. If current trends continue, we are likely to see 'fishless oceans' by 2050 and millions of livelihoods lost. Therefore, as countries debate and define goals and targets for development after 2015, fisheries must be central to the agenda.

In a briefing paper published today by IIED, I set out a clear and achievable vision for the post-2015 development era. It summarises the 'current state' of global fisheries and a 'desired state', characterised by healthy ocean ecosystems and sustainably managed global fisheries.

The paper describes in detail the following ten things policymakers can do to achieve this vision:

  1. Restore depleted or over-exploited fish stocks
  2. Improve fishery catch statistics
  3. Mainstream fisheries in national development plans
  4. Understand climate change impacts on fisheries
  5. Create more safe havens for threatened fish species
  6. Eliminate harmful subsidies
  7. Tackle illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing
  8. Eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers to fish trade
  9. Govern the high seas effectively
  10. Clearly define use rights of coastal communities.

It will be up to governments to decide whether fisheries deserve goals and targets of their own in the post-2015 development agenda — or whether fisheries will be present across a broader set of goals that focus on, for instance, food security and livelihoods.

What matters most is that the negotiators of the new goals do not miss this opportunity to act in a determined way to address decades of unsustainable fishing. They must ensure that development goals they set for the coming decades will improve the prospects of the fish in our seas – and the millions of people who depend on them.

Download the paper Fisheries and the post-2015 development agenda

Dr Essam Yassin Mohammed is a researcher in IIED's sustainable markets group ([email protected])