We are on the brink of a major collapse of marine ecosystems. The fishing industry is being destroyed by a combination of ocean acidification, over-exploitation, illegal, unregulated and destructive fishing practices. The Pacific bluefin tuna is but one species of fish that is being decimated by overfishing and illegal fishing. Between 1950 and the end of the millennium the total catch of ocean fish increased by 400 percent and demand for seafood continues to rise.
A recent report commissioned by the WWF warns that nearly two-thirds of the world’s fisheries are “fully exploited” with most of the rest over-exploited. The same report states that the ocean’s biological diversity has declined by 39 percent between 1970 and 2010. The reports lead author Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said, “fisheries are starting to collapse.”
The importance of fishing was detailed in a 2014 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report titled, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. According to the report, the export value of world trade in fish was US$129.2 billion in 2012.
Fishing is especially important for developing nations where the net-export value is higher than that of rice, coffee, sugar and tea combined. More than half of all seafood traded worldwide comes from developing nations. More than 10 percent of the world’s population depends of fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihoods.
There is evidence to suggest that responsible legislation can have a dramatic impact. Reports show that in US waters overfishing is at an all time low and the oceans along the nation’s coasts are beginning to rebound. The legislation that made this possible is called the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Some fisheries have managed by changing their catch. Places like New Bedford, Massachusetts have adjusted to the demise of the cod fishery by switching to scallops which is part of the one billion a year US shellfish industry.
However, scallops, oysters, clams, and other shelled mollusks are vulnerable to ocean acidification. According to a new study New Bedford is one of many US coastal towns that will suffer an economic collapse as shellfish succumb to ocean acidification. The report suggests that 15 US states on both coasts are at risk.
The new paper was published in Nature Climate Change. It identified New Bedford as one of the worst ocean acidification hotspots. The study was led by Lisa Suatoni and Julie Ekstrom, scientists in the oceans program at NRDC along with collaborators from the University of California-Davis, the Ocean Conservancy, Duke University, and nine other institutions.
While a lot of acidification is already baked into the system but the report suggests that there are some steps we can take to help minimize the problem of ocean acidification. We can reduce nutrient pollution and enforcing limits on the amount of waste that can be released. We can also diversify fishing fleets and breed resistent strains of mollusks.
Republicans are adding to the fisheries problems in the US with destructive legislation. A new version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a bill called H.R. 1335 threatens to undermine the science based conservation measures contained in the original Act. Republicans in the House have already passed the bill by a vote of 225-152. A vote is expected in the GOP controlled Senate any day now. If it is passed the bill will undercut important environmental protections, including the Endangered Species Act and National Marine Sanctuaries Act.