Social Considerations

The introduction of new rules and regulations will undoubtedly have an impact on the livelihoods of fishermen and other members of the fishing community. Quotas, taxes, technological regulations, and marine protected areas will all restrict the freedom fishermen to fish and the elimination of subsidies will likely increase the costs of fishing. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the proposals of Mission 2011 are not aimed at destroying the fishing industry -- we, too, realize the importance of fish in our lives and that many are not willing to switch to a fish-free diet -- but rather, to begin a transition from depleting fish stocks to sustaining them. This transition is necessary in order to secure the supply of fish and success of the fishing industry in the years and decades to come.

That said, a change from the status quo is inevitable. There are no solutions to the problems facing global fisheries that do not involve reducing the number of fish that are caught, and, in turn, reducing the number of people who make a living through the fishing. Just as workers in the automotive industry have been displaced by machines, the abacus has been replaced by computers, and leaded gasoline has been phased out in order to accommodate catalytic converters (Lovei, 1998), circumstances will force some fishermen to leave the industry over time. Even without the regulations we are suggesting, declining fish stocks mean that fishing can never be as profitable as it was in the past. Communities centered around fishing need to adapt to a system that limits fishing or else risk a sudden, irreparable economic downturn when the remaining fish populations collapse.

It should also be noted that if our proposals are carried out and successfully achieve their goals, then the fishing industry will ultimately benefit. While fishermen may be hurt in the initial stages of implementation, over the long run, as populations return to and are sustained at more natural levels, more fish can be harvested without the risk of population collapse. On the other hand, if fishing continues as it is being done now, populations will experience commercial extinction and entire fisheries will be lost (Munro, 2006).

The plans in this section address the struggling fishermen who descend from a line of fishermen, the vessel operators and meat processors, cities and towns that rely heavily on profits from fishing, the islands that have few alternatives, and entire nations whose cultures are heavily integrated with the fishing industry.

Fishermen: Livelihood

There are four options for fishermen:

Photo courtesy of Jose Cabal-Ugaz

Alternative Employment

Mission has compiled several options to provide fishermen who will be (or already are) displaced by our proposed solution with employment opportunities in their field of expertise: the sea.

Our proposed tax scheme relies heavily on collecting accurate and comprehensive data about the ecological systems of the ocean. Many researchers will be needed to collect the data necessary for setting the tax level in each region and for each population. Fishermen, with their experience and knowledge of the sea, could be given the chance to apply their knowledge towards research and data collection.

A precedent for onboard observation of vessels already exists. In sections 201 and 403 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the United States requires that craft must have onboard observers for fishing expeditions within its exclusive economic zone. These observers are federal employees, with formal training in "collecting and analyzing the information necessary for the conservation and management (of fisheries)," "science and statistical analysis," and "basic vessel safety" (NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, 2007).

The EU also suggests onboard observers, but currently these observers are not mandatory and are paid for by the fishermen themselves and not by the government, creating a conflict of interest. We propose creating programs, in states most effected by this unemployment issue (not on an international scale, however, because not all countries will be affected equally by the fallout of fishery unemployment), that mandate onboard observers for fishing vessels. This program should be run through the national government so that no conflict of interest arises. In a report on the ACP-EU fisheries, the CTA and Commonwealth Secretariat suggested a model for the program: "On board observer programmes should be compulsory (ensuring that no possibilities exist for circumvention). Observers should be paid through a public fund (to which EU ship owners should contribute); and not directly by the boat owner. Observers should be qualified to the same level of competence ("brevet"), ensuring the same level/quality of observership for all FPAs" (Gorez, 2003).

Transitional Subsidies

Part of our solution calls for encouraging the transition to sustainable fisheries. Hence, we propose that the fishermen who choose to pursue more environmentally friendly fishing techniques should be the ones to qualify for government subsidies.

Currently, the U.S. Magnuson-Stevens Act allocates funds to fisheries committed to changing their practices. When fisheries in a given locale fail to improve, those funds are reallocated to others that are improving. Such programs encourage fishermen to abide by the laws of the sea (NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, 2007).

Elimination of Days at Sea

Many areas have implemented a Days-at-Sea program to restrict the number of days a year fishermen are allowed to take out their boats (Kesich & Bell, 2007). Proponents reason that reducing the time fishermen spend fishing, and thus the number of fish that are caught, will slow the depletion of fish stocks. This has dealt a severe blow to the industry, however, and left many fishermen frustrated and out of work. In Massachusetts, the Days-at-Sea program has cost the fishing industry $22 million. In response, Senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy have pushed for a bill that will appropriate $15 million in financial aid for fishermen (Maguire, 2007). Despite these problems, in 2007, the New England Fishery Management Council voted to continue the Days-at-Sea program, because a better management alternative was not proposed in time (Kesich & Bell, 2007).

The disadvantages of using Days at Sea as a regulation method for fisheries can been seen in the reaction of Scottish prawn and whitefish fisherman to the December 2006 decision of the Council of Ministers to reudce the number of days at sea by seven to ten percent. Since 2000, the Scottish whitefish fleet had already been cut by 65% and requirements for smaller mesh sizes had already been implemented. The additional implementation of the new Days at Sea policy angered fishermen even more. As MP Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, said, "The one glimmer on the horizon is that next year Scotland has the opportunity to elect the first pro-fishing government in Scottish history" (The Buchan Observer, 2006). This only further illustrates the lack of success Days at Sea has and the fierce opposition it generates towards fishing policies in general.

We propose that the Days at Sea program be terminated and the fishery management rely on the solutions detailed in other sections of this report, including quotas.

Island Nations and Implications

Advocating a reduction in fish consumption will most immediately affect island states around the world. Many small island nations depend almost exclusively on fish for food and more specifically, as a source of protein (Natural Resources Management and Environment Department, 1996). Therefore, measures should be taken to ease the transition of these island states from relying entirely on fish for protein and energy to subsistence on other sources of food.

One of the most immediate transitions would be from fish-based food production to land-based food production. Island nations have generally been unable to embrace large-scale, traditional agriculture due to several issues: rampant urbanization, flourishing tourism, and a paucity of large-scale arable land. However, island states have successfully cultivated crops such as tropical fruits, tubers/root vegetables, nuts and spices, vegetables, and cut flowers (FAO, 1999). Moreover, organic farming may be introduced to these small island states, since organic produce may potentially provide investment and revenue value to these nations. The FAO should offer financial and technical assistance to sustain growth in these areas of agriculture (FAO, 1999).

When the FAO offers assistance to these island nations, the revenue generated from the sale of locally produced agricultural products can be used to acquire alternative sources of protein from other nations, reducing the demand of these island nations for a constant supply of fish to satisfy protein and energy needs. Furthermore, this exchange of food resources may also increase the diversity of the local diet, improving the nutrition of the local population.

Japan: A Special Case

Japan is an especially tough country in which to implement our solutions for the following reasons:

  1. The Japanese have a culture deeply rooted in fish consumption, with a seafood per capita consumption of 70 kg per year (Kakuchi, 2003). Also, there are many fishing villages whose traditional customs are intimately related to whaling and fish consumption (Associated Press, 2007).
  2. Japan, with a small land area, has already maximized its terrestrial food production, including a widespread aquaculture program totaling 1.5 million tons of biomass per year, or 30% of their total ingested biomass (Encyclopedia of Nations, 2007).
  3. Japan is extremely resistant to international pressure to reduce fishing and whaling: in 2006, the Sydney Morning Herald announced that Japan had hidden over US$2 billion worth of tuna, far exceeding their catch limits (Darby, 2006). Very recently, Japan announced its intention flout the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on whaling and plans to kill nearly 1000 whales (Associated Press, 2007). Japan is also reported to interfere with attempts by ecological organizations to intervene in its affairs (Enc 2007).

Japan has shown these tendencies and followed these trends in the past:

  1. Japan is able to conscientiously and unilaterally proceed towards a national goal as exemplified by its quick modernization (Japan, 2007).
  2. apan does not appear to be disregarding the value of maintaining its fisheries; it appears to be forming an independent opinion as to the state of its fisheries and disregarding all other estimates, especially in the case of the whaling ban. When the IWC imposed its ban on whaling, Japan initially disagreed; however, after further research, they decided to agree. Currently, they believe that certain whale species have returned to levels where a sustainable harvest is possible. Hence, Japan disregards the IWC as being being too environmentally zealous (Enviornment News Service, 2007).

Therefore, we propose collaboration and mutual research between the UN and Japan to maintain Japan's fisheries; we hope to reach a commonly acceptable level for sustainable fishing that does not contradict international studies. This research should be done as objectively as possible, and on a UN-regulated basis in order to expedite a common solution.

Cultural Implications

Any solution to overfishing must take into account the cultural implications that it will have to those cultures focused around fish. Perhaps more important however, is the fact that certain cultures are fueling the problem of overfishing.

The example of green sea urchin harvesting off East Petpeswick, Nova Scotia is very pertinent. The green sea urchins were considered "trash fish" by Canadian and American fishermen, and thus populations were allowed to remain above sustainable fishing levels. However, the realization that urchin roe was a valuable Japanese delicacy instigated a frenzied race for urchins. In the early 1990s, it became apparent that urchin populations would soon be depleted.

Thus, a key aspect in solving overfishing is recognizing that culture can often drive overfishing. Cultures must be educated to recognize the damage they are inflicting on the oceans and be informed about what they can do to limit this damage. In Scotland, once the problem of overfishing was recognized, the Scottish Whitefish Producers' Association began the process if applying for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) accreditation, "a prestigious international charter mark," for their fishery of haddock and langoustines. As European Union Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said, "The MSC standard means consumers can buy fish with confidence - knowing that these stocks are being fished sustainably." (Kesich & Bell, 2007). This success story is an encouraging sign.

It is not only wealthy developed nations that have reacted to overfishing. We can look to the example of the Maldives to see a small island nation that realized the dire condition of its fish stocks and took responsive action. The Maldives is an archipelago of nearly 1200 coral islands where fisheries account for 11% of the GDP, 20% of employment, and 74% of the country's export commodities (FAO, 1999). The country's dependence on fisheries has led it to develop sustainable fisheries for various species including the giant clam. The government was quick to respond to potential overexploitation of the giant clam by banning its export, even though this action decreased profits for the people of the Maldives over the short term (FAO, 1999).

It is essential to clearly demonstrate the state of the global fisheries to countries and cultures that rely heavily on fish, a task which the educational component of our solution hopes to achieve. If these countries and cultures can be encouraged to take the initiative on sustainability issues, our solution has the potential to be very effective.