The High Seas – an area of open waters not owned or governed by any single state / country – covers a vast proportion of the world’s salt waters. To date, the High Seas has been an available resource for all that could exploit it.
And exploit they have.
The trouble of an equally shared resource is the fear that if you don’t take your share of the pie, someone else will take it for you. The term is commonly referred to as ‘The Tragedy of the Global Commons’ and whilst it’s not unique to fishing in the high seas, it is a prime example of how a shared resource fuels financial greed.
The inherent nature of a fisherman to preserve their fish stocks for a sustainable future and to care for the marine habitat is somewhat lost whilst fishing on open waters, as the focus turns to one purely centred around exploitation. What’s more, the dangers and difficulties of fishing far from land mean that the cost of fishing rises. So much so that the journal, Science Advances, found that as much as 54 percent of the high seas fishing are unprofitable and are propped up by government funds and incentives.
David Pauly, a marine biologist and professor at the University of British Columbia, says enough is enough and is calling for a complete ban on fishing in international waters.
‘Very little is actually caught on the open ocean, less than 10 percent of the total global fish catch. People assume that with 59 percent of the ocean closed, you will have no place left to fish. But it’s not the case at all. All of the species that are taken from the high seas — like tuna — regularly move between the open ocean and nationally controlled coastal waters, so they could still be caught.’
Pauly advocates the use of the high sea as an ocean reserve (i.e. no-take zones). Indeed there are many positive examples of how marine reserves create prime breeding grounds which create healthier fish stocks outside of no-take zones. “There was a study which showed that if high-seas fishing was banned, fishermen would actually catch more.” Pauly. A win win for all.
The focus should turn from fishing on the high seas to ‘encouraging vibrant artisanal fisheries – locally based fisheries that are producing high-quality products’, Pauly. We couldn’t agree more.
To read more from Pauly, check out the the following interview: