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World’s fish consumption unsustainable, UN warns

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing one of main culprits – local NGO

As catches from the open sea continue to dwindle, more countries are turning to fish farming or aquaculture. Photo: Shutterstock.com

As catches from the open sea continue to dwindle, more countries are turning to fish farming or aquaculture. Photo: Shutterstock.com

A third of the world’s oceans are overfished and fish consumption is at an all-time high, raising fears over the sustainability of a key source of protein for millions around the world, the UN warned in a report yesterday.

Overfishing is particularly bad in parts of the developing world where many people already struggle to get enough nutritious food to eat, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report said.

“There’s too much pressure on marine resources and we need significantly more commitments from governments to improve the state of their fisheries,” said Manuel Barange, director of the FAO fisheries and aquaculture department.

Similar concerns were expressed by a spokesman for local  NGO fish4tomorrow.

“We believe that a concerted global effort is required to combat overfishing and the alarming decline of the world’s fish stocks. There needs to be more focus on sustainable fishing practices as opposed to the continued subsidisation of larger, unsustainable fisheries,” the spokesman said.

 “Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is one of the main contributors towards the degradation of the world’s seas and oceans and needs to be tackled immediately.”

There needs to be more focus on sustainable fishing practices as opposed to the continued subsidisation of larger, unsustainable fisheries

He added that adequate policy and regulation, based on sound scientific data, needs to be in place to protect overfished and/or endangered species like swordfish in the Mediterranean.

The UN report says that fish farming or aquaculture – the fastest growing agricultural sector for the past 40 years – has been largely responsible for making more fish available.

As catches from the open sea continue to dwindle, more countries are turning to fish farming or aquaculture.

Critics say these can damage the environment and put disease and invasive species into the wild, but Barange said the solution was to have “proper regulation, legislation and monitoring and control”.

Locally, a strategy was launched in 2014 to outline national objectives on fish farming and define priorities and regulatory requirements. Among others, the Aquaculture Strategy for the Maltese Islands focuses on sustainability through improved environmental management by strengthening the existing monitoring and enforcement regime for permits and licences and improving the regulation of relevant farm operations, including the disposal of tuna offal.

In February, an application was filed to double the local tuna fish farms from 12 to 24, and an environmental impact assessment is under way.

Globally, the percentage of stocks fished at unsustainable levels increased to 33.1 in 2015, from 31.4 in 2013 and 10 in 1974.

Fish consumption reached an all-time high of 20.2kg per person from 9kg in 1961, said the UN report, and further rises are expected as health-conscious consumers turn to fish.

Currently, 3.2 billion people rely on fish for almost 20 per cent of their animal protein intake.

Shakuntala Thilsted, research programme leader at international non-profit WorldFish, said reducing losses and waste would go a long way towards making fisheries sustainable, with an estimated 35 per cent of catches thrown away.

“Fish heads, fish bones are [the] parts that are most nutritious. Why aren’t we using innovative solutions to turn this into nutritious, palatable food?” she said.

The fish4tomorrow spokesman commented: “Consumers need to be encouraged towards making more environmentally-conscious seafood choices but also to shift towards a more vegetable-based diet. Reducing the amount of animal protein we consume is not only healthier but is also much better for the environment given the pressure on fish stocks and the high carbon footprint the meat industry currently has.”

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