June 10th, 2019
Overfishing remains the most significant threat to our ocean’s health, experts told a conference in Cork City yesterday.
The Our Ocean Health event organised by BirdWatch Ireland heard that incremental progress had reformed the issue of overfishing compared to 10 years ago, but that most fish stocks remain exploited.
The event was organised to coincide with the Our Ocean Wealth summit with over 30 heads of state, as well as former US secretary of state John Kerry and Mary Robinson.
Fintan Kelly, policy officer for BirdWatch Ireland, said that steady progress has changed the game since 2003 and needs to be ongoing to ensure ocean’s health.
“Since 2003 fish biomass in the Northeast of Atlantic has increased by 36 per cent,” Mr Kelly said. “Back then, 75 per cent of stocks were overfished in the Northeast Atlantic, but now 40 per cent of stocks are overfished.”
Mr Kelly added that although such improvements have been invariably highlighted “progress hasn’t been fast enough” and has not been consistent enough across all regions. “A lot of progress that was made was between 2008 and 2013, and then it slowed down,” he added.
Discarding Healthy Fish
Ciaran Kelly, a scientist with Marine Institute, highlighted the issue of capturing unwanted stocks of fish that is later dumped into the oceans, warning about its significant impact on driving fish species into human-driven extinction.
Mr Kelly said “mitigation measures” must be strictly enforced “to avoid capturing [unwanted] species in the first place”. He added that an ideal outcome could be ensured only through active cooperation between fishers, politicians and scientists.
Colm O Shúilleabháin of the International Fisheries Policy Unit at the Department of Agriculture also told the conference that installing CCTV cameras on fishing boats as a means of thwarting overfishing has proved ineffective.
Stating that the issue is currently a matter of dispute among European lawmakers, Mr O Shúilleabháin said that “slapping a camera on every single boat” is not the solution, reasoning that technology could be more effectively used to tackle the issue of overfishing.
“In reality, who is going to sit down for hours and look at these grainy pictures and figure out is that a cod or an elephant?
But I think there is a role for remote electronic monitoring, and that is where the debate is going, where you have sensors on fishing nets,” he added.
Ireland has the third highest rate of overfishing in Europe with quotas coming in at more than 20 per cent above scientific advice, a new EU-wide report recently found.
The annual Landing the Blame report from the London-based NGO New Economics Foundation (NEF) analyses fishing quotas – or Total Allowable Catches (TACs) – to see if they are set above scientific advice.
Fisheries ministers from all EU member states meet every December to set the TACs for Europe’s North East Atlantic area fish stocks. The report found that EU member states will be fishing 312,000 tonnes above scientific advice in 2019 despite an EU goal to end overfishing by 2020.
Ireland’s then Agriculture and Marine Minister Simon Coveney negotiated the largest proportional increase in fishing quotas in 2015, making the country’s quotas exceeding scientific advice by 25 per cent.
A recent report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), also recently warned that Ireland’s continual push for higher quotas is “undermining efforts to end overfishing by 2020”.