Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Fisheries: does overcapacities mean resources overexploitation ?

Written by Michel Neumuller on Wednesday, October 24th 2012 à 18:16 | Read 339 times

MEDITERRANEAN. The fish counters in supermarkets paint something of a false picture. There are still so many fish on offer, but their numbers in the sea continue to dwindle.

Are dwinding fish numbers related to increasing overexploitation ? (photo MN)
Are dwinding fish numbers related to increasing overexploitation ? (photo MN)
"The golden age of Mediterranean fishing is well and truly behind us," claims Didier Sauzade, coordinator of the Plan Bleu   programme on the sustainability of Mediterranean maritile acivities. "Annual production is stagnating, but stocks are decreasing. In fact, it's thanks to technological advancements that we can still fish so much in spite of everything, for now at least." 
Commissioned by Plan Bleu, the downloadble 100-page report by Serge Michel Garcia an international expert on fisheries, looks at the following subject: Long-term trends in small pelagic and bottom fisheries in the Mediterranean:  1950-2008. Fish landings in the Mediterranean increased until the middle of the 1990s, but since then some worrying signs of weakness have appeared. This senescence currently concerns 60% of exploited fish stocks. 
"Fish are getting rarer and smaller, so fisheries are investing more to make sure they catch the same amount. They wouldn't be able to do this without public funding," stresses Mr Sauzade as he presents his colleague's study. A study by the World Bank  estimated that fisheries worldwide were suffering annual lost earnings of $50 billion by not using this renewable source to its full potential.   
In order to replenish fish stocks in the Mediterranean and to ensure that fishing becomes sustainable, we need long-term action plans and support for fishermen. 

Serge Michel Garcia based his study on fish landings - a more reliable source over time than the all-too-rare national surveys on fish stock levels (photo DR)
Serge Michel Garcia based his study on fish landings - a more reliable source over time than the all-too-rare national surveys on fish stock levels (photo DR)


The overexploitation of stock is particularly hard to prove and is now often contested by fishermen. Tuna, for example, kick-started the debate in recent years and showed how much lobbying takes place on the subject. 
Scientific studies on fish stocks are rare and costly, and their conclusions are sometimes contested. For his study for Plan Bleu, Mr Garcia firstly took into account fish landings, i.e. the quantity of fish recorded by national administrations when they arrive at quays. These administrations report volumes to international fish-monitoring bodies. 
The official data have been monitored better over time since the 1950s. They make it possible to describe the characteristics of fish stock exploitation if the type of fish is known. 
One thing is certain: overexploitation is not a myth. It is causing fish prices to rise and it will cause a fatal fall in sales volumes.  
Having said that, some stocks still seem to be mature in the south and east of the Mediterranean (Syria and Turkey). "It's an ongoing situation because these countries are currently investing, but they need to do so wisely to make sure their fisheries are more sustainable and they do not repeat the mistakes made by countries in the north," warns Mr Sauzade. 

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