How to tackle overfishing in the world’s oceans

Overfishing is considered the greatest short-term threat to marine ecosystems because of the risk it poses to ocean biodiversity. (Shutterstock)
Updated 10 March 2019
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How to tackle overfishing in the world’s oceans

  • From fishermen incentives to satellite monitoring, experts say more needs to be done to stop threat to the world’s oceans
  • Overfishing has led to depleted fish stocks, experts warned at the World Ocean Summit in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Global governments, including Gulf states, need to do more to tackle overfishing, one of the greatest threats facing fish stocks in the world’s oceans, experts at the World Ocean Summit in Abu Dhabi warned last week.

Illegal and unreported fishing is a multibillion-dollar business and one that has proven increasingly difficult to monitor, experts say.

Amanda Leland, executive vice president of programs at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), suggested they could make use of an “arsenal of tools,” from local incentive programs for fishermen to high-tech monitoring, using satellites as “eyes in the skies” to track overfishing from space.

Without action, she said, fisheries will continue to decline, and by 2030, 85 percent of fish stocks worldwide will be depleted. “That’s the trajectory we are on if nothing changes,” she said.

“The ocean has typically been thought of an inexhaustible human resource, so only in the past 10 to 15 years has it become a hot topic because of its connection with food and billions of people relying on seafood.” 

Looking at the region, Razan Khalifa Al-Mubarak, managing director of the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, told Arab News a “call to action” is needed for GCC governments to address the “very real and alarming” local issues facing the Arabian Gulf.

A recent study showed UAE fish stocks have depleted by between 70-80 percent in the past three decades, Al-Mubarak said.

“The results are alarming. The sea here is at a tipping point — if you don’t take care of it, it will quickly spiral downwards.”

Leland said overfishing, including illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, remains the greatest short-term threat to marine ecosystems. That’s because it undermines national and regional efforts to manage fisheries sustainably and to conserve marine biodiversity, which are important in dealing with the greatest long-term threat — climate change. 

“But if we can fix the overfishing problem now, we can make the oceans more resilient to withstand the shocks that are coming with climate change,” she said.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, IUU fishing takes advantage of corrupt administrations and exploits weak management regimes, particularly those of developing countries, which lack the capacity and resources for effective monitoring, control and surveillance.

“IUU is a bucket of all kinds of stuff that is happening and all of these things contribute to overfishing,” Leland said. “They also have all sorts of associated problems, such as human rights, drug trafficking — the more illegality there is on a vessel, the more opportunity for mischief.”

Leland said there are many tools that can help solve the overfishing issue, including an “eyes in the skies” approach, using satellite technology to track vessels in real-time.

Organizations such as Global Fishing Watch act as an eye in the sky, constantly scouring the globe in search of those illegally ravaging the ocean of its stock.

“Having that information is super-powerful because we know if a vessel is in an area meant to be closed to fishing — or a protected area — or we know if vessels from a different country are coming in the domestic waters of a nation, and that is really important to get a handle on.”

Another tool is what the EDF describes as “data on the deck” — using smart technology such as cameras, artificial intelligence and data transmission, among other tools, to track how much stock, and which species, are being caught at sea.

“The only way we can get a real handle on that is if we can see what is happening on the deck of boats in real-time as they are fishing,” Leland said. “Our focus is trying to turn the lights on to show what is happening on boats, understanding what is being caught, and using that to inform good management and good compliance and protection of wildlife.” 

Plastic waste is a key issue in the Arabian Gulf, with one expert calling on GCC countries to work towards solutions to “disrupt” the plastics industry.
(Getty Images)

In an information-led world, Leland said, oceans are the last frontier when it comes to utilizing technology, and in many places there is “zero data” about fishing practices at sea.

“We know more about the face of the moon than we know about what is going on in the oceans of our planet.”

But it is not all doom and gloom: Leland said overfishing is a solvable problem. “The solutions exist. The technology exists. We know what the right rules are. If we can harness this, then the whole equation flips around.

“So overfishing is the most important thing we can do right now from an ocean conservation standpoint and, at the same time, the world needs to be all-in on solving greenhouse gas pollution.” 

For Wendy Watson-Wright, CEO of the Ocean Frontier Institute, a transnational hub for ocean research, the biggest concern facing the ocean is “undoubtedly” carbon emissions.

“I’m not a natural pessimist, but in terms of climate change and greenhouses emissions, I would say we are dangerously close to midnight,” she said, calling it an “Ocean Doomsday Clock.” “Yes, overfishing is also an issue, but if you do not have an aquarium that can allow them to live in then you don’t have to worry about fishing — because there will be no fish.” 

“Because of climate change, the ocean is warming and is losing oxygen directly through the carbon the ocean is absorbing — it is becoming more acid; it is becoming hot, sour and breathless.”

This has huge implications for all species, including human populations, Watson-Wright said.

“We have all read about coral reefs, coral bleaching and the warm waters, together with the deoxygenation of organisms which need oxygen to live, and we are having more and more dead zones largely caused by the warming. It also has implications for the shell species, which are the base of the food chain.”

She said if carbon emissions were halted today, the oceans would still take hundreds of years to recover.

“This is because the ocean is a big flywheel. On the other hand, if we did, we can start on the path to recovery. Probably some regions can be doing better, but it is a global issue. It is one atmosphere, one ocean. What we do in one ocean affects others.”

Al-Mubarak said many issues facing the Arabian Gulf need to be addressed at the local level, adding that a “focus on regulation and enforcement is extremely important” to monitor the state of fish stocks, the amount of plastic going into our oceans and marine biodiversity. 

“For example, today’s marine water discharge standards don’t exist as a unified standard in the Arabian Gulf. Abu Dhabi is probably the only city around the Arabian Gulf that has issued marine water standards, but we share a basin, a basin that is also geographically distinct; it is shallow, it is warm and with very low circulation.

“Therefore, the attention by countries around the Arabian Gulf is important so we don’t get to the tipping point very quickly.”

Al-Mubarak said the unique conditions of the Arabian Gulf could also offer opportunities. 

“The Gulf can be this living laboratory. Look at this in the context of climate change. We are already living in an environment that is warm. However, there are species that are thriving and could lead to global efforts in coral restoration,” he said.

In the short-term, Al-Mubarak said plastic is still a “key issue” in the Arabian Gulf.

“But there really hasn’t been a regional study about the scale of the problem. If you take the amount of plastic going into the sea, we are looking at 13,000 tons every year.

“By 2050, if this trend continues, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. We need to address this at a local scale. Who is measuring what is going into the sea? And what are we going to do about it? 

“This really is a call to action for the GCC and globally to do something about it and offer solutions,” Al-Mubarak said. 

“Again, being a region that produces plastic, there is an opportunity to look at investing in the development of this area: How can we disrupt the plastic industry and make it much more environmentally friendly?

“This is not getting to Mars; this is something we can do. And we can start today.”


‘Huge’ challenges ahead as Cyril Ramaphosa takes presidential oath in South Africa

Updated 25 May 2019
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‘Huge’ challenges ahead as Cyril Ramaphosa takes presidential oath in South Africa

  • Promised a new era in which officials will improve the lives of South Africans
  • South Africa is the world’s most economically unequal country

PRETORIA: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday urged the country to pursue “an extraordinary feat of human endeavor” as he was sworn in for a five-year term with a delicate fight against government corruption ahead of him.
“The challenges our country face are huge and real. But they are not insurmountable. They can be solved. And I stand here today saying they are going to be solved,” Ramaphosa told some 30,000 people in the capital, Pretoria, with several African leaders in attendance.
He promised a new era in which officials will improve the lives of South Africans instead of enriching themselves. He called for a state free from graft and “resources squandered,” and urged fellow citizens to end poverty in a generation. Both would be immense achievements: Corruption and mismanagement have consumed billions of rand, and South Africa is the world’s most economically unequal country.
Ramaphosa’s inauguration followed his ruling African National Congress party’s 57.5% victory in this month’s election. It was the party’s weakest showing at the ballot box since the ANC took power at the end of the harsh system of racial apartheid in 1994, as voter turnout and confidence fell.
Ramaphosa first took office last year after former president Jacob Zuma was pressured to resign amid corruption scandals that badly damaged public faith in the ANC. A former protege of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, Ramaphosa is seen by many as having the potential to clean up both the government and the ruling party’s reputation. Without him the ANC likely would have received just 40% of the vote, one party leader, Fikile Mbalula, has said.

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ROYAL CONGRATULATIONS

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent Ramaphosa a cable of congratulations on his swearing in. 
The crown prince expressed his sincere congratulations, best wishes for success and further progress for the people of South Africa

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There was no sign at Saturday’s ceremony of Zuma, who has insisted he did nothing wrong and that allegations are politically motivated. His allies within the ANC leadership pose a challenge to Ramaphosa as he pursues reforms.
Ahead of the election Ramaphosa apologized to South Africans for the political turmoil. He also vowed to continue the fight against graft that has hurt the country’s economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa.
The president’s resolve to impose clean governance will be tested with the appointment of his new Cabinet in the coming days. He faces pressure from opposition parties and civil society to reduce the number of ministers — there are now 34 — and appoint ones who are scandal-free.
In a sign his efforts are working, former deputy president David Mabuza was not sworn in as a member of Parliament due to an incriminating report on him by the ANC’s integrity commission. For now, Ramaphosa is without a deputy.
In his speech on Saturday the president also addressed public frustration with joblessness, patchy delivery of basic services and the legacy of inequality. Unemployment is above 25% and much of the country’s wealth and private levers of power are held by the small white minority.
“Many South Africans still go to bed hungry,” Ramaphosa said. “Many live lives of intolerable deprivation. Too many of our people do not work, especially the youth.”
One challenge for the president in the years ahead is engaging potential voters in South Africa’s “Born Free” generation , who never experienced apartheid and unlike their parents see the ANC not as a party of liberation but one expected to deliver for the future.