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Fisheries Depletion and Collapse

An IRGC report examining the depletion and collapse of world fisheries.
International Risk Governance Council

A few related points

Currently, however, about 25% of world fish stocks are overexploited or fully depleted and overcapacity in fishing fleets is the norm rather than the exception. Indeed, many experts agree that the exploitation limit of marine resources has been reached, if not exceeded, and that this overcapacity of fleets, excessive fishing quotas, illegal fishing practices and the generally poor management of most fisheries are to blame.

The complete collapse of large, profitable fisheries such as the Californian sardine fishery in the 1950s, the Atlanto-Scandian herring fishery in the late 1960s, the Peruvian anchovy fishery in 1972, the Northern cod fishery off the East coast of Canada in 1992 and the North Sea cod fishery over the last decade have acted as clear warning signs that fishing practices in many parts of the world are unsustainable and that there are serious governance deficits evident in the management of fish stocks.

Furthermore, in many cases, especially in long-distance fisheries and in developing countries, they are effectively an open access resource, meaning that a system of property rights is completely absent and thus the fish can be caught by anyone. When common pool resources are valuable and open access, overexploitation is inevitable because users have no incentive to conserve when the fruits of such conservation can simply be taken by another user. The outcome of such a situation is overfishing and eventual collapse.

Key risks related to overfishing:

  • Global food security
  • Economic security
  • Coastal Settlement
  • Biological diversity and ecosystem stability
  • Coastal water quality

Key areas of risk governance deficits identified include:

  • Responding to early warnings
  • Factual knowledge about risks
  • Understanding of complex systems
  • Recognising fundamental or rapid changes in risk systems
  • Use of formal models
  • Dealing with common problems and externalities
  • Designing effective risk management strategies
  • Dealing with dispersed responsibilities
  • Organisational capacity
  • Implementation and enforcement of risk management policies