Scientists and conservation groups, including the Marine Conservation Society and Friends of the Earth, are warning that fishing must be closed across a third of the world’s oceans for twenty years in order to give depleted stocks time to recover.
The proposal follows the release of a green paper which reveals that 88% of European Union stocks are overfished (against a global average of 25%), while 30% are “outside safe biological limits”, meaning they cannot reproduce as normal because the parenting population is too low. The paper calls for the radical reform of the common fisheries policy, which EU ministers admit has failed.
Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at the University of York, has reviewed 100 scientific papers which identify the scale of the needed closure. ‘All are leaning in a similar direction,’ he said, ‘which is that 20-40% of the sea should be protected.
The European Commission suggests a reduction in fleet size and a dramatic cut in fishing among a series of measures, but Roberts believes these will not work without the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs).
‘If we are ever going to have sustainable fisheries, MPA networks are essential,’ Roberts said. In Iceland, Canada and the US, MPAs have ‘brought real increases in fish populations and real recovery of seabed habitats.’
But the fishing industry says that pressure on stocks just outside a protected area can lessen the impact of introducing safe zones. ‘It almost creates a bull’s-eye for fishermen, who know the area on the periphery isn’t protected,’ said Tom Rossiter, research and development manager at Seafish, the UK seafood industry body. ‘If you shut off an MPA, it will move the fishing effort elsewhere.’
Currently 4,000 MPAs have been created, covering just 0.8% of the world’s oceans.