Current high-speed seafood trade leaves consumers blissfully ignorant of its strains on marine ecosystems and fish species. This is because global trade guarantees consistent availability of fish at affordable prices by sourcing from suppliers around the world, despite fish species being on the brink of extintion.
In a new study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, several Centre colleagues in collaboration with WorldFish argue that global marine resource exploitation can spread in similar patterns to disease epidemics.
Learn from WHO
The study highlights how the speed and connectivity of seafood commerce is severely challenging the capacity of existing regulatory institutions with the potential to decimate fisheries and the livelihoods of those that rely on them.
"Globalized markets connect distant sources of supply with metropolitan areas of demand. Exploitation expands so fast across the world in these modern sourcing networks that overfishing can occur before the resource is even perceived as threatened by management agencies"
Hampus Eriksson, lead author
The report’s authors propose that international cooperative initiatives, modelled on experiences in managing contagious diseases, could help to ensure the future sustainability of fisheries.
One example of a model that could be used to control contagious resource exploitation is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global coordination systems to mitigate and control the spread of disease.
Existing international initiatives aimed at policing global seafood trade and global fishery operations are limited, but include the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).
However the report notes that these organizations have varying levels of authority in terms of implementing coordinated actions.
Learning from sea cucumbers
The analyses undertaken by the team of WorldFish and Stockholm Resilience Centre scientists was based on the sea cucumber trade. In just 15 years (1996–2011), the sea cucumber sourcing network has expanded from 35 to 83 countries.
Sea cucumber fisheries serving the Chinese market now operate within countries cumulatively spanning over 90% of the world’s tropical coastlines.
Traditionally sourced from the Indian and Pacific Oceans, sea cucumber exploitation is now burgeoning in Europe.
Sea cucumbers were chosen given their wide geographic distribution but specific market for consumption in China. They are an important source of livelihood for many in impoverished communities with over three million people worldwide engaged in their harvesting.
Overfishing of sea cucumbers is common with 16 species considered to be vulnerable or endangered.
Time for action
Carl Folke, Scientific Director at Stockholm Resilience Centre says it is time for more extensive measures to curb large-scale marine exploitation:
"I call on the international community to consider global governance measures to control and mitigate negative effects of rapid large-scale exploitation to ecosystems and people."
Eriksson, H., Österblom, H., Crona, B., Troell, M., Andrew, N., Wilen, J., Folke, C. 2015. Contagious exploitation of marine resources. Front Ecol Environ 2015; 13(8): 435–440, doi:10.1890/140312
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