Recently the European Commission warned eight developing countries including Sri Lanka of sanctions if they did not do more to stop ‘criminal’ illegal fishing, saying it was taking the first step of its kind. Despite the inclination to discount this as an unfair or unreasonable claim, it merits looking at in terms of protecting a key livelihood for thousands of Sri Lankans.
The Commission said it did not plan to impose penalties as yet on Belize, Cambodia, Fiji, Guinea, Panama, Sri Lanka, Togo and Vanuatu, but stressed they could face a ban on the sale of fishing equipment, for example, failing action.
Consider that the global fishing fleet is two to three times larger than what the oceans can sustainably support. In other words, people are taking far more fish out of the ocean than can be replaced by those remaining.
As a result 53% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, and 32% are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. Most of the top 10 marine fisheries, accounting for about 30% of all capture fisheries production, are fully exploited or overexploited. As many as 90% of all the ocean’s large fish have been fished out. Several important commercial fish populations have declined to the point where their survival is threatened. Unless the current situation improves, stocks of all species currently fished for food are predicted to collapse by 2048.
It’s not just the fish eaten that are affected. Each year, billions of unwanted fish and other animals – like dolphins, marine turtles, seabirds, sharks, and corals – die due to inefficient, illegal, and destructive fishing practices.
Overfishing is largely due to poor fisheries management, pirate fishers who don’t respect fishing laws or agreements, massive by-catch of juvenile fish and other marine species, subsidies that keep too many boats on the water, unfair fisheries partnership agreements that allow foreign fleets to overfish in the waters of developing countries, and destructive fishing practices.
The impacts of declining fish catches are being painfully felt by many coastal fishing communities around the world. Newfoundland in Canada is an early example. For centuries the cod stocks of the Grand Banks seemed inexhaustible. But in 1992 the cod fishery collapsed – and some 40,000 people lost their jobs overnight, including 10,000 fishermen. Nearly 20 years later, the cod have still not recovered. Science also indicates that the ecosystem has substantially changed, meaning that the cod may never make a comeback.
For Sri Lanka, the fallout could be greater. The main livelihood of coastal populations are almost exclusively dependent on fishing and there is almost no fallback for these people should they lose their current jobs. Even though the sea areas in the north and east are believed to be plentiful, there are no comprehensive studies to prove this, nor are there any steps taken to promote sustainable fishing practices, which means that current stocks can be depleted within a short time.
Elsewhere, even though the Fisheries Act of 1996 prohibited five fishing methods in Sri Lankan waters, ineffective monitoring has meant that serious harm has been done. Insufficient data and minor promotion of sustainable fishing has meant that most people remain unaware of the danger. Moreover, the regions around India have been severely overfished, making the need to preserve Sri Lanka’s resources even greater.