A fisherman shows off his catch in the Philippines. Photo by: WorldFish / CC BY-NC-ND

Reducing global fishing levels could boost the profitability of the fisheries sector from $3 billion to a massive $86 billion a year, according to a report released today by the World Bank Group.

The report — “The Sunken Billions Revisited” — uses a model that treats the world's overexploited fish stocks as a single fishery in order to examine the potential benefits of global fisheries reform. It concludes that fishing less but better would allow populations to recover, increase the weight and value of fish landed, and help meet the growing demand for seafood.

But what will it actually take to enact this vision and make global fisheries more sustainable and valuable? One leading NGO in the sector believes it has the right idea. Kate Bonzon, associate vice president of the Fisheries Solution Center at the Environmental Defense Fund, emphasizes the need for rights-based management to ensure that fishermen make what may seem like short-term sacrifices to see long-term benefits from growing fish stocks.

"In most fisheries, regulations to limit catch don't allow certain kinds of gear, only allow fishermen to go out on certain days, or put a cap on catch to limit behavior," she told Devex. "Catch shares, on the other hand, identify a maximum amount of fish, then divide it up among fishermen. Then they have a long-term vested interest in staying within those quotas because as the fish stock rebounds their percentage share grows."
In its work on global fisheries, EDF provides fishermen with secure access to their fishing grounds, making them stewards of what can be a renewable resource, to ensure they benefit from conservation action.
"Give fishermen the right to [the] resource, the responsibility to take care of it, and they will see the rewards that come with that," she said.
While the primary goal for EDF is conservation, replenishing global fish stocks is also critical for food security.
"If we don't fix fisheries we will have a global food crisis and a global starvation crisis," Bonzon said.

The impacts of declining fish stocks will be most profound on the poor, she continued, describing the work that EDF is doing on Territorial Use Rights for Fishing, area-based fishing rights managed by groups of fishermen in developing countries.
This work demands a bottom-up and a top-down approach, working at the community level to help fishermen achieve their goals, while also ensuring that policies are in place at the government level to support them.
A few years ago, EDF asked which stakeholders they would need to engage to solve the global fisheries problem. They identified 12 major fishing powers where getting fishing policy right would cover 70 percent of total fish caught globally. These are primarily national governments, including the United States, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Japan, China, Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. However, they also include the European Union, as well as the parties to the Nauru Agreement, which control the world’s largest tuna fishery.
"We chose those places not only because of where the biggest need was but also because those were the places [that] have the biggest upside for actually getting fishing right," Bonzon said.

EDF is now working within those countries to transform fisheries, focusing on sustainability, but with an eye toward how that impacts people as well, she explained.

Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you free every business day.

About the author

  • Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Outside of her own reporting, Catherine also supports other journalists to cover what is working, through her work with the Solutions Journalism Network.