Imagine being told that a vital and valuable resource, found in an area covering almost half the surface of the Earth, was being extracted, with barely any control, by just a handful of wealthy nations. It would hardly sound fair, but that is the reality of industrial fishing on the high seas today.
Fortunately, thanks to a series of game-changing studies, and the United Nations kicking off negotiations for a new treaty to protect the high seas, 2018 is shaping up to be a watershed year for our ocean.
The once out of sight high seas are now being placed under a microscope as never before. This really is an unmissable opportunity for change. And, with marine fish under huge pressure from rising sea temperatures, pollution and overfishing – and seafood critical for feeding growing populations – protecting the ocean and ensuring equitable access to its resources has never been more urgent.
Studies published in the last few months have used our map, and massive dataset, to show that the global high seas fishing footprint is wider than previously thought, that the industry is overwhelmingly dominated by a few wealthy countries, and that if it were to operate without distorting government subsidies, much of it would be unprofitable. These insights arrive just in time to empower negotiators of the high seas treaty.
In February, we published a study in Science revealing that industrial fishing extends over more than 55 per cent of the global ocean, with vessels operating for over 40 million hours and travelling 460 million kilometres a year. That’s far enough to get to the moon and back 600 times! Most remarkable was the finding that just five countries account for 85 percent of all observed fishing on the high seas: China, Spain, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.
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