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April, 2008:

Vanishing Sea Fisheries Threaten Food Security

Agence France-Presse in Hanoi – Updated on Apr 12, 2008

The food security of millions of people is at risk because overfishing, climate change and pollution are inflicting massive damage on the world’s oceans, marine scientists have warned.

The two-thirds of the planet covered by seas provided one-fifth of the world’s protein – but 75 per cent of fish stocks were now fully exploited or depleted, a Hanoi conference that ended yesterday was told.

Warming seas were bleaching corals, feeding algal blooms and changing ocean currents that affected the weather, and rising sea levels could in future threaten coastal areas from Bangladesh to New York, experts said.

“People think the ocean is a place apart,” World Ocean Observatory head Peter Neill said. “In fact, it’s the thing that connects us – through trade, transportation, natural systems, weather patterns and everything we depend on for survival.”

Marine ecosystems and food security were key concerns at the Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands, an international meeting of hundreds of experts from governments, environmental groups and universities.

“There is a race to fish, but in wild-capture fisheries right now we can catch no more,” said Steven Murawski, fisheries chief science adviser at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We catch 100 million metric tonnes per year, and that’s been very flat globally. Our only hope is if we conserve and rebuild stocks,” he said, adding that sustainable aquaculture could help make up the shortfall.

The plunder was risking long-term sustainability with “too many fishing boats taking too many fish and not allowing the stocks to regenerate”, Conservation International’s Frazer McGilvray said.

“Once the oceans are gone, we’re gone. The oceans sustain the planet.”

The world had already seen the effects of overfishing, experts said. North Atlantic cod fisheries collapsed in the 1990s, and anchovies previously disappeared off Chile, herring off Iceland and sardines off California.

Sixty-four per cent of ocean areas fall outside national jurisdictions, making it difficult to reach international consensus or to stop illegal fishing – a growing concern as hi-tech ships scour the high seas.

“It’s the Wild West. It’s a very small number of boats, but the technology allows them to take enormous amounts of fish,” Mr Neill said.

“They take only the high commercial product and they throw the bycatch overboard. The waste is extraordinary.”

Marine life was also being harmed by climate change, Mr Murawski said. “We’ve seen that fish populations go up and down with variations in the climate,” he said. “Increasingly, we are starting to see long-term change affect the productivity, the distributions, the migrations.”

The trend was speeding up, he said. “Our forecasts are wrong. The melt-off is much faster than has been forecast in the models.”

Meanwhile, land-based pollution put heavy strain on oceans, the UN Environment Programme’s Ellik Adler said.

“Rivers of untreated sewage, factories, refineries, oil industry discharge their effluent into the marine environment, and this causes huge damage,” he said. “Marine pollution has no political borders.”

There were few easy fixes, experts said, but one initiative now being considered was setting up a global network of marine protected areas.

“You’ve got to get agreements between countries,” said consultant Sue Wells, who has worked in coastal East Africa. “Some developed countries have already closed some areas, and most coastal countries are now considering it.”

Satellites could monitor no-catch areas, she said, while inspiration could come from South Pacific fishing communities.

“They have taboo areas, coral reef sanctuaries, where fish would be saved for bad weather periods or major festivals and feast,” she said. “They know if they leave an area and don’t fish there, they’ll have much better stocks.”

It was a view that had been lost in modern times, she said, where the common view was “if I don’t go and fish it, someone else will”.

Harsh Controls For Ships, Planes

Published on Apr 4, 2008

Latest proposal will hit poorer countries hard

Airline and shipping operators, especially those in developing countries, will be hit hard if a European Union proposal on greenhouse gas emissions is adopted, officials warned yesterday.

The EU submitted a proposal yesterday to the ongoing Bangkok round of climate-change negotiations to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Delegates from 163 countries have participated in the United Nations-sanctioned conference here with the objective of managing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

As a result, EU delegates asked for the control of greenhouse gases from the use of maritime and aviation fuels.

According to EU delegates, airlines and shipping lines are important sources of these emissions, which have been growing at a fast rate and neither is covered by the Kyoto Protocol.

“Even though it is just the first draft of a proposal, there is a strong chance it will be approved by member countries,” said Sirithan Pairojborriboon, director of the Greenhouse Gas Management Public Organisation.

“If that’s the case, airline operators [such as Thai Airways International and other Asian carriers] will be affected significantly, as they will be forced to control their emissions or else they will be charged for such emissions.”

Sirithan warned that the burden would be heavy for airline operators in developing countries, as currently they have no obligations on emission controls under the global climate pact.

“These operators could be forced to pay even though the total emissions of their respective countries is not within the level of Annex I countries,” he said, adding that the tourism and logistics industries might also be affected.

Annex I countries have to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by about 5 per cent from the 1990 level. Under the Kyoto Protocol, this target is supposed to be met by 2012.

Currently, Thailand and other developing countries are not on the Annex I list and emission cuts are still voluntary.

According to Sirithan, the EU has suggested two options for its proposal: allowing an emission trading system among airlines or initiating a carbon dioxide charge on airlines.

The EU proposal yesterday faced strong opposition from many delegates from developing countries, he said.

“They fear that a rise in costs from greenhouse gases will affect air fares or route management and in the end reduce the airline industry’s competitiveness,” Sirithan said, adding that the EU plan is expected to be debated more widely in the next round of climate talks in Bonn, Germany, in June.

The EU proposal was submitted to one of the two meetings at the Bangkok Climate Talks – called the Meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol – which will end today.

Kamol Sukin

The Nation