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Reducing pressure

Overfishing is recognized as a problem that needs to be dealt with at international as well as national level to protect fish stocks and entire ecosystems. Overall, there is a need to reduce fishing pressure in order to maintain or restore degraded marine environments to healthy ecosystems that include rich fish communities. If policymakers have the political will to change the future of fisheries, there are a number of options available to them, including:

reduced quotas;
phase-out of subsidies;
fishery closures;
improved monitoring and enforcement of local and international fishing regulations through increased budgets and reduced levels of corruption; and
the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs).

The European Commission recognized that certain marine stocks, including herring, cod, and hake, were being overexploited in the North Sea. In February 2003, measures came into force reducing fishing pressure in the area. One of the major pieces of legislation agreed was a maximum of 15 days per month for vessels fishing in restricted areas. This took into account both the conservation of stocks and also the economic reality of the impacts on livelihoods (Annex XVII to EU Regulation 2341/2002).

The federal government of Canada introduced in 2003 a plan of action to conserve cod stocks off eastern Canada. The plan included closing three areas to commercial fishing of cod, establishing no trawling zones, closing a recreational cod fishery and a 40 per cent reduction in capelin landings, a source of food for cod (Department of Fisheries and Oceans 2003). An economic assistance package to reduce the impact of the closure on coastal communities was also part of the action plan.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are one of the tools that may be helpful in providing a refuge from exploitation, and protecting biodiversity and essential habitats such as nursery grounds for fish. Studies in the Florida Keys and Caribbean (Faunce and others 2002), Southern California (Rogers-Bennett and others 2002) and the Philippines (Alcala and others 2003) have demonstrated that MPAs contribute to the maintenance of fish stocks. For some species the spillover effect, whereby fish move from the MPAs into areas beyond, could help improve or at least maintain the exploited stocks. For example, several of Australia's seamounts in the Southern Ocean are included in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve (the world’s largest MPA) that may help to conserve the Patagonian toothfish. However, this MPA will not contribute to conserving the toothfish unless IUU fishing in the region is also addressed (Meyer and others 2000). MPAs are particularly useful when they are implemented in combination with other management measures such as reducing fishing effort.

On the way to the aquarium
Source: Peter Scott, Marine Aquarium Council, Hawaii, US

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