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We have the necessary tools to guarantee an infinite number of fish for future generations

Indigenous elders recently expressed their dismay at the unprecedented decline in salmon populations in British Columbia’s three largest producing rivers. Research my team has conducted has revealed that the catch of coho salmon off the south coast of this province is now only 5% of the maximum catch, taken in the early 1900s.

On May 25, author Rashid Sumaila will discuss, in a live event co-hosted by The Conversation/La Conversation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, his research on the economy of the oceans.

Declining fish stocks are a global problem. Over the past five decades or so, some fish stocks have collapsed: cod off Newfoundland, European sardine along the Namibian coast, spring herring off Norway and sardine from California. Globally, more than 100 million tons of fish are removed from the ocean every year, which is equivalent to the weight of more than 100 million adult cows!

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 34% of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited. But other organizations, including the Global Fish Index, estimate this overfishing at around half of marine fish stocks.

These exhaustions are partly due to the way we value – or rather do not value – nature. The improper valuation of the goods and services that nature provides us with is a fundamental reason why we have failed to protect the oceans and the environment in general. It compromises humanity’s ability to achieve what I call “fish infinity”: passing on a healthy ocean to our children and grandchildren in order to give them the opportunity to continue this practice.

The price is not right

In fisheries, some economists say that everything will be fine if we can “get the price right”. I say that if we can determine the value and establish it correctly, we will be better able to live in harmony with nature. Placing an adequate value on fish will help assess the long-term cost of ocean depletion that results in the disappearance of too many fish, too quickly, in too many areas. .

A person standing in a small boat throws a fishing net into the ocean
More than 80% of global fishing subsidies go to large-scale industrial fleets.

Marine fisheries are vital to the livelihoods of tens of millions of people around the world. It contributes directly and indirectly to the food and nutritional security of billions of people by providing them with seafood and generating tens of millions of jobs and salaries. This is particularly true in the least developed coastal countries of the world, where the ocean provides up to 20% of animal protein.

Wild fish stocks are a renewable resource that can continue to feed and support people until the end of time, if used wisely. Mathematically, anything that continues to generate a positive gain, no matter how small, will add up indefinitely.

No one wants the death of an ocean. To prevent this, we need to adopt the infinite fish mode of thinking: an accurate and comprehensive assessment of all the benefits the ocean provides – seafood, carbon sequestration, recreation, culture, heat absorption – beyond what is marketed.

What it costs to ignore nature

One of the main challenges facing economics is to be able to value the benefits generated by marine ecosystems in a comprehensive way that takes into account their various long-term values. We must overcome this obstacle if we want to have a chance of reaching the infinity of fish.

As human beings, we tend to perceive everything close to us, both in time and space, as important and serious, while we give little or no consideration to it. which is more distant. And this constitutes one of the main barriers preventing us from reaching an infinity of fish. This trend, which is partly found in the economic concept of discounting, has been a serious obstacle to our ability to live in symbiosis with nature.

Essentially, discounting, which involves relating future benefits to their value today, encourages us to anticipate them and defer the costs. This trend partly explains why we continue to overexploit biodiversity and deplete fish stocks, especially marine ones. It also provides some insight into why we continue to pollute the environment with carbon dioxide and plastic.

Aerial view of fishing trawlers in the ocean
Closing deep sea fishing would have a huge positive effect on fish stocks.

When individuals, communities and societies come to calculate real values, we will be able to develop the guiding principles necessary for a way of life that respects nature. This approach would motivate us to:

As a last resort, we must abandon harmful policies that encourage negative human-perpetrated actions on nature, such as the allocation of more than 80% of global fishing subsidies to large-scale industrial fleets, to the detriment of small coastal fishers, including traditional and subsistence fishing.

The future generations

Good things come from the ocean, and more harmful things end up there.

People take what they want or need from the ocean, and these assets are integrated into our economic, cultural and social systems. In return, we generate a lot of waste, including, among other negative effects, greenhouse gases which are absorbed by the oceans and which contribute to the increase in the surface temperature of the waters, their level and their acidity. .

Three people on a beach carrying two fish nets separating them
Achieving “infinity of fish” would allow us to bequeath a healthy ocean to our children and grandchildren.

One thing is certain, we must take the benefits of the ocean more wisely and within the limits imposed by nature, while reducing the pollution that reaches it to a strict minimum. We must also ensure that what we withdraw from the ocean is used to meet the needs of as many people as possible, including the most vulnerable among us.

Achieving Infinite Fish requires an interdisciplinary approach, built on partnerships that allow scientists, Indigenous communities, governments, businesses, NGOs and civil society to co-create solutions.

The ocean is huge: it covers 70% of the Earth’s surface. But that’s no reason not to protect it. We have the intelligence and the empathy to collectively guarantee endless fish for future generations. You just have to arrive at precise values ​​and measurements.

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