World Dawdles as Its Fisheries Decline Nations Urged to Avert a 'Global Crisis' as Fishing Vessels Defy Protection Laws

By Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 23, 1998 | Go to article overview

World Dawdles as Its Fisheries Decline Nations Urged to Avert a 'Global Crisis' as Fishing Vessels Defy Protection Laws


Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


As the sun sets over the Pacific, the scene at the commercial fishing docks along Yaquina Bay is a peaceful one.

Boat crews prepare their catch for the market - tuna, snapper, cod, and salmon, some of which will find its way into succulent dishes this evening at the Whale's Tale restaurant just up the street.

Some fishermen are mending nets and lines or hosing off decks as seagulls cry for handouts. Sea lions loll along the piers, jostling noisily for personal space and posing for tourist snapshots.

But the international picture on ocean fishing is hardly this idyllic.

* Up in Alaska last week, two foreign vessels - one Chinese, the other Panamanian - were seized and fined for illegally receiving loads of yellowfin sole.

* To the south, the government of New Zealand is pursuing reports that Japanese fishing vessels have been illegally flying "flags of convenience" in order to get around international restrictions on catching southern bluefin tuna in the Pacific.

* In New Jersey, meanwhile, there's growing concern that the taking of millions of pounds of bottom-of-the-food-chain menhaden, used for bait, protein meal, and oil, could be disrupting the region's ocean ecosystem.

* Here in Oregon, the Bonneville Power Administration has just announced it will cost the federal agency as much as $721 million a year through 2006 to help save ocean-going salmon threatened with extinction in the Pacific Northwest.

Recent reports confirm that fish stocks in many parts of the world continue to decline as fishermen and countries compete for a valuable resource. In many places, fishing not only helps sustain coastal communities, but is also vigorously pursued as a source of corporate profits.

Nearly 70 percent of the world's marine fish species are over- fished or fished to the limit of sustainability, says the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In US waters, the National Marine Fisheries Service has found that 96 of 279 fish species surveyed have been overfished or nearly so.

The Independent World Commission on the Oceans warned in a report earlier this month that "the explosive increase in human activity, growing global interdependence, and rapid technological progress are exerting a profound influence on the ability of ocean ecosystems to generate value for humankind."

"History's judgment of the present generation may be extremely harsh where the preservation of the oceans is concerned," said former Portuguese Prime Minister Mario Soares, who chaired the commission.

Reasons for depletion

In addition to government and international-agency warnings, private conservation groups in recent months have highlighted the causes behind what some are calling a "crisis" in global fisheries. …

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