Last month we wrote about former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s work with Henry Paulson under the Risky Business initiative to assess the amount of financial risk that climate change poses to the American economy. But the highly committed former mayor is clearly not waiting around to find out the answer.
He has just set out on a new venture, investing $53 million of his own money to try and do something about the sorry state of the world’s fisheries. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization‘s 2006 study published in Science predicted that many ocean fish stocks will be producing less than 10 percent of their peak catch levels by the end of this century.
Already, the U.N. reports that 32 percent of global fish stocks are overexploited or depleted and as much as 90 percent of large species like tuna and marlin have been fished out. The International Programme on the State of the Ocean found that the world’s marine species faced threats “unprecedented in human history”—and overfishing is part of the problem. Another part, of course, is climate change which has raised ocean temperatures and acidity levels, wreaking havoc with coral reefs and other sensitive breeding areas.
Meanwhile, global demand for seafood and fish products is expected to rise by 20 percent in the next six years.
In many places fish protein is now being obtained through farming rather than fishing. But the aquaculture boom has its own problems. It is currently the fastest growing means of food production, with output jumping 50-fold since the 1950s. Today it provides roughly half of the seafood consumed around the world. But among the problems associated with fish farming are disease, which often spreads to wild fish, the proliferation of antibiotics and anti-fungal agents to combat the disease, a significant amount of nitrogen and phosphorus waste products being released into the ocean, natural habitat destruction, and the voracious appetites of carnivorous fish that often require two pounds of fish meal for every pound of fish produced. With all that, the end results is often less nutritious, and, in the case of farmed salmon, dyed pink to resemble their wild cousins.
Still, given the widespread incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, many experts, including doctors, are recommending more fish in the American diet.
Despite the dire state of things, there are reasons to believe an investment like Bloomberg’s Vibrant Ocean’s Initiative, can make a difference. Why? Just look at it from a business perspective, says Svati Kirsten Narula in the Atlantic. The difference between what the sea is producing today and what it could be producing if stocks were restored, is somewhere around $50 billion annually. But in order to realize that opportunity, two things have to happen. First, we need to stop subsidizing the global fishing fleet in their quest to get every last fish out of the water. And second, we need to encourage the growth of existing fish stocks by managing them sustainably.
One study, published in Science, found that fishing reform could really make a difference, generating an estimated 56 percent increase in abundance and anywhere between an 8 and 40 percent increase in global catches. A second study, puts the cost of rebuilding at $203 billion, with a profitable outcome in 12 years.
What kind of reforms are we talking about? The current industrial fleet already has the capacity to catch twice as many fish as there are in the ocean today. And some of the methods in use today such as bottom-trawling discards 10 pounds of sea life for every pound caught. Clearly, these types of practices are the very antithesis of sustainable.
A lot of this, says Bloomberg, can be addressed with proper management. Since most of the world’s fisheries lie within national boundaries, individual countries can set policy to manage their resources. Bloomberg will be supporting three initiatives with three different partners utilizing three different leverage points.
Oceana, whose motto is “promote responsible fishing,” is an advocacy and educational group. They work with governments to set and enforce science-based limits on the amount of fish that can be caught, and reduce the amount of sea life that is unintentionally caught and killed.
Rare, which operates in the Philippines, focuses more on the 12 million smaller fishermen that work within 10 miles of shore. They work with educating these fishermen on sustainable practices, and the development and enforcement of protected areas where fish stocks can rebuild. They offer fishers exclusive fishing rights in exchange for the agreement to respect protected zones.
EKO Asset Management Partners, works from the financial end of things, working with investors and agencies to “assess, develop and deploy innovative financing strategies that result in meaningful environmental outcomes and attractive financial returns.” Because both local and industrial fishers tend to over-fish for basic survival, with a short-term focus, EKO works to create financial incentives to reward more sustainable fishing practices. These incentives will, hopefully, reward fishermen for implementing changes and allow them to participate in the returns that these changes are expected to bring about.
Says EKO co-founder Jason Scott, about the J-shaped fishery recovery curve, “If the science behind that is true, then this is a really attractive investment.”
Image courtesy of Rare: Bloomberg Philanthropies
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.
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