North Atlantic Sustainable Fisheries Management Highlights Challenges in Regional Governance

Credit: Islandsbanki, "North Atlantic Seafood Market Report, April 2013"
Credit: Islandsbanki, “North Atlantic Seafood Market Report, April 2013”

Home to some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, fishing in the North Atlantic has a long and storied history. The continuation of that tradition and legacy has been put in jeopardy over recent decades as the health, integrity and viability of fish stocks and marine ecosystems have become increasingly vulnerable to a variety of threats, and that just as a rising world population looks to the seas to help meet its growing need for food and nutrition.

With worldwide food demand projected to as much as double by 2050, countries around the world are looking to the world’s oceans as a critical source of food and nutrition, as well as energy and mineral resources. And with wild fish stocks and catches on the decline, aquaculture production has been growing rapidly to account for a larger and larger share of North Atlantic and worldwide seafood production, a trend that’s expected to continue, and even accelerate, in years to come.

Supranational, ecosystems-based governance of fisheries and marine resources has become critical to maintaining the viability of marine ecosystems for current as well as future generations. Establishing and maintaining the institutional frameworks to accomplish this is fraught with tradeoffs and the potential for dispute and conflict, however. In the first case of its kind, the European Union (EU) voted last week to impose bans on North Atlantic herring and mackerel from the Faroe Islands. The trade action was based on the Faroe Islands’ decision to break from regionally instituted sustainable fishing limits and unilaterally treble its herring quota.

Challenges, tradeoffs in regional ecosystems-based marine and natural resource governance

Overfishing, climate change and ocean acidification, along with other forms of marine pollution – from coastal development, agricultural runoff, urban waste streams and offshore oil, gas and mineral resources exploration and production – are all taking their toll on the health, integrity and sustainability of fish populations and marine ecosystems, troubling trends highlighted in the United Nations Environment Programme’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

Credit: Islandsbanki, "North Atlantic Seafood Market Report, April 2013"
Credit: Islandsbanki, “North Atlantic Seafood Market Report, April 2013” – CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Landings of seafood totaled some 10.3 million metric tons (MT) worldwide in 2011, a 6.7 percent year-over-year increase. Total North Atlantic landings decreased about 7.2 percent, or some 800,000 MT, accounting for about 12 percent of the global total. Pelagic species, such as herring and mackerel, accounted for the largest portion, according to Islandsbanki’s April 2013 North Atlantic Seafood Market Report. Looking out over a longer term perspective, fishing in the North Atlantic has fallen by more than 25 percent since 2001.

These pressures are intensifying the strain on ocean fisheries and ecosystems, and that, in turn, is resulting in growing pressure and strain on all those who have a direct or indirect stake in fisheries worldwide to come up with practical, effective, ecosystems-based approaches to marine and coastal resource management and governance from the local on up through the global scales.

Doing so highlights the numerous tradeoffs involved in any effort to design and implement sustainable natural resource management and governance mechanisms, initiatives that are bound to generate controversy and at times result in bitter disputes and conflict.

Credit: Islandsbanki, "North Atlantic Seafood Market Report, April 2013"
Credit: Islandsbanki, “North Atlantic Seafood Market Report, April 2013” – CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Sustainable fisheries and enforcement

European Union (EU) member states late last week voted overwhelmingly in favor of banning imports of herring and mackerel – two commercially important North Atlantic fish species – from the Faroe Islands, marking the first instance of the EU imposing an import ban based on regional sustainable fisheries governance and sustainable fisheries management. For the Faroe Islands, a small, self-governing island nation that is part of Denmark but not a member of the EU, commercial fishing exports are critically important.

The Faroese government unilaterally decided to break with regionally determined sustainable fishing limits for herring, trebling its mackerel quota earlier this year. Failing to negotiate a resolution diplomatically, the European Commission, at the urging of EU fishing industry participants and member governments, decided to take stronger measures. Mackerel, which is caught along with herring, was added to the import ban. EU import sanctions on both species from the Faroe Islands are expected to go into effect by the end of August.

We have waited a long time before our wish would be reality that the EU could implement trade sanction measures against third countries for irresponsible fishing behavior on stocks shared with the EU,” chairman of the European Association of Fish Producers Organization’s (EAPO) Northern Pelagic Working Group Gerard van Balsfoort was quoted in a FishUpdate report.

“This has been decided now and we very much welcome the support given by the majority of the member states. The historical decision – this time directed against the Faroe Islands for their overfishing of the Northeast Atlantic herring stock – will act as a strong signal to those countries that are not taking sustainable fisheries management seriously.”

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

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