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“Only 7% Of Coastal States Base Their Fishing Policy On Science”

Taiwan government policies have failed to combat overfishing in the world's oceans because most regulations ignore scientific recommendations and are routinely undermined by politics or corruption, according to a study released Tuesday. Researchers found that only 7 percent of all coastal states surveyed worldwide based their policies on sound science while fewer than 1 percent have a mechanism that ensures regulations are adhered to by commercial fishermen. The study found that none of the countries were managing their fisheries' sustainability.

This policy failure came despite a slew of international agreements aimed at protecting fisheries, including the United Nations Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the Convention of Biological Diversity, the study found.

“The situation looks bad everywhere,” said Prof. Camilo Mora, a University of California San Diego conservation biologist, who was the study’s lead author.

“Today, we see fisheries declining due to poor regulation of fishing efforts in many developed countries including the European Union, the United States and Canada,” he said. “If overexploitation due to poor management occurs in developed countries what are the chances that poor countries with their various shortfalls of food, wealth and governance will do any better.”

The study, which appeared in this week’s issue of the peer-reviewed journal of PLoS Biology, based its findings on a survey of the fishery management conditions of 236 exclusive economic zones around the world. Under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea, these zones give countries the right to harvest marine resources within 200 nautical miles (230 miles, 370 kilometers) of their coastlines.

The study found both rich and poor countries alike were doing too little to prevent overfishing. Based on the study, 28 percent of the world’s fisheries stocks are currently being overexploited or have collapsed and 52 percent are fully exploited.

Wealthy nations, the study found, had predominantly better science and enforcement capabilities, but often allowed political pressure and economic fears to shape their fishing policies. Many of these countries also have modern national fleets which benefited from government subsidies, leading to overcapacity and overfishing.

Poorer nations, in contrast, saw their policies weakened by widespread corruption and the practice of selling fishing rights to foreign fleets from Asia, the United States and Europe. There are often few limits on how much these fleets can catch and little effort to regulate their activities.

“Transparent policy making is at the center of the entire process,” said Marta Coll, one of the authors who is a researcher at the Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada and the Institute de Ciences del Mar in Spain. “If this is heavily influenced by political pressures or corruption, it is unlikely that good scientific advice will ever be translated into proper regulations.”

Joshua E. Cinner, a senior research fellow at the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Australia who did not take part in the study, said the findings “provide a much needed assessment of how fisheries managers think the world's fisheries are doing.”

“Importantly, the study highlights the critical role that both poverty and related governance systems play in the decline of the sustainability of fisheries,” Cinner said in an e-mail interview. “These findings are broadly consistent with an article we recently published, which found that economic development was the main driver of overfishing on coral reefs in the western Indian Ocean.”

The tuna industry offers a textbook example how often the economic interests of the industry trumps the recommendations of marine scientists when it comes to catch limits. Commissions around the world are tasked with regulating the industry, but environmentalists accuse them of allowing quotas that will lead to the fish’s extinction.

Scientists, for example, recommended catch quotas of 15,000 tons a year for Mediterranean bluefin tuna. But the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas in November agreed to allow a quota of 22,000 tons per year and allow fishing during critical spawning months.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, meanwhile, agreed in December to cut catches of bigeye tuna by 10 percent in each of the next three years. That was far short of the 30 percent immediate cut demanded by environmentalists and some scientists.