FISHING OUT THE
Modern breeding methods and the economic pressures that favour the monoculture of grain
are behind much of the loss of diversity in agriculture. Brian O’Riordan explains how the
world's fish stocks are also in danger from modern fishing methods and the emphasis on a
few economically valuable species.
Fish stocks are a fragile but naturally renewable resource base. If fishing is regulated, these
resources could provide mankind with an important source of food and wealth. But the
misuse of modem hunting and fishing technology has had a devastating impact on fish stocks
and genetic diversity, and over the last decade clear lessons have been drawn from this abuse
of modem technology.
There is a basic contradiction in the idea (widely held in the 1960s and 1970s) that fish can
provide both high-value fish products for the North and basic food needs for the protein-
deficit nations of the South. Both development priorities cannot be met by the same policy.
Choices must be made between the use of fish for food (which provides protein for the
masses) in the South, and fish for profit (where export earnings help the debt-burdened
nations of the South).
Increasing world demand and declining resource levels caused by over-fishing combine to
place more and more pressure on this delicately balanced resource base. Of the world trade in
fish, 70 per cent flows from the South to markets in the North. Although this may earn
valuable foreign exchange, it also tends to divert productive capacity away from species and
products for local consumption. In addition, the concentration on high-value export species
and the use of intensive non-specific fishing methods is disrupting the natural marine
production cycle. Predator/prey relationships are being upset, links in the food chain are
being weakened by the concentration on single species, and important habitats are being
destroyed through the use of heavy equipment, such as demersal trawls, which trawl the
seabed. Excessive numbers of juvenile and locally important fish species are being caught
through the use of non-selective catch-all techniques, and these by-catches are dumped while
only the high-value species are kept. Increases in fish prices as a result of scarcity and the
relatively high purchasing power in the North are making fish unaffordable to poorer people in
the South, those for whom it used to be the cheapest, and often the only, source of animal
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