Humanity's Ecological Fishprint Unsustainable

OAKLAND, California, November 16, 2006 (ENS) - To sustain present levels of seafood consumption, humans would need more than 2.5 times the area of all the Earth's oceans, according to "The Fishprint of Nations 2006," a new study based on the idea of the human ecological footprint.

Like the ecological footprint, the fishprint measures the amount of ocean area needed to sustain the consumption patterns of individual nations and the human population as a whole.

The report, issued Wednesday by three diverse organizations - Redefining Progress, the Ocean Project, and the Center for Sustainable Economy - estimates that humans are overfishing by roughly 157 percent. It finds that 91 countries, including the United States, overfished their biological capacity in 2003.

Bill Mott is director of the Ocean Project based in Providence, Rhode Island, a network of aquariums, zoos, museums, and conservation organizations working to protect oceans.


A commercial fishing vessel brings a huge trawl aboard. (Photo courtesy Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Marine Observer Program)
"Scientific evidence underscores that the world's ocean is essential to human survival and also under direct and increasing threat from human actions," said Mott. "The trends may seem dire, but we still have the opportunity to leave a more abundant and healthier ocean for our grandchildren. Every person on Earth is connected to the ocean, no matter where they live."

Setting aside a proportion of the ocean as "no-take zones" is essential for sustaining the productivity of commercial fisheries and the marine ecosystems on which they depend, the report recommends.

The Fishprint of Nations suggests that at least 20 percent of countries' exclusive economic zones should be set aside as Marine Protected Areas.

The conclusions of the fishprint report are in line with those of another study published in the journal "Science" earlier this month showing that by 2048, every major commercial fish species would collapse if current fishing practices continue.

John Talberth, director of the Sustainability Indicators Program at Redefining Progress, said, "The extreme level of overfishing reported in these studies demands swift and decisive action by fishery managers to reduce allowable catches, establish marine protected areas, and ban destructive fishery practices such as factory trawling."

Based in Oakland, Redefining Progress is a policy institute interested in economics solutions that help people, protect, the environment, and grow the economy. The organization has partnered with the Earth Day Network to engage people in measuring their impact on the planet using the ecological footprint, and is now presenting the fishprint to measure human impact on oceans.


A charter boat unloads a catch of yellowfin tuna and dolphinfish at a marina in Manteo, North Carolina. (Photo by William Folsom courtesy NOAA)
Dr. Talberth also serves as president and consulting economist with the Center for Sustainable Economy based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The organization works with nonprofit, business, and government leaders to transform the current economic system into one based on renewable energy supplies, protected natural capital, and empowered communities.

The Fishprint of Nations 2006 found that unsustainable use of global fisheries most likely began in the mid 1970s.

Due to overfishing, marine biocapacity fell by nearly 20 percent between 1950 and 2003.

Ninety-one countries engaged in ecological overshoot by overfishing their marine biological capacity in 2003, with Japan, Indonesia and China leading the pack, the report finds.

By comparing the ecological impact caused by fishing fleets of any country with estimates of sustainable yield, the fishprint may be a tool for helping nations to meet their obligations under Article 61 of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea.

Article 61 requires countries to monitor their catch in relation to both economic and environmental sustained yields.

The fishprint also serves as a guide for consumers who wish to reduce the ecological impact of their seafood choices, as it quantifies the benefits of eating lower on the food chain.

Because they are lower on the food chain, species like scallops, crab, anchovies, and herring demand less ocean area for a given weight of catch as compared with species like halibut and tuna. Still, the report cautions, harvest methods for these species may be unsustainable.


Seafood consumption is up across the United States as people take advantage of the health benefits of eating fish. (Photo courtesy Diet to Go)
The report suggests that to lessen the impact of seafood consumption, diners should choose sustainably fished or farmed seafood.

Farmed catfish, clams, Dungeness crab, and spiny lobster top the list of ecologically better choices.

There is an exception to this recommendation. The Fishprint of Nations advises consumers to choose wild salmon over farmed. "While much aquaculture is positive and can help feed the world, salmon farming pollutes our oceans and threatens wild salmon," the report states.

The report also suggests eating moderate rather than large portions and buying local seafood if possible.

"Skip the shrimp," the Fishprint advises. "Five pounds of sea creatures are killed for every one pound of shrimp caught, and shrimp aquaculture damages coastal ecosystems. A very few sustainable shrimp farms exist; support them instead."

"The choices we make in our daily lives can help to reverse the degradation of our ocean and its precious life," Mott said. "Individual people can make a real difference by becoming more informed and selective consumers of seafood and other ocean products."