"Net" Fisheries Solutions / by Francisco Blaha

The first target should be fishing subsidies. Fishermen, who often occupy an important place in some country’s self-image, have succeeded in persuading governments to spend other people’s money subsidising an industry that loses billions and does huge environmental damage. Rich nations hand the people who are depleting the high seas $35 billion a year in cheap fuel, insurance and so on. The sum is over a third of the value of the catch. That should stop.

Second, there should be a global register of fishing vessels. These have long been exempt from an international scheme that requires passenger and cargo ships to carry a unique ID number. Last December maritime nations lifted the exemption—a good first step. But it is still up to individual countries to require fishing boats flying their flag to sign up to the ID scheme. Governments should make it mandatory, creating a global record of vessels to help crack down on illegal high-seas fishing. Somalis are not the only pirates out there.

Third, there should be more marine reserves. An eighth of the Earth’s land mass enjoys a measure of legal protection (such as national-park status). Less than 1% of the high seas does. Over the past few years countries have started to set up protected marine areas in their own economic zones. Bodies that regulate fishing in the high seas should copy the idea, giving some space for fish stocks and the environment to recover.

But reforming specific policies will not be enough. Countries also need to improve the system of governance. There is a basic law of the sea signed by most nations (though not America, to its discredit). But it contains no mechanisms to enforce its provisions. Instead, dozens of bodies have sprung up to regulate particular activities, such as shipping, fishing and mining, or specific parts of the oceans. The mandates overlap and conflict. Non-members break the rules with impunity. And no one looks after the oceans as a whole.

From  and article in The Economist