High seas fisheries play a negligible role in addressing global food security / by Francisco Blaha

A lot is written at the moment of the High Seas (or Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction – ABNJ), form various angles. A lot of the press portrait it as an unprotected and lawless place, but as my friend, Mercedes Rosello recently (and graciously) wrote: "There *are* protections! Yes, they are limited and imperfect. That means that they need to be complemented, reinforced, implemented, and enforced. *Ignoring* them is not the way forward!.

 Not as much as they make you believe

Not as much as they make you believe

The high seas Is a deserved area of interest, (I often write about what is happening there). A question that is not regularly evaluated is why people go fishing there? Is not close and accessible, but not utterly lawless as I recently read.

Is there so much fish there that the DWFN need to operate there to survive? Or is geopolitics? Or is just that are working in areas adjacent sometimes and it does not cost much to get there… in fact, they don't have to pay licenses to be there to anyone, not even to RFMOs. So there is a lot of questions that are there and are being answered, mostly by academics that have the time and funds to do it! I only have a lot of questions and a lot of work… so tough luck for me in finding the time to work on that!

In any case, a card that has been played by the DWFN is that the catches in the High Seas are a vital part of food security. 

Yet my “friends in fish” Laurenne Schiller and Megan Bailey (I recently loved another publication by them involving Dr Seuss) with other 2 authors, got into that assertion and very originally (just because they are clever and original people) titled their latest paper (published yesterday) with the conclusion of their work: “High seas fisheries play a negligible role in addressing global food security”

And yes, their paper deals precisely with that, it proves that the food security argument is just not substantiated by data or facts. As usual, I recommend you read the original, I just quote some of the parts I found more interesting.

Abstract
We analysed high seas catches and trade data to determine the contribution of the high seas catch to global seafood production, the main species caught on the high seas, and the primary markets where these species are sold. By volume, the total catch from the high seas accounts for 4.2% of annual marine capture fisheries production and 2.4% of total seafood production, including freshwater fisheries and aquaculture. Thirty-nine fish and invertebrate species account for 99.5% of the high seas targeted catch, but only one species, Antarctic toothfish, is caught exclusively on the high seas. The remaining catch, which is caught both on the high seas and in national jurisdictions, is made up primarily of tunas, billfishes, small pelagic fishes, pelagic squids, toothfish, and krill. Most high seas species are destined for upscale food and supplement markets in developed, food-secure countries, such as Japan, the European Union, and the United States, suggesting that, in aggregate, high seas fisheries play a negligible role in ensuring global food security.

To assess the contribution of the high seas catch to global food security, we determined (i) the contribution of the high seas catch relative to other sectors of seafood production, (ii) the main high seas fishing countries, (iii) the species composition of the high seas catch, and (iv) the primary importing countries and associated markets for those species. We used annual catch statistics from the Sea Around Us reconstructed fisheries database (v. 47), aquaculture and freshwater production estimates from the UN and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) (4), and import and export data from the FAO FishStat database (v. 3.01).

 Fig 1: Average contribution (million metric tons) of seafood-producing sectors, 2009–2014

Fig 1: Average contribution (million metric tons) of seafood-producing sectors, 2009–2014

High seas catch by volume
Between 2009 and 2014, the total landed catch on the high seas was an average of 4.32 million metric tons annually. This volume represents 4.2% of the annual marine catch (102 million metric tons) and 2.4% of all seafood production, including freshwater fisheries and aquaculture (178 million metric tons; Fig. 1

High seas catch by species
Thirty-nine fish and invertebrate species accounted for 99.5% of the high seas catch identifiable to the species level during the time period sampled. Only one of those species, Antarctic toothfish, was caught exclusively on the high seas (3700 metric tons annually) and represented 0.11% of the total high seas catch. The remaining species are “straddling” and/or highly migratory species (that is, caught both on the high seas and within EEZs). The top three species caught on the high seas were all tunas: skipjack (967,000 metric tons annually), yellowfin (563,000 metric tons annually), and bigeye (336,000 metric tons annually). The tunas (these species plus albacore and the three bluefins) collectively accounted for 61% of the total high seas catch by volume. Other main species groups were non-tuna pelagic fishes (26%), pelagic squids (7%), billfishes (3%), demersal fishes and invertebrates (2%), and krill (1%)

High seas catch by producers and consumers
Ten fishing countries were responsible for 72% of the total high seas catch between 2002 and 2011. China and Taiwan alone accounted for one-third of the world’s total high seas catch, while Chile and Indonesia had the third and fourth largest catches, followed by Spain. Despite having the largest high seas catch by volume, fish from the high seas account for only 5% of China’s total domestic catch. Catch from the high seas contributed to ≤6% of the total national catch for half of the top 10 fleets: China, Japan, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines; only for Ecuador and Taiwan did high seas catches account for more than one-third of their domestic landings.

Current traceability standards do not allow disaggregation of imported seafood into spatial jurisdictions (that is, caught on the high seas versus in an EEZ). However, imports of species caught on the high seas are available, and Japan was the top importer of all three globally traded bluefins (93% for southern, 58% for Atlantic and Pacific), as well as bigeye (75%), and the secondary importer of yellowfin (20%) and both toothfishes (22%). Thailand was the top importer of skipjack (63%), yellowfin (21%), and albacore (30%), and Spain was the secondary importer of albacore (19%). The United States imported the majority of both toothfishes (48%) and all of the krill and was the secondary importer of southern bluefin (2%). With the exception of South Korea importing almost all of the globally exported chub mackerel and Pacific saury, all other primary importers of species caught on the high seas were from the European Union (EU) (for example, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands). Further details of these trade flows—and additional trade of affiliated processed products—are available in Fig. 2 

 Fig. 2 Imports of species caught on the high seas.  Solid arrow width proportional to destination’s share of total global imports for each species group (fresh, frozen, unprocessed form), and dashed arrows indicate likely form of consumption in primary importing country or, if applicable, processed product produced.

Fig. 2 Imports of species caught on the high seas.

Solid arrow width proportional to destination’s share of total global imports for each species group (fresh, frozen, unprocessed form), and dashed arrows indicate likely form of consumption in primary importing country or, if applicable, processed product produced.

High seas fisheries contribute an estimated 4.3 million metric tons (2.4%) to the global seafood supply. In 2014, these fisheries were valued $7.6 billion, yet they are enabled by an estimated $4.2 billion in annual government subsidies (17).

Conclusions
The discussion of access to the high seas will inevitably lead to concerns about how closing areas to fishing could affect global food security. Here, we show that only one species of toothfish is caught exclusively on the high seas, that the high seas catch contributes less than 3% to the global seafood supply, and the vast majority of the marine life caught on the high seas is destined for upscale markets in food-secure countries. On the basis of the available data, high seas fisheries do not make a direct or crucial contribution to global food security.

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I really like Megan and Laurenne's approach to a lot of their research, and hope to see more of them coming out (and hopefully participate on some).