Challenging the "Right to Fish": Closing the High Seas to Fishing

Friday, 13 February 2015: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Room 210G (San Jose Convention Center)
U. Rashid Sumaila,University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
The increasing exploitation of fish on the high seas has caused concern among scientists, economists, lawyers, governments, non-governmental organizations and the public for several reasons.  Inadequate management has led to overfishing of many economically important fish stocks. The fisheries exploiting these resources have been associated with by-catch of threatened or vulnerable species and habitat destruction. A number of commercially important, highly migratory, pelagic species commonly targeted by high-seas fisheries are also at risk. For example, overall, stocks of tunas and their relatives have declined on average by 60% during the last half century and the majority of these stocks is either fully or overexploited. Economic concerns center on the fact that many fisheries exploiting high-seas resources would not be viable without government subsidies, and socially, only provide jobs and significant incomes to relatively few. From a legal standpoint, both fish and fishers of the high seas are the least protected by international agreements, leaving those working on high-seas vessels vulnerable to exploitative treatment and unsafe working conditions. Importantly, the fishing activities of high-seas fleets can influence the availability of fish to coastal fleets because some ‘high-seas’ species straddle Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundaries, i.e., they spend time in EEZs during part of their life; hence, mismanaging the high seas can have far-ranging repercussions. Given all of these issues, it has recently been proposed that a possible solution to high seas fisheries mismanagement is to close it to fishing. My talk explores the economic and equity implications of this proposal, and comes to the conclusion that closing the high seas could be both catch and revenue-positive while inequality in the distribution of fisheries revenues among the world’s maritime countries could be reduced by half.