Restoring ocean productivity

Fishing should be banned in the high seas, which represent 64 per cent of the world’s oceans just to protect and enhance its role as a carbon sponge, he said. But that is just one of 14 other valuable services the high seas provide humanity according to their study, The High Seas And Us: Understanding The Value Of High Seas Ecosystems.

The study was commissioned by the Global Ocean Commission, an 18-month-old organization comprised of business leaders and former senior politicians, including former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin.

The commission is calling for the negotiation of a new agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to prioritize ocean health and resilience and restore ocean productivity. It also called for an elimination of subsidies on high seas fishing within five years.

The commission’s proposals also call for mandatory tracking of all vessels fishing in the high seas, a ban on the transshipment of fish at sea, measures to end plastics pollution and binding standards for the regulation and control of offshore oil and gas exploration and exploitation.

Carbon really does sink

Phytoplankton are the carbon-eating plants of the seas and pass on this carbon when they’re eaten. When organisms die in the deep seas, their organic matter ends up on the bottom of the ocean, which makes for an effective, natural carbon sequestration process.

Fishing is crippling this free carbon-removal system. This is especially true for bottom-trawlers that bulldoze the sea floor scooping up every living thing. Trawling is by far the most common fishing method and recent studies warn it’s destroying corals and the sea bottom leading to “long-term biological desertification.”

Last May, scientists writing in the journal Science called for an end to “the frontier mentality of exploitation” of the high seas and recommended a ban on trawling to protect the carbon-removal service and halt the decline in the productivity of the oceans. The amount of wild fish caught peaked 20 years ago.

About 70 per cent of fish caught inside the 200-mile limits spend some time in the high seas. If the high seas are protected those fish are likely to grow larger and become more numerous, benefitting near-shore fisheries, Sumaila said.

A number of studies of marine protected zones where fishing is banned or very limited show these areas act as baby-fish incubators increasing the overall population of fish.

If fishing was banned in the high seas, fisheries profits would more than double, the amount of fish would increase 30 per cent and the amount of ocean fish stock conservation would increase 150 per cent according to a study published in PLOS Biology last March.

Given the reality that fishing the high seas is a money loser, even a low carbon price could make a fishing ban valuable, not to mention the other potential benefits of regulating international fisheries. Sumaila said the $148 billion-a-year value of the high seas carbon sponge is a conservative estimate, and it could actually be as high as $222 billion.

Fishing and trawling bans have been proposed before. Last December the European parliament narrowly rejected a bottom-trawling ban on its vessels.

We need wide public understanding of the vital importance of the high seas to all of us,” concluded Sumaila.

Top 10 High Seas Fishing Nations (according to Sumaila’s study) in descending order: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Spain, USA, Chile, China, Indonesia, Philippines, France.

This article is cross-posted from StephenLeahy.net where it was first published under the title High Seas Represent $148 Billion Carbon Sink But Overfishing is Destroying It.
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The Planet's Largest Climate Sink, boomer warrior Stephen Leahy is an independent environmental journalist and author of a new book Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts Behind Our Thirst for Earth’s Most Precious Resource.

Stephen is the international science and environment correspondent for the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS). His work also appears on Reuters AlertNet, Common Dreams, Straightgoods.com, TerraViva, InfoSud.

He is a professional member of the Society of Environmental Journalists: Fellow, International League of Conservation Writers. He is also a regular international speaker on environmental issues.

He has been published in dozens of publications around the world including National Geographic, New Scientist, The London Sunday Times, The Guardian,  Al Jazeera, Maclean’s Magazine, Earth Island Journal, The Toronto Star, Wired News, Audubon, BBC Wildlife, and Canadian Geographic.

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