World Fisheries Day: There aren’t plenty of fish in the Sea

Throughout 2018 our marine biologists here at Love The Oceans will be doing blog posts on topics of Named Days. To keep up to date, follow this blog, also found under the ‘News’ tab on our website. Without further ado, in celebration of World Fisheries Day 2018, I introduce our 25th blog in this marine series:

World Fisheries Day: There aren’t plenty of fish in the Sea

Dear Fishing Industry,

We need to talk… You keep telling me that there are plenty of fish in the sea. Well, that’s simply not true. Actually there’s a very limited number of fish out there – and you’re currently fishing them all. If you keep this up, we’re going to have a serious problem. So, we really do need to talk.

Every relationship has its ups and downs, and ours has certainly had a few. Fishing in itself is not a problem – quite the contrary. For millions of people around the world, fishing is currently the only solution; a primary source of food and income. In Mozambique nearly 33% of the population live within 25 km of the coast, and with nearly 50% of the population living below the poverty line, fishing is the primary activity and source of income for over 70% of the households in our region.

33% of the population in Mozambique live within 25 km of the coastline and the coastal communities are highly dependent on fishing as a primary source of food and income. Photo by: Danielle Da Silva, Photographers Without Borders.

However, Mozambique, like any other nation depending on marine resources, is facing major challenges: Fish stocks are overfished and at risk of collapsing if fishing continues, and high rates of bycatch and unsustainable fishing methods are contributing to the unhealthy state of current fisheries. So, if you and I are going to continue this relationship we need to talk about your behaviour. It’s not the fishing in itself that’s the issue. It’s the way you do it. Catching too many fish and catching them the wrong way simply isn’t going to fly…

While fishing is an important source of food and income, the rapid decline of stocks and serious damage to ecosystems is increasingly forcing communities, that have few other options, to either go to extremes or abandon fishing (usually in that order): The small-scale artisanal fisheries that operate out of Guinjata and the adjacent bays, where Love The Oceans operates, are currently facing declining fish stocks and have in response adopted more unsustainable fishing methods with a higher yield; namely the use of gillnets.

Gillnets deployed by local fishermen. Photo by: Jeff Hester, Photographers Without Borders.

Gillnets and beach seines comprise 60% of the used fishing equipment, which is highly concerning as both are associated with high levels of overfishing and bycatch. Bycatch isn’t just a problem because it is catching non-target species; it is also a problem because it results in landings of protected and endangered species, as well as juvenile individuals. In addition to the use of unsustainable fishing methods, the local communities have also taken up elasmobranch fishing and shark finning, targeting endangered sharks and rays – simply because it is a better source of income than normal fishing.

A juvenile scalloped hammerhead caught by gillnets in Mozambique. Scalloped hammerheads are endangered and illegal to catch in Mozambique. Photo by Jeff Hester, Photographers Witouth Borders.

So, dear Fishing Industry, you might be asking yourself, if your behaviour is this appalling why don’t we just break it off right here and now? Well, I think we both know that isn’t the answer. However, if you keep up your current behaviour you are going to lose a lot of people who are important to you: Small-scale artisanal fisheries account for 85% of the annual marine catch in Mozambique with a monetary value of USD 200 million annually. It is estimated that 334,000 Mozambicans depend either directly or indirectly on small-scales fisheries as a source of income, and 280,000 Mozambicans work as fishermen. So, while ending fishing completely might seem like the straightforward answer, it isn’t quite that simple. Well, what are we to do then?

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Education is one of the key elements in Love The Oceans’ conservation strategy. Photo by: Danielle Da Silva, Photographers Without Borders.

While the problems in industrial and artisanal fishing are often similar, the implications and solutions are quite different. You might remember our previous conversation about why good conservation work is also community work? As we’ve discussed, the first step is to understand the problem: Living below the poverty line and being threatened on their livelihoods simply means that the local communities have few or no alternatives to continuing the unsustainable fishing. Knowing this we can move on to enable and empower our communities to solve their own problems by giving them the right tools; both metaphorically and literally by providing better education, training on sustainable fishing and more sustainable fishing equipment. Finally, expecting fishing to simply stop from one the day to the other with no alternative isn’t realistic, which is why the final step is to develop and implement alternative livelihoods, providing a sustainable alternative to fishing.

So, dear Fishing Industry… It’s not me, it’s you. And there aren’t plenty of fish in the sea, so I’m going to try my luck with something else. Don’t worry we can still be friends.

Meet Dilson, Armando and Bento! Along with 12 other members of the local communities they will form our Ocean Conservation Champions: a group of passionate individuals acting as ambassadors in their communities raising awareness about local marine conservation issues and leading marine conservation efforts. Photo by: Danielle Da Silva, Photographers Without Borders.


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