Cod population especially damaged, UN report says, and many sardine species compromised

Zafrir Rinat | Jun. 15, 2020 | 1:09 AM

Fishing stocks in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea are at the most unsustainable levels in the world, with two-thirds of the commercial stocks at risk of over-fishing, according to a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organizations.

The report, which is published every two years, says the depletion of fishing stocks worldwide is a cause for concern – overfishing has increased three or four times over in recent decades. Overfishing in the Mediterranean has particularly damaged the population of cod, and that many species of anchovy and sardines have been compromised.

The report, covering 2016-2018, notes some improvement in the Black Sea since the previous report, but that both in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean the situation is the worst in the world, with 62 percent of the commercial fish under pressure. In comparison, in the southern Pacific Ocean, 55 percent of commercially fished species are overfished.

According to the report, the best situation is in the central Pacific Ocean, where only 13.3 percent of species are overfished. The worldwide average of overfishing is 34 percent of commercial species, which shows how serious the situation is in the Mediterranean.

The report is based on the quantities of fish caught compared to reproductive capabilities of the species.

Over the years, regulations and agreements have been put in place by a number of international organizations to increase sustainability. An international code of conduct has been formulated, although it is not as binding as international conventions. Many countries have imposed restrictions on fishing during mating season or restrictions on catches.

In total, catches worldwide (not including caged fish) reached 99 million tons in 2019. China leads the world in catches, producing 15 percent of the world’s catches of commercial species. Anchovies is the species with the largest landing.

The Mediterranean produces a relatively small quantity of landings – 3.1 million tons a year, as opposed to areas in the Pacific Ocean where fish landings are from 7 to 20 million tons a year. However, because of the small size of the Mediterranean Sea, the impact of fishing on the sustainability of local species is particularly significant.

A number of countries around the Mediterranean are responsible for overfishing, including Algeria and Tunisia, as well as Italy. Israel has a relatively small fishing fleet compared to other countries in the Mediterranean, and in recent years restrictions have been imported to prevent overfishing. As a result of public pressure brought to bear by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Agriculture Ministry has banned the use of dragnet fishing for part of the year and in some areas of the sea.

Overfishing presents a risk not only to fish species themselves but to the ecosystem in general. Damage to other marine animals can stem from dragnet fishing by large vessels, which sweep up everything in the path of their nets. Up to 40 percent of the marine animals caught in such nets are not commercial species.

Dragnet vessel owners claim that there is no scientific justification for the restrictions the government has imposed on their activities, which they say has reduced their catch by 50 percent. However, according to the SPNI, even more steps must be taken to protect the fish population including a complete cessation of activity by all dragnet vessels, which currently number 16.

Environmental activists also say that marine nature reserves, where fishing would be banned, must be expanded.