It’s a case of too many boats, too few fish in our high seas. And if you live in one of the 10 countries fishing there, you’re probably unwittingly contributing to the problem.

“The world’s fleet is currently 2.5 times larger than is necessary to sustainably catch global fish stocks”, says the Global Ocean Commission (GOC). Subsidies play a big part in this story, and it’s not good for people or planet.

Back in the 1950s, when Jacques Cousteau first introduced us to the Silent World beneath the waves, our high seas were the domain of adventurers and explorers, and their very inaccessibility protected them. Yet just six decades on, and we are plundering and altering this critical ecosystem at an alarming rate.  

Overfishing is part of the problem. As you can see from the infographic below, almost nine out of ten fish species in the high seas are classified as “exploited, overexploited, or collapsed”, compared to none in the 1950s.

We also know that only 10 countries fish there, and their fishing operations wouldn't be commercially viable without the massive government subsidies the vessels receive. Public funds are being used to subsidise fuel, provide income support, and pay for repairs and equipment. As the GOC puts it in simple terms,

Without subsidies, the high seas fleets wouldn’t make a profit. Citizens of countries providing subsidies to their high seas fleets pay twice for their fish: as tax payers and as consumers/shoppers.

So how to tackle the problem?  The GOC is proposing a three-step solution: first, to increase transparency on the issue; secondly, to ensure all subsidies are accurately classified; thirdly, to to quickly cap and ultimately phase out all fuel subsidies. As the GOC explains, this should be done in a way that recognises the importance of the fishing sector to developing and least-developed countries.

Take a look at the infographic below to find out more, and you can read the full GOC report, From decline to recovery: A rescue package for the global ocean.

This September, the United Nations will discuss the future of the high seas and how they should be governed. Please join the mission for a healthy, living ocean and ask UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to call for high seas protection and ocean health.

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