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Overfishing Risks Collapsing Global Fishing Industry

2017-05-19

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[00:00.00]
  • Not so long ago, the world’s oceans were filled with different types of fish.
  • [00:08.60]
  • Now, a large increase in global overfishing has threatened that supply.
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  • According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are either being fully exploited, or are at risk of collapsing.
  • [00:33.42]
  • With fish supplies running out closer to home, fishermen are traveling further and further to find their catch.
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  • Frequently, fishermen are crossing over into other countries’ territories, creating both political and environmental conflict.
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  • Overfishing can be found everywhere, from Mexican fishing boats off the U.S. coast of Florida to Russian crabbing boats in the western Bering Sea.
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  • However, the impact is felt the strongest in the South China Sea, where many countries have territorial claims.
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  • Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and China all consider parts of the sea as their territory.
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  • China makes the largest territorial claim and also has the largest presence in the area.
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  • As fish supplies closer to its shores are depleted, the Chinese government is now helping fishermen crossing borders to find fish.
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  • According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Chinese Coast Guard boats have been patrolling near Luconia Shoals, off the coast of Malaysia, since 2013.
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  • The vessels were there to protect as many as 100 fishing boats from China.
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  • Fishermen from Vietnam and the Philippines have accused China of preventing their fishing boats from entering the disputed waters.
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  • Some say they even try to ram their boats, or even come on board and take their equipment.
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  • The Philippines has been in dispute with China over Scarborough Shoal and the surrounding waters.
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  • China has used its navy to keep Filipino fishermen out and encouraged its fishermen to catch in these waters.
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  • An international court ruled for the Philippines last July in the territorial dispute but China rejected the ruling.
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  • Both countries, however, are expected to sign an agreement later this month on a joint use of these waters.
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  • Further south, Indonesia has also seized and destroyed over 300 fishing vessels, from Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, for illegal fishing in its waters the past three years.
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  • Overfishing does not stop in East Asia either.
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  • On the other side of the world, West Africa is now seeing damaging effects of overfishing.
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  • For coastal African countries, such as Senegal, the fishing industry is a large part of the national economy.
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  • The World Bank reports nearly 20 percent of the Senegalese are working in the fishing industry.
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  • Rashid Sumaila is the Director of Fisheries Economic Research at the University of British Columbia.
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  • He says communities that depend on fish for income and food, like Senegal, are now at risk.
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  • According to Sumaila, China is not the only country to increase fishing off the African coast.
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  • “Europeans have been fishing in these waters for a long time, too.
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  • Recently the European Union has been supporting European vessels to come over and fish," Sumaila said.
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  • For many Senegalese, Sumaila says fishing is “the only thing they can do, because of the lack of education and skills to work in other sectors.”
  • [05:11.30]
  • About 260 million people draw some income from fisheries worldwide and most of these jobs are in developing countries.
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  • Sumaila adds that if these jobs go away, and young people don’t have any other work to turn to, the chance for frustration and social unrest grows.
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  • And some are forced to immigrate to other countries to find work.
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  • Overfishing eliminates many of the big, high-value fish and removes a food source for other fish and animals.
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  • If left alone, Sumaila says, nature knows how to balance this.
  • [05:59.27]
  • But as more fish are caught more frequently, it doesn’t leave time for the population to stabilize.
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  • Another concern is habitat destruction.
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  • Bottom trawler boats, which drag nets along the ocean floor, are damaging coral reefs, which are important habitats for fish.
  • [06:23.27]
  • In the South China Sea, China is also building man-made islands to claim territories in disputed waters.
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  • The construction of these islands has been very harmful to the coral reefs.
  • [06:40.90]
  • John McManus is a marine ecologist and reef expert at the University of Miami.
  • [06:49.90]
  • He says, “When you’re in a situation where you’re overfished and on the verge of fishery collapse, you don’t want to go destroying fish generating machines, and that’s what coral reefs can be seen as.”
  • [07:06.10]
  • Sumaila compares the action to taking away the home and the living space for fish in the ocean.
  • [07:17.23]
  • I’m Phil Dierking.
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