Scientists have proposed a novel idea to prevent the collapse of fish stocks due to overfishing: ban fishing in international waters and turn the open ocean into a worldwide reserve. The proposal introduced in the journal PLoS Biology may seem extreme, but scientists say such drastic measures may be necessary if we want to ensure future generations have the same access to seafood. Unless we act now, the journal Science reports that overfishing may permanently take seafood off the menu by 2048.
Overfishing has raised alarms that certain fish populations, such as tuna, swordfish, and marlin, are being exploited at an unsustainable rate. To conserve these populations, researchers Crow White and Christopher Costello propose a short term stoppage on fishing in international waters, or the “high seas”, where fishing is a largely unregulated free-for-all activity that exemplifies the tragedy of the commons. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the high seas comprise waters located more than 200 miles from land and make up 64 percent of the ocean’s surface and 95 percent of its volume.
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The researchers say that by sacrificing our appetite for seafood in the short term to allow fish populations to bounce back would reap long-term rewards, including greater food security and environmental sustainability. To enforce the ban, White proposes the use of satellite tracking to monitor any suspicious movement of large ships.
Though Costello and White are convinced of the global benefits, not all countries may be willing to get on board. Nations such as Spain, China, and Japan are heavily invested in their international fishing fleets and are likely to resist. Other scientists also worry that the ban on high seas fishing could lead to the overexploitation of nearshore fishing. To prepare for the next step, Costello and White are currently researching how the ban might individually affect different nations and fish species.
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