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When love to eat seafood far exceeds care
Published on: Sunday, March 18, 2018

SEAFOOD – millions and billions of people just love to eat it without a second thought, simply because it tastes so good and good also for one's flesh and bones, what more brain cells!

But listen to marine scientists talk about species, genetics, carbon sequestration of sea grass, metal concentration, morphology, histology, digestive enzymes, ovarian maturation, fatty acids and lactic acids, that is, the science behind of our favourite mud crab, blue crab, tiger groupa, marble goby, like the way I sat for two full days at the March 14-15 International Conference on Marine Science & Aquaculture (Icomsa), the complex scientific language just boggled the mind!

Maybe that's the reason why the eating far exceeds the caring of these favourite seafoods, because our taste buds are far sharper than our brains and this big chasm between demand and understanding the science of marine protection is spelling trouble.

It is not difficult to understand the troubled mood at the Icomsa 2018, organised by the Borneo Marine Research Institute, UMS. A sense of loss on what to do with plunging capture fisheries in terms of wild fish catches and at the same time, unresolved issues over the quality of feeds in a fast expanding aquaculture industry which still cannot find a true alternative to fish meals and fish oils from land-based vegetative and insect sources.

Even Prof Dato' Dr Roshada Hashim, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, who once advocated intensive aquaculture to address the sharp drop in capture fisheries, now says she has second thoughts and suggested a return to nature to move seafood production forward, "the way nature had intended it".

So, it's good to know the Borneo Marine researchers in UMS seem highly motivated and gungho about their two-pronged concerns – safeguarding the sustainability of both commercial capture fisheries and also aquaculture for the greater good and are working with experts from across Malaysia, China, Australia, Japan, Singapore and Europe to see where the problems are.

Seventy-five per cent of wild fish stocks are gone, going! On capture fisheries, the latest fisheries data from GreenFact, asserts that three-quarters of monitored marine stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited or even depleted.

So the bad news is there is no further potential for growth in wild marine catches while the generally negative state of fishery resources and their ecosystems leave little time to mount long delayed Johnny-come-lately actions to better manage fish stocks.

World marine fisheries production peaked in 1996 at 130 million metric tons but had declined very strongly by more than a million metric tons per year since, according to a decade long study involving 400 researchers headed by Professor Daniel Pauly, University of British Columbia, who didn't seem very optimistic of a rebound because he says he doesn't expect countries in Africa, for example, to rebuild stocks, nor allowed to by big industrial fishing countries which are fishing in the waters of developing countries.

All that contribute to overfishing which exhausts one fishery after another.

The greatest threat – overfishing While global warming is causing large scale bleaching on the coral reefs which are the world's largest biological constructions and among the most beautiful ecosystems on earth which host a huge portion of the ocean's biodiversity that are enormously valuable to both tourism and our seafood security very aptly noted by Prof Dr Kefu Yu from the Coral Reef Research Center of China, Guangxi University, an article in the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science singles out overfishing is the greatest threat to the ocean ecosystems today, which confirms Prof Pauly's conclusion that overexploitation by ever more sophisticated international industrial fishing fleets.

Four things happen in overfishing: 1) Fish are captured at a faster rate than they can reproduce; 2) advanced fishing technology and an increased demand for fish; 3) destabilises the food chain and 4) destroying the natural habitats of many aquatic species.

Astonishing industrial fishing technology rule the oceans To see how technology is driving the demise of wild catches, fishing in the past was more sustainable because fishermen could not access every location and because they had a limited capacity for fish aboard their vessels.

But now, small trawlers and fishing boats have been replaced by giant factory ships that can capture and process enormous amounts of fish.

These ships use sonar technology and GPS to rapidly locate large schools of fish.

If that is not astonishing, fishing lines can be deployed with thousands of large hooks that can reach areas up to 120km deep, according to the Dartmouth journal.

It also claims that the trawling machines and vessels can even reach depths 170km and can store an extraordinary amount of fish.

Huge trawling ships combing big areas of seas And each year these huge trawling ships can comb an area twice the size of the United States.

They use massive nets metres wide with the capacity to pull up the weight of a medium-sized plane.

They also have several plants for processing and packing fish, large freezing systems, fishmeal processing plants and powerful engines that can carry this enormous fishing gear around the ocean.

Because these ships have all the equipment necessary to freeze and tin fish, they only need to return to their base once they are full.

Even when the ships are filled, the fish are often transferred to refrigerated vessel in the middle of the ocean and are processed for later consumption.

So industrial fishing have been expanded greatly and fishermen can now explore new shores and deeper waters to keep up with the increased demand for seafood.

So GreenFact is merely citing the report of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations that 70 per cent of world fisheries are either full exploited, over-exploited or even depleted.

Fishing nets are also often un-selective. For every ton of prawns caught, three tons of other fish or bycatch are killed and thrown away.

So FAO has estimated 25pc of the world's captured fish which are thrown overboard are not inferior fish but are illegal catches like turtles, seals, whales, porpoises and at least a million sharks killed as bycatch and hundreds of dolphins washed up to the beaches of Europe each year.

Modern bottom trawling is a classic fishing method which destroys the delicate marine ecosystems from which fish is extracted because it uses extremely wide nets fixed to heavy metal rollers which can crush everything in its path smashing corals, rock formations, often killing tons of animals as bycatch. This is fuelling the rise of what some call the commercial extinction of species the number of which is rapidly rising, according to the Dartmouth report.

When two-thirds of oceans is free of laws That overfishing has run out of control is universal because about two-thirds of the oceans is free of laws and fishing vessels only follow laws ratified by their country of origins but most countries have not even ratified any international convention to protect the sea or marine life so unreported and illegal fishing is a serious problem which has contributed a great deal of the depletion.

Even in advanced Europe four out of five fish stocks are already beyond safe biological limits.

The stock of Pacific Blue fin tuna – the prized fish of Japanese, is 97pc down from its historic level.

Over 75pc of them caught is less than 3kgs while 95pc of them are less than three years old, meaning they never had a chance to reproduce.

So, at this rate of overfishing, it is believed the decline of the blue fin tuna is irreversible.

Overfishing has been blamed for 90pc of the shark decline. The list of big declines goes on and on.

UN's Zero Overfishing target by 2020 hasn't happened So what is the answer to overfishing almost everywhere?

Italy-based Yimin Ye of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisations, who presented a paper on 'World's Marine Fisheries And The Challenges And Strategies to Achieve Sustainable Development Goal Target 14.4, said actually 'Zero Overfishing by 2020 is among its 17 goals, but he conceded that the percentage of overfished stocks had kept increasing.

Hence given 2020 is just two years to go, it is unlikely that Zero Overfishing goal is going to be accomplished.

There is some progress in some countries but nothing major.

While fishing intensity continues to increase in the developing world, and stocks are in worse shape in developing countries, there are signs that fishing intensity in developed world is decreasing while overfishing of stocks is decreasing.

So, how does FAO plan to achieve the Over-fishing Target?

1. Enhance institutional and governance capacities through global partnership particularly in developing countries, y sharing success experience and knowledge; technology transfer; capacity building in science-based policy making.

2. Control fishing capacity at sustainable levels though policy and regulations, by, judicious use of subsidies and eradicating of Illegal, unregulated and unregulated fishing

3. Establish a seafood trading system that rewards sustainable fisheries via international rules and bilateral agreements; domestic policy and market driven mechanisms (eg. eco-labelling).

4. A stronger global monitoring system, according to Ye. - Kan Yaw Chong

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