Washington (AFP) Sept 22, 2010
China is the world's top seafood consumer, followed by Japan and the United States, a trio leading an "unsustainable" assault on global fish stocks, according to a new study which measures the impact of fishing practices.
The study, written up in October's National Geographic magazine, found that China's enormous population gives it the world's biggest "seafood print" -- 694 million metric tonnes of the sea's resources consumed each year.
Japan has a seafood print of 582 million metric tonnes while the United States consumes about 348.5 million metric tonnes of the sea's resources.
The figures are not the raw tonnage of fish and shellfish consumed by a nation: the study measures what the researchers called "primary production" of seafood -- a figure weighted to reflect not only the total amount of seafood consumed, but also the place each seafood species occupies on the food chain.
The novel SeafoodPrint study, sponsored by the magazine along with the Pew Charitable Trusts, allows researchers to take into account the amount of smaller fish and other organisms at the bottom of the marine food web in assessing the environmental impact of seafood consumption.
The United States ranks high on the list, for example, because Americans prefer top predators such as Atlantic salmon and bluefin tuna.
"Every fish is different," said Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia and one of the lead researchers on the study.
"A pound (0.45 kilograms) of tuna represents roughly a hundred times the footprint of a pound of sardines," he said in a press release.
The researchers also found that a pound of bluefin tuna might require 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms) or more of primary production.
The report found that fishing fleets each year harvest more than 170 billion pounds (78 million metric tonnes) of wild fish and shellfish -- from the oceans, and that this so-called "world catch" is essentially unfair and becoming increasingly difficult to sustain without risking a future global collapse in fishing stocks.
"These quantities are not just extremely large but also fundamentally unsustainable," the report says, noting that wealthy countries are monopolizing fisheries in the developing world by snapping up their most high-value species, essentially denying people in poorer countries access to the very fish their citizens are catching.
Among its recommendations, the study advocates reducing the world's fishing fleets by half, establishing large no-catch zones, and limiting the use of wild fish as feed in fish-farming to reduce the impact of the seafood industry on the world's fish stocks.
earlier related report
"Too many people still fail to grasp the implications of this destruction," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned as he called for greater international action to protect plants and animals. "I urge all leaders present today to commit to reducing biodiversity loss."
Recent reports have warned that species are disappearing at up to 1,000 times the natural rate of disappearance because of human activity and now climate change.
UN states have missed an agreed 2010 deadline to achieve "a significant reduction" in the rate of wildlife loss, the UN chief said. "We have all heard of the web of life. The way we live threatens to trap us in a web of death," he commented.
The international community is locked in a battle however on how to set up a panel to assess Earth's biodiversity.
The mooted organisation, the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), would list Earth's species at global and regional level, and spell out the value of them.
But diplomatic sources said the establishment of the group could be delayed, with developing countries holding out for a system that would give poor countries payments for the use of genetic "patrimony" -- unique species of plants or animals that, for instance, are found to have a commercial or medical use.
This would increase income for poor economies and also be an encouragement to nurture forests, wetlands and other vital habitats, they argue.
The Group of 77 developing countries, joined by China, reinforced the need for "fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of the biodiversity," in their presentation to the UN summit.
Ban said that a meeting on the 193-nation Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan next month will discuss the question of how to pay for the "equitable sharing" of the benefits from natural resources.
But many experts and ministers have said that the world cannot afford to delay setting up the new panel.
Jose-Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, highlighted the stakes at the UN summit.
"We will not be able to mitigate climate change or adapt to its impacts, or prevent desertification and land degradation, if we don't protect our ecosystems and biodiversity," Barroso said.
He said it was crucial for the Nagoya meeting next month to adopt a strategic plan that would force all countries "to raise their game; to tackle the key drivers of biodiversity loss; to prevent ecological tipping points from being reached."
He said any accord with developing nations "should ensure transparency, legal certainty and predictability for those seeking access to genetic resources, as well as the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits derived from them."
"We need a deal in Nagoya," said Brazil's Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira. She called on the UN summit to "raise the profile of biodiversity and galvanize the political will and engagement of all countries."
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