Troubled Ocean Fisheries

June 15, 1984

Report Outline
Causes of Decline
Impetus for Change
Increasing the Catch
Special Focus

Causes of Decline

Fish Supply Strained by Demand for Food

The Price of fish is on the rise, not just in seafood stores and supermarkets in the United States but around the world, in rich and poor countries alike. The world's oceans, once thought of as an inexhaustible source of protein-rich food, are beginning to show the strains of overfishing, pollution and the ever-increasing demand for food by a human population that is expanding by nearly 80 million persons a year.

“Three tremendous shocks have hit the world fishing industry in the past 15 years, affecting every individual fish consumer,” said a spokesman for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. “First, the ocean fish catch, after rising 5 to 7 percent a year since 1950, suddenly trailed off to under 1 percent in the mid-1970s. That is about half the population growth, so fish is scarcer and dearer every year. Second, the great oil price rises in the 1970s affected fishing much harder than other industries, because fuel is the biggest cost component after the purchase of a boat. This hits both the small fisherman with an outboard motor and the big Russian factory ship, and both very hard. And third, during the negotiations for the new Law of the Sea Convention nearly all coastal countries adopted the 200-mile exclusive economic and fishing zone, radically altering rights of access to fishing banks that have been open to all throughout history.…What you have, in short, is the world's oldest and biggest industry after farming in complete ferment.”

The FAO is convening a World Fisheries Conference in Rome June 27–July 6 to assess what is happening to the fish catch and to plan a strategy for better management and development of ocean fisheries. The conference, the FAO spokesman said, “is the first global attempt since the triple shock to take an indepth look at what comes next.”

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