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B.C. researchers propose high seas fishing moratorium

A team of British Columbia-led researchers believe banning fishing in international waters would help protect fish stocks and boost coastal economies.

Rashid Sumaila, the director of UBC’s Fisheries Economics Research Unit, was the lead author of the study, published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Fish do not respect national boundaries and we’ve learned 42 per cent of species migrate to the high seas,” said Sumaila. “The United Nations doesn’t have much legal power over international waters and those fisheries are really poorly managed, if at all.”

Such practices have severely damages global populations of species such as tuna and swordfish.

Researchers found that 10 countries (including South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan) capture the bulk (71 per cent) of the world’s landed value of catches in international waters.

Overfishing in the high seas has a direct impact on fish stocks of nations, like Canada, that rely on fishing within their coastal exclusive economic zones.

Sumaila’s modeling suggests a ban on fishing in international waters would boost coastal catches by 18 per cent and protect fish stocks without limiting global supply.

The nations most involved in high seas fishing would stand to lose at least $800 million (USD) by banning the practice, but Sumaila says that loss could be offset by stronger coastal markets.

Canada, for instance, would see an increase of $125 million (USD) per year.

“And that’s the most conservative of estimates,” said Sumaila. “There would be enough return to compensate and pay off those nations that do [high seas fishing].”

The findings will be presented this week at the 2015 annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Sumaila says the paper is timely, as the United Nations is currently looking at ways to reform governance of international waters.

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