Green Business: If We Eat All the Fish, Whose Tragedy Is it?

Who owns our fish?

As author Margaret Shaw notes in a blog post for, the rapidly diminishing deep ocean fish stocks that lie outside national jurisdictions are out of sight, out of mind and beyond legal recourse.

Call it the tragedy of the oceans.

If no one owns them, can I take them all?

Who can stop me?

Is that fair? Is that right?

Does it even make sense for me to do that?

A new UN panel convened May 8 to discuss a new program that will tackle these questions and others regarding global fish stocks.


Fisheries up for Grabs: Who Owns our Fish?

“At the United Nations yesterday, a Program on Global Sustainable Fisheries Management and Biodiversity in ABNJ was introduced to protect the biodiversity of this area, which some consider to be the last global “commons” on Earth.

A new program that will devote $44 million to manage the long-term health of this frontier which is depreciating rapidly. Throughout history, it’s been “every man for himself” out there beyond the watchful eyes of citizens, giving way to total anarchy dominated by highly sophisticated $10 billion dollar/year fishing operations equal to 6.3 million tons caught per year.

With millions of tons of fish brought to market each year, it’s a fair question to ask why this level of harvesting is a problem:

No deep-sea bottom trawl vessels or fleets have demonstrated that they can fish deep-sea species sustainably and prevent damage to deep-sea ecosystems.

On the table for Rio+20 next month, though not without conflict, is an end to government fishing subsidies, considered to be as damaging as fossil fuel subsidies. No agreement has been reached here, nor has a proposed phase-out of all deep-sea bottom-trawl fishing on the high seas by 2015.

And, what remedies and solutions could be enacted to help achieve sustainable goals:

Also at the negotiating table is a call for labeling, and for seafood buyers and retailers to only buy and sell fish from deep-sea fisheries that have clearly demonstrated no harm to deep-sea ecosystems.

Today, as global fish stocks decline, seafood becomes an increasingly expensive item for the rich and a rarity for the poor. With the world population expected to reach 8.2 billion by 2030, the planet will have to feed an additional 1.5 billion people, 90 percent of whom will be living in developing countries many of which depend on local fisheries.

When we over harvest fish beyond sustainable levels, there are inevitable downstream impacts. For one thing, eventually you won’t be able to catch any more fish yourself.

In the bigger picture, overfishing means less for people who depend on local fish for their survival.

I reject the Tragedy of the Commons thesis that individuals, acting from self-interest, will inevitably overexploit resources even when it’s cleanly not in our best interests to do so.

I believe this because humans have sustainably stewarded resources for millenia.

Farmers know to replenish their fields. Hunters know to leave the does. Fisherfolk know to release breeding lobsters back to the sea.

It’s only in the past few hundred years that technology has allowed us to take beyond Nature’s ability to replenish.

Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.



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