The ecological impact of overfishing is a well-studied issue, however, if we analyze other aspects of the industry, we may ask ourselves, is it worth continuing to exist?
Hello friends of ecotrain, when we talk about deep sea fishing, many people imagine long seasons surfing the waves, looking for the miraculous catch that will fill our pockets when we return triumphant to port, foreseen, that there may be stormy nights and other dangers, but it is part of the adventure, right? Perhaps, the most extreme, is the one depicted in the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch program... but most things are not like that, they are much more grim.
Deep sea fishing is full of dangers, on the one hand there are pirates, who believe it or not still exist, only they are no longer armed with swords and flintlock guns, now they are armed with .50 M2 and AK 47 machine guns. Or you can be practically kidnapped by an organization dedicated to enslave people in fishing vessels, to make them work for years without paying them, you can also disappear in the vastness of the ocean after being embarked on a ship in very bad conditions without proper communications. All of this happens on a daily basis, and many of the lucky ones who make it back from an offshore fishing trip with some money, come from experiencing truly brutal living conditions with minimal pay.
All this suffering in a highly destructive and environmentally polluting industry.
And the worst of it all, is that deep sea fishing is becoming less and less profitable.
And here I want to elaborate a little more to clarify the situation, as several expert studies support this, today I will rely on a couple of studies from 2018. Before the pandemic changed everything.
When we talk about deep-sea fishing, we are talking about the activity of fishing in international waters outside the economic exclusivity zones [EEZ] of any country, that is, 200 nautical miles from the coasts of any country.
This type of fishing is reserved for larger vessels that have the logistical potential to remain months or even years at sea without touching port. In addition, to increase the duration of these fishing seasons, there are tankers that sell fuel and provisions in international waters, and also vessels with large refrigerated holds that serve as storage points for fishing, thus allowing the fishing vessels themselves to unload their catches and resupply without the need to even approach the coasts of any country.
This operation is very costly, the figures below were obtained using satellite tracking systems of vessels, and crossing it with the information of declared catches, international average price of such catches, and operating costs by fleet and type of fishing.
For 2014, after studying the activities of 3620 fishing vessels, 35 tankers, and 154 refrigerated storage vessels which between them totaled an operating time of 510,000 working days in high seas fishing, it is estimated that the operating costs were between 6.2 and 8 BILLION dollars. It is impossible to give an exact figure since it is possible that in many cases, a few operations were cut by skipping safety regulations or paying fishermen much less than what was indicated.
The catch for that period and those vessels in that year was about 4.4 million metric tons. Valued in the U.S. market [possibly one of the best] at 7.6 billion dollars, we are talking about possible profits ranging from 1.8 billion in net profits, to losses of 400 million dollars, if we cut the difference in half, we would still have a minimum profit. So why are they still fishing offshore?
Subsidies are part of the answer.
In 2014, around the world $4.2 billion in direct or indirect subsidies were given to offshore fishing, well above the most optimistic earnings for the sector. If we were to add these subsidies to profits, a particularly optimistic figure would be profits in excess of $6 billion, making the explanation a little clearer.
But the subsidies to an industry do not benefit the bulk of the population, only certain leaders, since governments do not produce money, they can obtain it from the population and industry of their country through taxes under the threat of violence, or they can print more currency, which causes in effect cantillon and inflation which end up paying the citizens.
Therefore, the benefit to the food of the citizens of those nations that subsidize deep sea fishing would be greater if those resources were used, for example, in fish farming, a practice that in turn, would be much less harmful to the environment. Especially if combined in an agro-ecological system.
And if we add to this the fact that deep-sea fishing accounts [depending on the source] for between 4 and 8 percent of the food extracted from the sea, it is not difficult to reach the conclusion that a lot of money is being spent for something that is not very productive.
Cutting legal corners.
This may be one of the little studied pillars of profitability of deep sea fishing, overfishing, fishing endangered species for sale on the black market [shark fins for example] for extraordinary profits due to the risks in their trade, fishing in the territorial waters of sovereign nations, are all things that occur daily in the world of deep sea fishing.
As I mentioned earlier, there is also an underworld of what is basically slave trade associated with offshore fishing, not just in Southeast Asia. This cheap labor is one of the ways to make deep sea fishing profitable. Here is a video about it.
Of course, many captains or shipping companies decide to cut costs by skipping vessel maintenance, avoiding buying the necessary equipment to comply with regulations, or violating environmental regulations. Hence, many vessels fishing on the high seas are floating rusty tin cans.
And of course, there are thousands of vessels fishing on the high seas that are not properly registered and sell their goods in ports that operate clandestinely, and therefore their numbers are not part of any study.
To add salt to the wound.
High seas fishing has become unprofitable in part because the operating costs do not justify the profits when there are other more economical ways to produce food, such as agriculture, and in part because overfishing in past decades has made it necessary for vessels to spend more time on the high seas to get the same catch as in times past, the massive decline in biomass caused by overfishing is killing high seas fishing.
And it turns out that the most destructive methods are the least profitable, Tuna and Shark line fishing is still minimally profitable, but trawling for example, in the grand scheme of things without subsidies produces losses.
In the face of all this it is valid to ask, why do governments continue to subsidize deep sea fishing when they could very well use those resources more efficiently in other areas?
Well, we must remember something, 28 percent of the operating costs of a fleet is fuel, in the fishing sector, it is estimated that for every 1000 kilometers that a vessel travels, it consumes 639 liters of fuel per ton. This is a lot of money for the oil industry, and therefore the pressure on governments to continue subsidizing the industry must be tremendous.
Another important point is that offshore fishing fleets are used as a form of ratification of sovereignty, China is perhaps the most extreme example of this, this nation has prepared its fishing fleet to be used as cover for armed operations in international waters. https://en.wikipedia.org
Of course, far from being a justification, it is warmongering and the corruption it generates are added to offshore crimes, environmental crimes and the absolute inefficiency of offshore fishing, as evidence for their elimination.
Peoples' food security should not be used as an excuse for crime schemes, corruption, or military operations. Deep-sea fishing accounts for only a small part of the food consumed worldwide, yet the environmental destruction and problems it causes are very serious. And alternatives to this should be sought soon.
Recommended Bibliographic Reference