Destructive fishing practices

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The phrase destructive fishing practices (or DFPs) has been featured in international fisheries literature for around three decades. No widely accepted definition of the phrase exists, and this will almost certainly remain the situation, given very different national and industry perspectives. The DFPs discussion with the most standing is that of the Fisheries and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - the FAO.

The Outcomes and Implementation Statements of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in 2002, contain a commitment to phasing out destructive fishing practices in the marine environment by the year 2012. All nations attending the summit supported this statement.

Many nations had made commitments to end destructive fishing practices much earlier. In 1999, 124 nations explicitly gave their support to the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries 1995 through the Rome Declaration on Responsible Fisheries. The list of these nations includes most of the major fishing nations of the world. However, while the Code of Conduct contains a commitment to end destructive fishing practices, the Code contains no time-lines.

The narrowest definition of destructive fishing practices refers principally to bottom trawling over vulnerable habitat (shallow corals, deep sea corals, or seagrass, for example), as well as practices such as shark-finning, blast-fishing, poison-fishing, muroami, and push-netting. These latter practices are not significant within the fishing zones of most developed nations, being generally outlawed. Bottom trawling over vulnerable habitat, however, will continue within the Exclusive Fishing Zones of most nations until governments have mapped the location of vulnerable habitats, and taken steps to exclude all bottom trawling activities from these areas.

A wider and more useful definition would include:

  • overfishing beyond reasonable recovery limits, including serial overfishing;
  • excessive or damaging levels of bycatch ;
  • the fishing of spawning aggregations without precautionary justification ;
  • intensive fishing over vulnerable habitats, including for example spawning and nursery areas; and
  • highgrading–the practice of discarding the lower quality portion of the target catch.

This definition could be extended to cover activities such as:

  • ghost fishing by lost or discarded gear,
  • shark netting of popular swimming beaches (with high incidental catch),
  • amateur use of fish aggregating devices or traps where they increase the likelihood of locally unsustainable catch levels,
  • spearfishing at night or with SCUBA, as well as 'industrial' spearfishing,
  • use of stainless steel hooks or traps;
  • commercial and recreational use of gill nets and traps with high incidental kill, and
  • deliberate (and sometimes illegal) destruction of marine life perceived as “getting in the way” of fishing operations .

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