Report: Overfishing bad for fish, but worse for the economy

Kent Strauss

It’s undeniable that oceans are important to people and the environment. Covering nearly three-quarters of our planet, oceans produce the air we breathe, house the fish we eat and provide us with many of the products we use on a daily basis. And importantly, the oceans play a huge role in creating employment opportunities and sustaining coastal economies.

According to a new report from the National Ocean Economics Program for the Center for the Blue Economy, the oceans economy comprised more than 2.7 million jobs and contributed more than $258 billion to the GDP of the United States in 2010. If you aren’t impressed with those numbers, let’s think in different terms. If the ocean economy were a part of the United States of America, it would be the 25th largest state by employment and the 20th largest state by GDP—about the same size as Colorado.

The oceans economy supports employment almost two and a half times larger than other natural resources industries like farming, mining, and forest harvesting. Approximately 5.4 million jobs in 2010 were directly and indirectly supported by the ocean with their total contribution estimated at $633 billion which is 4.4% of the United States’ GDP.

Increasingly, with disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and several tsunamis across Asia, the United States and countries across the world are beginning to place more emphasis on just how significant oceans’ health is to the economy. And with more than a billion jobs around the world supported by oceans economies, it’s no surprise that the momentum around maintaining a healthy ocean is building speed. Much of that focus has been on ways to solve overfishing — the most urgent threat to the health of the oceans and the single biggest cause of depleted fisheries worldwide.

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet with scientists, NGO representatives and government officials from around the world, to discuss solutions to overfishing, with particular emphasis on empowering and supporting small-scale fishermen in developing countries. During these meetings, I shared the resources my team at EDF has developed to help fishermen design sustainable fishery management programs and I talked about our Fish Forever initiative, EDF’s partnership with Rare and the Sustainable Fisheries Group at the University of California at Santa Barbara to restore small-scale coastal fisheries.

Perhaps the best part of the trip was just having the opportunity to sit down with like-minded individuals to “geek out” about the ways to effectively manage small-scale fisheries, keep our oceans resilient and protect those who rely on them.

Healthy and abundant oceans create stronger coastal economies. As momentum grows to bring the oceans health in line with sustainability principles, we must continue to be vigilant about the numerous demands and pressures placed upon the oceans’ natural resources.