In a PNAS commentary deputy science director Henrik Österblom and colleagues articulates where and how to prioritise policy reform by highlighting the role of transnational corporations in global fishery management. Photo: S. Zeff/Azote

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Plenty more fish in the sea – but only if fished sustainably

Why transnational corporations must become more important in global fishery management


By 2050, 88% of the world’s fisheries could have collapsed beyond recovery, according to new research by Christopher Costello and colleagues published in PNAS. This looming crisis is largely invisible to consumers. Yet evidence indicates collapse is avoidable and the solutions will lead to greater long-term profits. The team conclude that good management of global fisheries could lead to increased annual catches of over 16 million metric tons and $53 billion in profit compared with remaining on the current trajectory and they highlight ten developing countries that should reform reform their fisheries policies.

In a companion commentary to the new research, deputy science director Henrik Österblom together with colleagues Jean-Baptiste Jouffray and Jessica Spijkers articulates further where and how to prioritise policy reform by highlighting the role of transnational corporations in global fishery management.

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A small and powerful group
Österblom and colleagues argue that globalization is concentrating fisheries in the hands of a small group of transnational corporations. These can be considered key actors in marine ecosystems, controlling 11-16% of wild marine catch and up to 40% of the largest and most valuable stocks, for example Alaska pollock or farmed salmon. But fishing often takes place far from the prying eyes of regulators and the media.

Wrongdoing on the high seas, and even close to shore is difficult to spot, fish stocks are difficult to monitor effectively and corporate transparency is, well, somewhat opaque. That is all changing. Smart algorithms and online tools mean it is now much easier for the public to monitor fishing boats if they stray into marine protected areas for example. Seafood certification schemes are making it easier for consumers to make informed choices about the fish they eat. And industry schemes to improve transparency create incentives for corporations to act responsibly.

New rules to accelerate reform
However, the growing consolidation and influence of multinational companies mean there is another significant leverage point.  Österblom and colleagues report that out of the world’s 100 largest seafood companies, 46 are based in Japan, the USA or Norway. Furthermore, 20% of shareholders are in Japan, 18% USA, 13% Norway, 7% UK and 4% Canada.

The authors conclude: “Our findings suggest that governments in nations hosting corporate headquarters of transnational actors could play a central role in designing and enforcing rules that accelerate fisheries reform.”

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Published: 2016-06-16

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