Chapter Twelve: Global High Seas Marine Preserve: Problems & Solutions

The fate of the living planet is the most important issue facing mankind.”— Gaylord Nelson

Front cover Space and Ocean Exploration by Danny Quintana National interests and greed often compete with global interests. The collapse of the fish stocks is a global problem that can be solved. Commercial interests subsidized by national governments who don’t care about the collapse of the fish stocks will ruin it for the rest of us. Failure will affect all future generations. We don’t have to like each other; but like each other or not we have no choice but to stop the slaughter of the oceans. The reality is humans need the fish from the oceans for food. As the Pew Charitable Trust Global Ocean Legacy observed on their website:

The ocean covers nearly three-fourths of the globe and is home to nearly half of the world’s known species, with countless yet to be discovered. Producing almost half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, it also absorbs vast amounts of carbon dioxide. The ocean helps support more than 250 million people who depend directly or indirectly on fishing for their livelihoods, and provides the main source of animal protein to more than 2.6 billion people. The oceans play an essential role in sustaining life on our planet, but human activities are increasingly threatening their health. Research shows that very large, fully protected marine reserves are key to rebuilding species abundance and diversity and protecting the overall health of the marine environment.”

Tens of thousands of people and hundreds of organizations all over the world are aware of the problems created by overfishing. Many organizations are working to stop the slaughter of the oceans’ fisheries. What is working globally is the creation of marine preserves to revive the fish stocks and create healthy oceans. Amending the Law of the Seas Convention and creating a Global High Seas Marine Preserve that is off limits to commercial fishing forever will save the fish stocks. The other choice is extinction.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

A marine preserve is a protected ocean area like a national park. It is off limits to development and to commercial fishing. When you travel to the Florida Keys, the fish are protected by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This beautiful marine preserve is jointly operated by the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration and the State of Florida. Fishermen are able to recreationally fish, divers can visit the coral reefs and ship wrecks, as well as enjoy the beauty of protected oceans.

Contrast that national marine preserve with the fish stocks on the eastern coast of Florida. When you fish off the pier at Deerfield, Florida, you might catch a sunburn and if lucky maybe you will get one bite or two. The fish are few and the beaches are full of people. Between polluted oceans and overfishing, fish stocks globally are in big trouble.

national-marine-sanctuary-foundationThe Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is the trustee for a network of 14 marine protected areas encompassing more than 170,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa.2

As of 2014, there are over 6,500 protected marine areas on our small planet. These protected areas represent less then 3 percent of the ocean.3   With over 97 percent of the oceans available for huge fishing vessels armed with 40 mile nets, radar, sonar, small planes as spotters and miles and miles of long lines, it is not a fair fight. The fish stocks are being slaughtered like the passenger pigeon and the buffalo. This slaughter can and must be stopped. The fish stocks can be revived.  It is a winnable battle.

There is hope. Unlike the military-industrial complex or the firearms lobby, the Fishing Industrial Complex is not very powerful. The fishing industry as a whole is not a very large business. Without government subsidies, these industries can’t compete. According to CNN International:

“The worldwide fishing industry employs around 200 million people, generating $80 billion a year. But a hefty chunk of the industry’s revenues come from subsidies, which are currently estimated at around $34 billion a year. Those most responsible for subsidizing the fishing industry are Japan (spending $5.3 billion a year), the European Union ($3.3 billion) and China ($3.1 billion), according to activist group Oceana.” 

This is not a huge industry compared to the giants of commerce out there in the global economic jungle. Retail global giant WalMart has gross revenues of over $480 billion. Industrial giant General Electric has gross revenues of over $144 billion. Defense giant Lockheed Martin has gross revenues of over $45 billion.6 Commercial fishing companies would not survive without government subsidizes. Banning government subsidies globally and creating a Global High Seas Marine Preserve the fish stocks can be saved. This is an environmental fight we can win.

Closing off the high seas to commercial fishing will allow humans to continue to harvest fish by careful regulation of the catch. It will not mean the end of fish consumption. Each government can then best protect their fisheries as the United States and other nations are trying. What it will accomplish is save the fisheries as a food source.

Dr. Daniel Pauly, Marine Biologist and Fisheries Expert World-reknowned scientist Dr. Daniel Pauly describes what has happened to the fish stocks as follows:

“Our oceans have been the victims of a giant Ponzi scheme, waged with Bernie Madoff–like callousness by the world’s fisheries. Beginning in the 1950s, as their operations became increasingly industrialized — with onboard refrigeration, acoustic fish-finders, and, later, GPS — they first depleted stocks of cod, hake, flounder, sole, and halibut in the Northern Hemisphere. As those stocks disappeared, the fleets moved southward, to the coasts of developing nations and, ultimately, all the way to the shores of Antarctica, searching for icefishes and rockcods, and, more recently, for small, shrimp like krill.

“As the bounty of coastal waters dropped, fisheries moved further offshore, to deeper waters. And, finally, as the larger fish began to disappear, boats began to catch fish that were smaller and uglier — fish never before considered fit for human consumption. Many were renamed so that they could be marketed: The suspicious slimehead became the delicious orange roughy, while the worrisome Patagonian toothfish became the wholesome Chilean seabass. Others, like the homely hoki, were cut up so they could be sold sight-unseen as fish sticks and filets in fast-food restaurants and the frozen-food aisle.”

The scheme was carried out by nothing less than a fishing-industrial complex—an alliance of corporate fishing fleets, lobbyists, parliamentary representatives, and fisheries economists. By hiding behind the romantic image of the small-scale, independent fisherman, they secured political influence and government subsidies far in excess of what would be expected, given their miniscule contribution to the GDP of advanced economies —in the United States, even less than that of the hair salon industry. In Japan, for example, huge, vertically integrated conglomerates, such as Taiyo or the better-known Mitsubishi, lobby their friends in the Japanese Fisheries Agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to help them gain access to the few remaining plentiful stocks of tuna, like those in the waters surrounding South Pacific countries.

Beginning in the early 1980s, the United States, which had not traditionally been much of a fishing country, began heavily subsidizing U.S. fleets, producing its own fishing-industrial complex, dominated by large processors and retail chains. Today, governments provide nearly $30 billion in subsidies each year—about one-third of the value of the global catch —that keep fisheries going, even when they have over exploited their resource base. As a result, there are between two and four times as many boats as the annual catch requires, and yet, the funds to “build capacity” keep coming.

Industrial Fishing is stripped oceans cleanThe result of industrial harvesting of fish by giant vessels like the massive Atlantic Dawn is one cause of the current collapse of the world’s fisheries.  It is reminiscent of the slaughter of the buffalo when railroads made their way across the continent. When faced with the reality of extinction, some forward-thinking individuals saved the buffalo. Where once buffalo herds were massive and in the millions, humans almost made them extinct.

The same thing happened with whales. Without the hard work of conservationists, every last whale in the oceans would have been hunted to extinction. Mountain gorillas and other large apes, too, would be extinct but for the efforts of brave individuals like Jane Goodall and numerous others. It takes courage to stand up against the forces of greed and at times sheer stupidity. The planet has concerned individuals like environmentalist Jane Goodall, scientist Dr. Daniel Pauly, director and adventurer James Cameron, actor Harrison Ford; hundreds of non-profit organizations, government agencies and tens of thousands of workers and millions of citizens globally that care about the environment.8

Stopping giant commercial fishing vessels from slaughtering the fish stocks can be accomplished with public participation and political will. If millions of citizens demand that the fish stocks be saved from collapse, political leaders will create a Global High Seas Marine Preserve. Politicians don’t lead, they follow. Citizens need to lead their politicians in the right direction and force change from the bottom up. Like all social movements, it will not happen from the top down. If citizens hold public protests of commercial fishing vessels and boycott the purchase of endangered fish, the slaughter will stop. Here is where the consumer and government, not the commercial fishing companies, have power. Nobody is forcing anyone to buy fish that are going to become extinct from overfishing. If there is no profit in fishing, these companies will stop fishing.

As Charles Clover observed, “Atlantic Dawn is the greatest fish killing machine the world has ever seen.”

Dead bycatch by the millions of tons every year is a total waste and is killing the oceans The collapse of the fisheries resulted by pursuit of short-term profits rather than the long-term survival of the fish stocks. These huge commercial fishing vessels are emptying out the oceans. Governments know about the slaughter. Politicians get money to be elected. They take money from the highest bidder, including campaign contributions from the fishing industry. In return, politicians provide subsidies to a fish industry that is too large for the number of fish being harvested from the oceans. The result is overfishing. Politicians can be voted out of office. If the fish stocks become extinct, they cannot be voted back to life. Politicians have the same data as the scientific community. They just don’t care if the fish stocks collapse. If you like sea food then you need to vote these individuals out of office.

Another reason extremist politicians will not work to stop the slaughter of the fish stocks and are not concerned about environmental issues is their religious beliefs. Some extremist politicians believe the problems facing the planet are signs of “the end of times”. Consequently trying to solve any of these problems is going against “God’s will”.  The “End of Time” politicians don’t care about the future of the Earth because they don’t believe there will be a future. As Glenn Scherer observed:

“People under the spell of such potent prophecies cannot be expected to worry about the environment. Why care about the earth when the droughts, floods, and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the Apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the Rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar when the same God who performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a Word?”

When democracies elect people with no regard for the health and well being of the planet, of course the fish stocks are going to collapse. This can all be changed with votes.

The collapse of the fish stocks is best exemplified by the decline of the jack mackerel. Having fished out the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic and been banned from destroying the protected fish stocks of the United States, the fleets of Europe and Asia are attacking the jack mackerel in full force. The result of greed, political ineptness and mismanagement is that a natural resource becomes extinct. As Mort Rosenblum and Mar Cabra reported in a New York Times story:

“It’s going fast,” he said as he looked at the 57-foot boat. “We’ve got to fish harder before it’s all gone.” Asked what he would leave his son, he shrugged: “He’ll have to find something else.”

greenback_mackerelJack mackerel, rich in oily protein, is manna to a hungry planet, a staple in Africa. Elsewhere, people eat it unaware; much of it is reduced to feed for aquaculture and pigs. It can take more than five kilograms, more than 11 pounds, of jack mackerel to raise a single kilogram of farmed salmon.

Stocks have dropped from an estimated 30 million metric tons to less than a tenth of that in two decades. The world’s largest trawlers, after depleting other oceans, now head south toward the edge of Antarctica to compete for what is left.

An eight-country investigation of the fishing industry in the southern Pacific by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shows how the fate of the jack mackerel may foretell the progressive collapse of fish stocks in all oceans.

In turn, the fate of this one fish reflects a bigger picture: decades of unchecked global fishing pushed by geopolitical rivalry, greed, corruption, mismanagement and public indifference. Dr. Daniel Pauly, an eminent University of British Columbia oceanographer, sees jack mackerel in the southern Pacific as an alarming indicator.

“This is the last of the buffaloes,” he said. “When they’re gone, everything will be gone.”.


Unlike the massive military-industrial complex and the $1 trillion defense budget, the fishing industry is tiny. This problem can be solved by giving the world’s navies a new mission, protect the high seas from illegal commercial fishing. While this is being done, expand the network of marine preserves globally from less than 3 percent of the ocean to at least 70 percent with the creation of a Global High Seas Marine Preserve. Limit the size of fish catch by quotas approved by scientists, not politicians or industry.

The collapse of the fish stocks is the result of numerous historical forces all coming together at once. The human population increased from 1 billion in 1800 to over 7 billion in 2015. In the same 200 year time frame, technology vastly improved. As technology developed, the natural world was slaughtered. Ancient trees were no match for chain saws, power blades, bulldozers, explosives and saw mills. Buffalo and whales cannot possibly fight back against gunpowder and bullets.

By the year A.D.1800 in the Western calendar, human population was exploding. Yet there was wilderness; numerous areas of the planet were unexplored. Whaling was an industry that had not yet driven these species to the brink of extinction. Buffalo were hunted and used for food and furs. Numerous indigenous nations still had territory that they could defend. European powers still had global empires and cultures were distinctly different. There were few cities on the planet with over one million people. No city had electricity. Automobiles, planes and coal-fired power plants did not exist. Nuclear power was not even an idea. Global fish stocks were healthy. The ancient forests of giant Redwoods and Sequoias were largely intact. Wolves and grizzlies still roamed the mountains and plains of America.

Globally, the mountain gorillas had their own vast territories along with the wild elephants, and tens of thousands of other species. Humans lived near these wild animals but were not yet able to slaughter them to extinction.

Today, a simple creature like a tuna fish cannot possibly survive against a modern killing machine like the giant fishing vessels. It has never been a fair fight between modern technology and the natural world. It is like a human armed with a bow and arrow up against a F-22 fighter or a redwood against a chainsaw. Time from a historical perspective is short. Approximately 500 years ago, in the time of Columbus there were millions of sea turtles. Their sound could be heard from miles off shore. A mere 200 years ago the oceans were filled with numerous types of fish.

The legal framework already exists under international law to create these marine preserves. The 1958 International Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas includes the following provision:

Article 4

  1. If the nationals of two or more States are engaged in fishing the same stock or stocks of fish or other living marine resources in any area or areas of the high seas, these States shall, at the request of any of them, enter into negotiations with a view to prescribing by agreement for their nationals the necessary measures for the conservation of the living resources affected.

The Obama administration was not able to obtain the cooperation of Congress on the important issue of preserving the fish stocks. Consequently, President Obama took the initiative. He increased the size of the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument established by President George W. Bush. America’s largest marine preserve was made six times larger. Marine preserves protect the entire ecosystem of the oceans.17 Increasing the size of this National Monument did not generate much media attention. Few fishermen venture out into this area, probably because it is not a major fishing site.

What the administration failed to do was seize the opportunity and call an international conference on the oceans and create a Global High Seas Marine Preserve. “The worst culprits contributing to this crisis are developed countries, with their vast fleets and technological prowess. Ten countries — Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Spain, the United States, Chile, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and France, in descending order – account for 70 percent of the fishing by value in the high seas.”

Because technological limitations no longer limit the ability to fish, a Global High Seas Marine Preserve is an excellent global policy change to revive entire ecosystems. The U.S. Navy, working with other nations, has the ability to patrol it and keep these preserves free from poachers. Absent people foregoing fish as food, a Global High Seas Marine Preserve patrolled by the world’s navies is the best solution to reviving the fish stocks.

The power of the consumer can force substantive change. The United States, Canada and Mexico, the three North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) nations, form the largest economy on the planet with a combined GDP of over $19 trillion dollars.18 The European Union is the second largest economic power with a combined GDP of over $18 trillion dollars.19 The two world’s largest markets can put significant pressure on any nation to comply with accepted global rules of behavior. Here the public can help out by boycotting nations’ products that refuse to quit overfishing and destroying the oceans.

Consumer boycotts work. When enough people put economic pressure on South Africa, as well as the hard work of Nelson Mandela and others, the evils of apartheid finally ended. The ultimate power to create change always lies with the individual in a consumer-based economy.

The United States must take the leadership role on this issue. But this is not possible if the United States refuses to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Seas discussed earlier. We cannot expect other nations to comply with international law if our nation refuses to be bound by the same rules.

There are inexpensive solutions to the fish stock collapse problem. The United States can initiate a global education campaign on overfishing and the consequences.  Advertising can be donated by the major media conglomerates and the ads can be produced by environmental groups and research universities. Huge retail chains like Wal-Mart and Kroger can insist on sustainable catch. Consumers can help by only purchasing ocean safe seafood and not eating Ahi tuna, sea bass and other endangered species.

Enforcing fishing rules can be messy

 Indonesia Destroys 34 Fishing Vessels

To accomplish the removal of the fishing vessels, the world’s governments are going to have to initiate condemnation proceedings and purchase them from their owners. Governments are going to have to provide unemployment insurance for the fishing crews who will temporarily lose their jobs. The developed world will have to help these countries with foreign aid to offset this financial loss by the fishermen. It is clearly something we can accomplish with governments and non-government organizations working together.

Only a small handful of truly massive fishing vessels exist. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there are less than 30,000 industrial size commercial fishing vessels in the world. Of these, approximately 15,000 belong to China.20

These huge fishing vessels are not part of the fishing that is done in traditional societies who depend on the oceans for nutrition. The expensive ocean-going industrial fishing vessels belong to a handful of countries and companies. The indigenous fishermen who feed their families do not use giant ocean-going vessels complete with sonar and massive industrial nets and freezers. They use traditional fishing techniques that do not drive species to extinction.

Good governance, public awareness and responsible industry practices can turn this around. As the FAO observed in its outlook on the future of the global fish stocks:

“The future of the fisheries and aquaculture sector will be influenced by its capacity to address strategic interconnecting challenges of global and local relevance. Population and income growth, together with urbanization and dietary diversification, are expected to create additional demand for animal products, including fish in developing countries. Thus, the future of the sector will be the result of social development, in its ecological, social and economic contexts, at local, regional and global scales.”