Global fisheries decline associated with chemical pollution, finds new study

A new report finds that global fisheries decline, often attributed to overfishing, is highly linked with pollution from toxic chemicals. The report, with three case studies of river ecosystems in Vietnam, Canada, and Australia, reviews the significant harmful effects on fisheries from toxic chemicals and demonstrates that chemicals and other pollutants harm productivity and render fisheries at greater risk of overfishing, with severe consequences for global seafood resources.

The report notes that a recent international study found that the production of plastics and chemicals has exceeded the “planetary boundaries” for pollution, yet efforts to control toxic chemicals nationally and globally are far behind what is needed to protect fisheries from toxic impacts on productivity and ecosystem functionality. In particular, plastics are made from thousands of chemicals and spread these chemicals globally, while the use of pesticides and fertilizers is growing even as their use drives fisheries decline and pollutes entire ecosystems.

“Current fishery management fails to take account of the massive and growing impacts of pollution on aquatic ecosystems,” said Matt Landos, author of the report. “Only through global reforms can it begin to regulate to aid recovery.”

The report also describes how the loss and devaluing of Indigenous Peoples/First Nations’ knowledge and value systems, has been a significant contributor to fisheries decline. Today, governments favor corporate needs over environmental protection, leading to weak or no regulations even in the face of dire consequences for fisheries. Fisheries are undervalued, with faulty, short-term economic arguments overriding the need for long-term sustainability of aquatic ecosystems.

“The future of humanity relies on the health of waterways,” said Landos. “Our expanding pollution footprint is causing harm to aquatic life, which ultimately will cause the greatest harm to ourselves.”

The report calls for the Precautionary Principle to be used as the basis for legislation that fully implements the four pillars of sound chemical regulation:

  • Right to know: The community has a right to know what is, or has been used and released, and the level of contamination of public resources such as water and air.
  • No data, no market: When there is no chemical information, or an absence of testing technologies, there should be no right to use or release a chemical into the market.
  • Substitution and elimination: If there is a safer, better way of achieving outcomes, then this should be mandatorily substituted for toxic risks.
  • Polluter pays: Where pollution is emitted the polluter must pay for the full impacts caused. By their toxic products and practices, with the scale of costs incentivizing the elimination of the production and release of the pollutant.

Photo credit: iStock/ Nuture

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