SFU prof wants to close high seas to fishing

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This article is courtesy of The Peak, Simon Fraser University’s student newspaper. Find the original article here.

In a move that could leave the fish of the high seas breathing easier through their gills, one SFU instructor is advocating for international waters to be closed to fishing.

Isabelle Côté, a professor of marine ecology and conservation who was recently selected for the prestigious Leopold Leadership program at Stanford, has co-authored a new study in the Journal of Scientific Reports.

“Intense fishing in the high seas has resulted in habitat destruction and declining stocks of fish such as tunas and swordfishes,” said Côté in her study.

The high seas are defined as those which do not belong to any country. Under international law, areas of the ocean that are within approximately 325 kilometres of any coastline— also called exclusive economic zones (EEZs)—are considered within the domain of that country, and they have economic rights over that land.

Outside of that area, however, the oceans fall under international jurisdiction. Thus, large swaths of the ocean are considered to belong to humanity as a whole.

According to Côté’s study, fishery practice around the world would be minimally affected by closing the high seas. It states that less than one per cent of fish caught globally are caught in areas outside of domestic control. “Under realistic assumptions, closing the high seas would result in no loss in fish catches or landed value of them on a global scale,” she wrote.

As part of the study, the authors also did an analysis of the economic impacts on individual countries.

“People have been talking about this for a while,” Côté said in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. “What had been missing was an economic analysis. It’s fine to say, ‘Let’s close the high seas to fishing. There are likely to be some great ecological benefits to doing this.’ But at the end of the day, what’s going to happen economically to the countries no longer allowed to fish there?”

She notes that a few countries would be affected negatively, but most would actually gain from it, including Canada. “Once you allow the fish populations to recover, fish start spilling out of the no-take zones into the EEZs, and actually increase the catches there,” she explained.

“Given various assumptions, [Canada] would stand to gain in the ballpark of $100 million to $125 million [per year].”

Côté hopes that the study will help spur national and international laws to protect the seas. “I hope our research increases understanding of the need for this,” she said. “I am delighted that the high seas are starting to be recognized as a valuable resource that deserves protection and stewardship.”

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