Tag Archives: SGDs

Achieving and Maintaining Sustainable Fisheries

By Jake Rice

Much has been written from many perspectives about whether fisheries are currently sustainable and, to the extent that they are not, what should be done to achieve sustainability. Two figures from the report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016 (SOFIA),1 suggest that although unsustainable fisheries still exist, they are not the rule. The total take of capture fisheries globally has been stable for three decades, and the proportion of assessed fish stocks considered to be overfished has increased only marginally over the same period.

With the proportion of exploited stocks classed as over­fished remaining around 30 per cent since the 1990s, progress still needs to be made on making all fisheries sustainable. Vigilance is also needed to keep currently sustainable fisheries from expanding to unsustainable levels. One option would be to simply exploit everything less. Reducing fishing pressure across the board would allow the remaining overfished stocks to recover and sustainable fisheries to have greater resilience to pressures such as climate change, ocean pollution and other factors. Some proposals for ocean protection targets promote such strategies, including the call for classifying 30 per cent of the ocean as marine protected areas where no extractive resource uses would be permitted.2

It might be appropriate to consider the approach of simply fishing less if the only standard of sustainability were the status of the exploited stocks and the ecosystems in which they occur. Neither of those conditions, however, is true. Fisheries are conducted in order to provide economic returns from market sales, livelihoods to those participating in the activity, and above all, food for people. Sustainability must be found for all the outcomes—ecological, economic and social. Aside from rare and exceptional circumstances usually associated with histories of severe overfishing, merely reducing fishing would have unsustainable social and economic outcomes even if the targeted fish stocks increased.

If the only impacts of fishing less to achieve greater ecological sustainability were financial then economic policies and market measures might mitigate some negative effects on revenues. Further capital investment, which could contribute to the overcapacity of fishing fleets, might also be discouraged. In many fisheries, however, particularly small-scale fisheries, there is little scope for coastal communities to accommodate the loss of livelihoods associated with fishing. The dependence of such communities on fishing can be found not only in less developed States. The economic and social consequences of the cod moratorium in eastern Canada, for example, have been significant and have lasted far longer than the moratorium itself. In less developed States, where social support resources and alternative employment opportunities are less available, the consequences of lost fishing livelihoods are even harsher; small-scale fisheries often provide employment to multiple generations, and both men and women have important roles, so the entire base of communities can be lost. Until recently, small-scale fisheries have not been at the centre of policies or dialogue on fisheries sustainability, but that is changing.3 Perhaps with greater attention paid to these challenges, more resilient strategies can be found for helping small-scale fisheries adjust to greater limitations on fishing opportunities.

Notwithstanding the importance of the social and economic consequences, less fishing means that fisheries will produce less food. Such an outcome makes strategies of just fishing less unviable, even if the other economic and social outcomes are mitigated, because fish are crucial to global food security. In 2010, projections were made of how much more fish would be required by 2050 to keep up with human population growth and bring the hungry or malnourished up to minimum World Health Organization standards, taking into account regional variations in the proportion of fish in local diets.4 It was estimated that an additional 70–80 million metric tons would be needed, a 50 per cent increase in the current total production of capture fisheries and aquaculture. In 2016, these estimates were revisited and combined with projections of production from large- and small-scale agriculture to consider how climate change may affect future food security. It was concluded that, taking into consideration the impacts of climate change on crops and livestock, fisheries and aquaculture would have to produce an additional 100 to 120 million metric tons of fish-an increase of two thirds from present production.5 This will only be possible by fishing more, not less, and by greatly increasing aquaculture yields. Thus, the real challenge to keeping fisheries sustainable is not how to address the 30 per cent of stocks that continue to be overfished despite decades of efforts aimed at improved sustainability, but rather how to greatly increase the provision of fish to a needy human population without returning to the trend seen in the 1970s and 1980s, when the number of unsustainable fisheries increased annually.

This is a very difficult challenge, but we have much of what we need to meet it. The extrinsic factors that contribute to making fisheries unsustainable have been identified and studied. These include many inappropriate incentives from markets and Governments; high demand for limited resources, especially those of high value; the complexity and incomplete knowledge of marine production systems; poverty and lack of alternatives, which keep excessive participants in fisheries; lack of effective governance to implement appropriate measures; and the externalities of climate change and ocean pollution.6

The factors of unsustainability and many activities of fisheries that can address them are known, as are policies and measures to promote and support those activities. These have been set out in the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and its several annexes, and are available to those conducting and managing fisheries.7 This guidance includes strategies that are sufficiently precautionary in the face of the complexities and uncertainties of fisheries management, and avoid or mitigate the many ecosystem effects of fisheries, including by-catches and impacts on seabed habitats.

These messages should be seen as positive. On a fishery­by-fishery basis, the guidance exists to diagnose the major threats to sustainability, and to select appropriate measures to address those threats. Nevertheless, the overall picture should not be taken as rosy. Even if the necessary policies and measures can be identified, they are not necessarily easy to implement. The more fishing that is needed, the more knowledge is also required—regarding both the status of the resources and the activities of the fisheries. Such knowledge does not have to be solely data-intensive scientific monitoring and assessment, although for large-scale fisheries these are the main sources of knowledge. In all scales of fisheries, the local knowledge of fishers and indigenous fishing cultures can also be valuable in informing decisions.

Knowledge for identifying appropriate measures is necessary to keep fisheries sustainable as harvesting expands, but it is not sufficient. There must be governance capacities to make decisions considered legitimate by those affected and to enforce the implementation of the measures, once adopted. This could be a capacity to make top-down decisions by a jurisdictional institution and then enact those decisions with enforcement and surveillance officers, or a capacity of local communities to embed appropriate practices in the culture and daily actions of community members. Both can be effective, but both have vulnerabilities. Top-down approaches require significant resources for assessment, management, control and surveillance, and underfunding the institutions compromises their effectiveness. In areas beyond national jurisdictions, these challenges can all be amplified, although regional fisheries management bodies can be effective if adequately supported. Community-based approaches require coherent community cultures. They can be vulnerable to some immigrants who neither assimilate in the communities nor consider their governance actions legitimate, or to technological changes that increase the impacts of traditional practices on resources or ecosystems. Ways of enhancing the effectiveness of both institution- and community-based management are receiving a great deal of attention in discussions of ocean policy and governance. Progress in such fields as marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction has been made, albeit slowly.8

One more area of serious dialogue needs to be opened if sustainable fisheries are to be achieved. However effectively fisheries may be governed and managed, they change the ecosystems in which they occur. The total biomass of fully exploited species is reduced, typically by more than 50 per cent. There is growing evidence that more balanced harvesting of marine species may reduce the degree to which the overall ecosystem is altered by fisheries. Nevertheless, if total removals were to increase by even 50 per cent, or likely much more, to meet food security needs, marine ecosystems would be altered. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development) will play a central role in policy discussions on keeping oceans healthy. The necessary dialogue will have to focus on what constitutes a “healthy ocean”. If “as close to pristine as possible” is the de facto standard for “healthy”, then even current fisheries will run counter to SDG 14, and the types of expansions of fisheries needed to help achieve SDG 2 (End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture) will become major threats. There needs to be a serious dialogue to determine what types of alterations in marine and coastal ecosystems are sustainable, whether in the sense of maintaining options for adaptation to other conditions, if society chooses, or in other senses. The complexity of these discussions may make past efforts at achieving the sustainability of fisheries appear simple in comparison.



1       Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2016: Contributing to Food Security and Nutrition for All, Report (Rome, 2016). Available from http://www.fao.org/fishery/sofia/en.

2       Bethan C. O’Leary and others, “Effective coverage targets for ocean protection”, Conservation Letters, vol. 9, No.6 (November-December 2016), pp. 398-404.

3       Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (Rome, 2015).

4       Jake C. Rice and Serge M. Garcia, “Fisheries, food security, biodiversity and climate change”, ICES Journal of Marine Science, vol. 68, No. 6 (2011), pp. 1343-1353.

5       Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Smart climate information and accountable actions: achieving sustainable food security in a changing world. Forum project proposal (2016). APEC Project database. Last modified 4 August 2016. Available from https://aimp2.apec.org/sites/PDB/Lists/Proposals/DispForm.aspx?ID=1843.

6       Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “International workshop on the implementation of international fisheries instruments and factors of unsustainability and overexploitation in fisheries”, Mauritius, 3-7 February 2003, FAO Fisheries Report No.700 (Rome, 2004). Available from ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/007/y5242e/y5242e00.pdf.

7       Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (Rome, 1995 (Reprinted 1996, 2000)). Available from http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/v9878e/V9878e00.htm.

8       For further information on the Preparatory Committee established by General Assembly resolution 69/292: Development of an International legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, see http://www.un.org/depts/los/biodiversity/prepcom.htm.

Author bio: Jake Rice is Chief Scientist Emeritus, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada.

Goal 7 Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

By Jianguo Wu and Tong Wu

Jianguo Wu is Dean’s Distinguished Professor at the Julie Ann Wrigley global institute of Sustainability and the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, United States of America, and Founding Director of the Center for Human-Environment System Sustainability, Beijing Normal University, China. Tong Wu is research student with the ecoSERViCES group in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University.

The sustainable development goals (SDGs) proposed by the Open Working Group of the General Assembly of the United Nations recognize the importance of the natural environment and its resources to human well-being. As a whole, it is definitely a worthy charter for the twenty-first century, as it addresses the diverse challenges that we face as a global community. SDG 7—to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”—is a challenge confronting every country, that touches everyone. To understand the necessity of meeting this goal, and what is required to do so, we should unpack the statement of the goal itself. The four dimensions of SDG 7 are affordability, reliability, sustainability and modernity. These different dimensions are not mutually exclusive. They overlap, and in some cases even entail each other.

Goal 7 Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Goal 7 Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Consider what it means to have access to affordable energy. The heterogeneity of energy use across the world is due largely to different natural resource endowments and purchasing power. For example, a country with large coal deposits will likely make wide use of this resource to industrialize its economy. The people living within this country will likely use it as the primary means of power generation.

On the other hand, people living in places without ready stocks of fossil fuels may rely on more primitive methods of combustion, such as wood fibers or perhaps even animal dungs. Indeed, this is the condition that prevailed for the vast majority of humankind throughout its history, and continues to be the condition for many parts of the developing world. For instance, approximately 2.7 billion people (about 40 per cent of the world’s population) now rely on traditional biomass fuels for cooking.1 Such low-quality fuels can be a major source of indoor air pollution. Even with the expansion of energy accessibility and economic development, the annual death toll from indoor air pollution will still be over 1.5 million people—a higher rate than that from both malaria and tuberculosis.2

As globalization continues to bind the world in deeper networks of trade, countries can augment and diversify their energy endowments by import. However, if the development level of a country is low and the costs of energy—which are increasingly determined by global financial forces—are high, then people will lack access to energy no matter how large or diverse its country’s endowment. Thus, an essential condition of affordability is raising income levels (and hence purchasing power) and controlling the impacts that impersonal economic forces operating at global levels have on the costs that people face on an everyday basis.

Affordability is meaningless, however, if energy provision is unreliable. In many parts of the developing world, energy sources are often scarce and their supply intermittent. Today, 20 per cent of the world’s population still lacks access to electricity, and a larger share suffers from persistent power failures.3 In 2012, the massive, nationwide blackout that struck India affected nearly 700 million people, paralyzing transportation and communication systems and causing an unknown number of fatalities.4 This disaster was caused not just by supply issues, but also by mismanagement and an underdeveloped energy infrastructure. Thus, basic economic activity depends on a steady supply, robust governance, and an efficient and stable distribution system. There are multiple socioeconomic dimensions of energy reliability.

Electricity, automated transportation and information technology are essential to economic development. They are also basic features of modern society, and thus energy sources and systems that meet these needs reliably and affordably can be considered as “modern”. Population growth will continue in India, sub-Saharan Africa, and other parts of the developing world. Per capita economic consumption will also increase, creating much greater demand for the services described above, and consequently for access to modern energy. Over the next quarter century, about 90 per cent of the growth in energy demand will come from countries that are not members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), i.e., countries outside of the rich Western economies and Japan.5 Meeting this rising wave of energy demand will be one of the paramount challenges of the twenty-first century, and is a reason why it occupies such a central place in the SDGs. It also brings us to the final dimension of SDG 7: sustainability.

Energy should generate a consistent stream of power to meet basic human needs, maintain and improve social functioning, and advance living standards. It should also fulfill these functions as sustainably as possible—that is to say, the power generated by energy use should be much greater than the resulting waste and pollution. All sustainable energy must be modern, although not all forms of modern energy are sustainable. Coal is perhaps the most important case in point. Historically, coal has been indispensable to industrialization and the advancement of human well-being. If more of the world’s people enjoy previously unimaginable living standards today, it is in large part because of coal. Offsetting its many virtues—for instance, abundance, wide distribution, and ease of use—is a long list of serious problems, however. In an age of population growth and environmental decline, this list is still growing.

Today, coal still provides about 40 per cent of the world’s electricity and nearly the same fraction of global carbon emissions.6 Coal is also inefficient, with a low mass-to-energy ratio, and creates enormous pollution. Thus, coal is neither sustainable at the global scale because of its contribution to anthropogenic climate change, nor at the local scale because it is a threat to public health and ecological conditions (in addition to the polluting by-products of combustion, the process of coal mining creates myriad environmental problems). Given the scale of the use of coal, and the emergence of a global economy powered largely by fossil fuels, what can be done?

The SDGs

The SDGs

These are challenges that require a pragmatic, multi-faceted approach. Solutions need to be found at the global scale, where Governments and agencies must work together. International climate change agreements are the most visible fruits of such efforts. The SDGs have also helped set the tenor for cooperation and contributed to an emerging consensus on priorities. In terms of policies, the transfer of clean energy technologies to developing countries is an important example. Indeed, international climate change agreements—such as the clean development mechanism (CDM)—explicitly provide for such transfers. This is not enough, however. Solutions must also be developed locally. There is evidence that benefits from CDM, while necessary and net-positive generally, do not always reach the local level, particularly in impoverished rural areas.7 Development should be sensitive to local conditions, and identify unintended consequences of energy policies. The heedless pursuit of biofuels at the global and regional levels may result in unintended yet severe environmental degradation. The countless acres of land deforested for palm oil under- mine local well-being, and provide a stark reminder of the complexity of the energy problems that we face.

Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy is integral to global development in the twenty-first century. Not all the solutions needed to meet this challenge are yet available, and those that are may not be apparent. Figuring out these solutions and aligning them across scales will be difficult. Yet the task is achievable if international organizations have sufficient vision, if Governments can work together, and if communities and individuals are offered the right incentives and the necessary means. SDG 7 is, at the very least, an important step in that direction.


1  International Energy Agency, Energy Poverty: How to make modern energy access universal? Special early excerpt of the World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2010 for the UN General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals. (Paris, 2010) p. 9, 20. Available from http://www.se4all.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Special_Excerpt_of_WEo_2010.pdf.

2  International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2010 (Paris, 2010), p. 237. Available from http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/media/ weo2010.pdf.

3  International Energy Agency, Energy Poverty: How to make modern energy access universal?, p. 9. Available from http://www.se4all.org/wp-content/ uploads/2013/09/Special_Excerpt_of_WEo_2010.pdf.

4  Helen Pidd, “India blackouts leave 700 million without power”, The Guardian, 31 July 2012. Available from http://www.theguardian.com/ world/2012/jul/31/india-blackout-electricity-power-cuts.

5  International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2011 Factsheet: How will global energy markets evolve to 2035? (Paris, 2011). Available from http://www.iea.org/media/weowebsite/factsheets/factsheets.pdf.

6  Michelle Nijhuis, “Can Coal Ever Be Clean?”, National Geographic Magazine, Vol. 225, issue 4 (April 2014), p. 30-40. Available from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/coal/nijhuis-text.

7  Srikanth Subbarao and Bob Lloyd, “Can the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Deliver?”, Energy Policy, vol. 39, issue 3 (March 2011), p. 1600-1611.

First published in the UN Chronicle, Department of Public Information, United Nations.