At least that's what several economists and marine conservationists say. Their new report indicates that Europeans consume almost twice as much fish as EU waters produce, putting pressure on global resources.
In concrete: If the European Union this year had consumed only fish from its own waters, it would have effectively run out of stock by last week, making the bloc wholly dependent on imported fish from around the world, numbers from the New Economics Foundation Indicate. So since last Friday, Europeans have been accumulating fish debt.
"Safeguarding the marine environment is vital if we want to make efficient use of EU resources and protect livelihoods and economies," said Aniol Esteban, head of environmental economics at NEF. "The EU has some of the largest and richest fishing grounds in the world but at the moment we're not managing them properly."
NEF's report, entitled "Fish Dependence: The increasing reliance of the EU on fish from elsewhere," compiled with marine conservationists, is a worrisome reminder that rich countries consume more fish than is sustainable.
While importing fish in general doesn't seem to be too outrageous a concept, EU consumers and importers often neglect the unsustainable fishing methods employed by fishing companies in developing nations and those nations' own needs for fish, the report suggests.
Moreover, uncontrolled piracy fishing in Africa or Asia -- to sell the fish at high profits to markets with a high demand, apart from Europe also the United States, China and Japan -- is threatening the livelihoods of local fishermen and quickly depleting fish populations.
Even in Europe, individual stocks are hopelessly overfished, with several species, including the North Sea cod, in danger of becoming extinct.
While the European Union recently took steps to combat Illegal fishing, more needs to be done to protect the marine ecosystems, NEF writes in its report.
The group calls on the EU to "turn this situation around and provide a policy framework that will restore marine ecosystems to healthy levels and deliver a fair allocation of resources internationally."
It wants Brussels to:
-- reduce fishing levels to be in line with available resources by improving data collection, transparency and reporting;
-- render conservation profitable, by making access to resources conditional on social and environmental criteria;
-- promote responsible fish consumption among EU citizens;
Whether the EU succeeds in protecting its fish stocks will likely depend on its willingness to confront the interests of a huge globalized business: In 2008 alone, companies all over the world exported fish worth $102 billion.
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