Mediterranean fisheries: at the crossroads
Challenges abound, but cooperation on responsible management is improving
Fishing and seafaring have lain at the heart of Mediterranean cultures for millennia.
On sunny days, the sea's placid blue seems immutable, untouched by the human history that has unfolded along its shores.
But that appearance is deceiving: the Mediterranean Sea -- and the fishing traditions that are sustained by it -- is undergoing a period of dramatic change.
Catches of many fish species peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s and declining trends are recorded for important commercial stocks since then.
Fish catch per unit of fishing effort -- a measure that weighs the amount of fish caught against the effort used to catch them, used as a bellwether for the state of wild stocks -- is dropping, especially in demersal fisheries.
Overfishing is a leading problem, but coastal development, pollution from cities, and agricultural and industrial runoff are also playing a role in weakening Mediterranean fish stocks.
Still, despite these challenges the Mediterranean Sea's fisheries have shown a surprising resilience, according to a recent FAO report, Review of the State of World Marine Fishery Resources.
An extremely high degree of marine biodiversity is probably one reason for this resilience.
While the Mediterranean Sea makes up nearly 1% of the world's marine area, it is home to around 8-9% of all marine biodiversity.
International cooperation on better management improving
With fish stocks declining, Mediterranean countries have begun to work more closely together to responsibly manage shared fishery resources.
The primary vehicle for this cooperation is FAO's General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), established originally after World War II and strengthened in recent years to become a highly proactive intergovernmental fisheries management organization.
Can greater cooperation and better management ensure that fishing and seafood harvesting continue to occupy a central role in Mediterranean cultures?
Read more about the challenges facing Mediterranean fisheries and the efforts of FAO's GFCM to counter them in the stories that make up this Focus on the issues package, linked at the upper right.
5 September 2005
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