Fixing Our Broken Oceans

According to the UN, 85% of the world's fish stocks are fully exploited or worse – the highest levels ever recorded. Fisheries depletion reveals how the international community is failing to meet one of the most important commitments that came out of the 1992 Earth Summit – and what it must address at next year's "Rio+20" conference.

NAIROBI – Many people know that oceans cover more than 70% of the world’s surface, and that marine fisheries provide food for billions of people. What is less known is that the high seas – the areas of the world’s oceans that lie beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, which extend 200 miles from shore – make up roughly two-thirds of our oceans and 45% of the planet’s surface.

This area, which contains perhaps the largest reservoir of biodiversity left on earth, is exploited by many countries, but managed by no one. Moreover, it is under extreme pressure. The United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) Global Environment Outlook concluded that three-quarters of marine fisheries are exploited up to, or beyond, their maximum capacity. According to the UN’s most recent “State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture” report, 85% of fish stocks are fully exploited or worse – the highest levels ever recorded.

The problem is certainly not a lack of commitments, including those made at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Rather, what has been missing is the fulfillment of these commitments.

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