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Currently showing: Food security > Food industry

28 Dec 13 09:53

Overfishing - I've come across the linked animated infographic that delivers stark numbers and lots and lots of food for thought. The clip suggests that people need to rise up and make governments change and enforce stronger laws. But I wonder, what can the insurance industry do?

We're roughly 7 billion people muddling about on 30% of the planet - the rest is water, oceans. Over one billion people rely on fish for their daily dose of protein. But things are going wrong, and have been for the past decades, with laws that are not enforced, governments that keep caving in to special interests and/or simply looking the other way. Things are going wrong with bigger and bigger boats and nets trawling the oceans to deliver on a market demand that is consistently hyped by the industry. The clip shows that some of these nets are the size of 4 soccer fields, large enough to contain 13 jumbo jets, large enough to hold 500 tons of fish! That's called efficiency, I guess - or is it desperation?

The clip also highlights that as much of 90% of what's caught may be wasted - e.g. if you buy one kilo of shrimp - up to 9 kilos of fish had to die for that ... they are simply tossed overboard again. Fish farms are another element - I've watched documentaries where it was discovered that what goes into those fish farms to both feed and keep healthy ... boggles the mind - and makes it hard to believe that human beings would still eat what's being harvested there. Then of course there's also the element that lots of the fish grown in farms need to eat fish to grow ... so more of the oceans are depleted to grow the fish in the tanks.

This National Geographic article - - highlights: "Faced with the collapse of large-fish populations, commercial fleets are going deeper in the ocean and father down the food chain for viable catches. This so-called "fishing down" is triggering a chain reaction that is upsetting the ancient and delicate balance of the sea's biologic system. A study of catch data published in 2006 in the journal Science grimly predicted that if fishing rates continue apace, all the world's fisheries will have collapsed by the year 2048."

The markets won't change unless they have to. People won't pressure their governments enough to really bring about change. So I'm wondering - can insurers and reinsurers, the entire insurance industry, tackle and actually solve the problem? Scientists do say that the depletion of the oceans can be stopped by giving fish populations a chance to build up again. A lot needs to change. The insurance industry takes the risk off many shoulders so that progress can come, so that change can be affected, so that new ways can be invented. The insurance industry does this type of enabling every single day. Maybe the oceans - these 70% of the earth we all desperately depend on - are an issue the insurance industry as a whole can take on and bring about the change that's so desperately needed.

Video shared with permission from OCEAN2012. For more information, please visit

Category: Food security: Food industry, Food waste


Alicia Montoya - 1 Mar 2014, 3:05 p.m.

As this Economist article shows, the oceans exemplify the “tragedy of the commons": the depletion of commonly held property by individual users, who harm their own long-term interests as a result:

"For decades scientists warned that the European Union’s fishing quotas were too high, and for decades fishing lobbyists persuaded politicians to ignore them".

I worked at the EC for a while, witnessing first hand how DG Fisheries largely ignored all scientific advice and set ridiculously low limits to what fishing companies could do in EU waters. And I'm embarrassed to say that fishing was always a Spanish stronghold in the EU (like agriculture is French and industry is German). So Spain is largely to blame for the inevitable and devastating consequences of over fishing in the EU. Today, three-quarters of the fish stocks in European waters are over-exploited and some are close to collapse.

We need to resolve this tragedy. We need to come together to solve these global issues that know no frontiers and affect us all. Not sure if insurance can help. Nor will all those international bodies as long as they have no powers to enforce or punish.

For institutions and multinational bodies like UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) to become effective, isn't it time for International Organizations 2.0? Time to open up the dialogue, democratize the decision-making process, and be given the powers to enforce agreements and punish abuses? I say yes! Time to take back accountability for our oceans.

Jayne Plunkett - 1 Mar 2014, 5:30 p.m.

First of all, I am happy this is classified under "food security" because this is squarely where the topic belongs. There is definitely something the industry can do--it can create innovative products to help this in the same way it has done for land farming. We need to create "fish banks"--places which we protect in order to let the fish populations thrive and grow inside and outside of the area. But this takes a kind of pre-funding, because we need to first stop people from fishing there in order to get the "bank" going. There are solutions out there, we just need to refine them and bring them to market.

Alicia Montoya - 2 Mar 2014, 10:32 a.m.

Good point, Jayne and good to hear the insurance industry can do something about it. I'd love to hear more about how those innovative products could work and if there are any products out there already.

As you say, blocking off areas and setting-up marine conservation centers is a great away to replenish fish stocks and create a safe haven for biodiversity (not to mention raise awareness around why we need to protect oceans and fish stocks). That has certainly worked beautifully in places like the Great Barrier Reef and in Catalunya (as yourself and Enric Sala discussed at WEF 2013:

But is that enough? What about the abuses / changes taking place in the "common" open seas, which may include overfishing but also dumping of chemicals, plastics... or the acidification of the ocean? How can we protect the oceans against those?

Our current international institutional framework seems to be failing dismally to protect this "common good". And if we don't, the protected fish banks, and the planet, will suffer. It takes us decades to find global consensus on how to tackle issues (UNCLOS being a case in point).. only to then fail to enforce the much-negotiated agreements. What's the point in agreeing on rules if nobody needs to apply them?

Maybe we need to shift more of the responsibility to countries. Perhaps by expanding national waters, making countries responsible for a larger share of the oceans, and build many more marine conservation areas in them?

While I see enormous value in international organizations providing reliable, unbiased data and recommendations to manage these global issues holistically, I feel countries need an incentive to apply them. As The Economist article points out, we are much better at protecting own resources than we are at protecting shared resources (the tragedy of the commons).

Mercedes Rosello - 22 May 2014, 5:35 p.m.

Dear Daniel, there is an important obstacle to sustainability in fisheries, one that has been around for a long time and that has proven very difficult to eradicate: illegal fishing.

Illegal fishing undermines responsible governments' attempts to manage fisheries sustainably, contributes greatly to biodiversity degradation and food insecurity, and damages the fishing industry itself.

Governments around the world are increasingly investing in prevention and control methods but global fishing goes on under particularly opaque circumstances. To make matters worse, regulation is abundant but frequently inadequate, monitoring fraught with difficulties and enforcement insufficient.

Illegal fishing isn't just a threat to the fishing industry's long-term survival, but a cause of insecurity to vulnerable populations that have to live with the consequences of regular ocean-grabbing by foreign vessels.

I am currently researching ways in which illegal fishing may be impacting industries other than fishing, including insurers, and how they may contribute to contain it. If this is of interest to you, I would be happy to discuss the parameters of this research with you.

Daniel Martin Eckhart - 26 May 2014, 7:17 a.m.

Dear Mercedes - I would definitely be interested in knowing. I could, at the very least, connect with you some of our experts in Risk Management. It's a hugely important topic and I could imagine they might even want to work with you on this.

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