WASHINGTON U.S. President-elect Barack Obama could protect ocean wildlife and save jobs in commercial fisheries by ending widespread overfishing, environmental and economic leaders and scientists reported on Thursday.
About 70 percent of the world's fisheries are over-exploited or have already crashed, the report said. If this long-term trend continues, scientists have predicted that all current salt-water fish and seafood species will collapse by 2048.
The report said this could be remedied by instituting a system known as catch shares, where the total amount of fish allowed to be taken in a given fishery is capped and fishermen are given a share of the fishery's quota.
That is different than the conventional way of trying to limit the number of fish taken, which is to shorten the length of the fishing season, which prompts fishermen to get the absolute maximum during whatever time they are permitted to fish.
Fishermen are frequently so skilled at this that the number of fish caught increases even with a short season.
"It is true that fishermen feel an almost desperate need to catch as many fish as they can when they're allowed to," said James Greenwood, a former U.S. congressman who co-chaired a working group that wrote the report.
"That sense of desperation ... can't be an excuse for the policymakers of the world and this country to allow that to cause the universal collapse of fisheries," Greenwood said in a telephone interview.
Because catch share management sets a scientifically sustainable level of catch for each fishery and divides this among those who fish there, fishers have more flexibility in when they work, knowing that the number of fish they can legally take is strictly limited.
Unlike other environment problems facing the new administration, most notably the pressure to limit climate-warming carbon emissions, overfishing is an issue that can start to be fixed in Obama's first four-year term, the report's authors said.
The report urged Obama to make sure that all federal fishery management plans are evaluated by 2012 and that at least 50 percent of them feature catch share management by 2016. It said Congress could help by passing legislation to require that catch shares be considered in all plans by 2012.
Greenwood, a former congressman, now heads the Biotechnology Industry Organization and serves on the board of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, which convened the working group along with the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy organization.
Others in the working group include co-chair Bruce Babbitt, former U.S. Interior secretary; Christine Todd Whitman, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator; and Norm Mineta, former secretary of Transportation and of Commerce.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)