Marine biodiversity is critical for maritime sector

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Ghazi Salahuddin

THE world is covered with approximately 70% water and contains rich biodiversity. Biodiversity can be defined in several ways, but it generally refers to the number of species types in a particular ecosystem. Oceanic biodiversity therefore refers to the species richness and abundance in the world’s oceans and seas. It is important to protect biodiversity because today, just as always, humans are dependent on the Earth’s resources for their livelihood, health and well-being. Successful biodiversity can only be achieved by following proper seasonal closures along with restricting catch limits on some fishery products, declaring national parks and establishing marine reserves are a few examples.
The question arises that if biodiversity is so important, and being damaged by human activities, then why don’t countries “mainstream” it? This is going to be extremely difficult in practice, whatever the rhetoric. One of the main reasons biodiversity isn’t adequately mainstreamed is that it has to compete with other (often more visible) national priorities for growth and development, so there is insufficient political recognition of biodiversity and the underlying ecosystem services it provides. Hopefully, the sustainable development Goals (SDGs) will be helpful in better management of these issues. These targets will help change and raise the profile of biodiversity to a higher political level. Two of the 17 SDGs focus on biodiversity (terrestrial and marine).
Loss of biodiversity is directly related with the economy of the country and fishing is a good illustration of how the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources poses a problem of political economy. The thrust for change is often a major catastrophe, such as the collapse of the industry when the fish stocks suddenly disappear. However, doing what is sustainable may mean a sudden, visible, loss for a small group of people who can organize to block change, while the benefit is much more long-term, less visible and less important on an individual basis, so there is less political pressure to implement what would be the best, long-term solution overall. Overfishing along with pollution and unsustainable coastal development are contributing to irreversible damage to habitats, ecological functions and biodiversity, going on to say that “Climate change and ocean acidification are compounding such impacts at a time when the rising global population requires more fish as food, and as coastal areas are becoming home to a growing percentage of the world’s population”.
Pakistan has also been victim of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, native as well as from Indian fishermen. Basically, India has over one billion people to feed. Seventy percent of its population eats fish. India would require 13 million tons of fish to meet minimum standards, yet present production is only 3.9 million tons, with aquaculture providing an additional seven million tons. In an effort to meet their requirement Indian boats often poach well inside Pakistani waters to catch high quality fish of Indus Delta region since this delta is not available in the entire Indian region which is connected with Pakistani maritime border. Despite intensive efforts of the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) (which is akin to Coast Guard of any country) and apprehension of Indian fishing boats at a large scale apropos to government’s policy, purposeful violation of Pakistani EEZ by Indian fishermen causing huge losses to Pakistan’s fisheries resources leading to ecological damages by illegal means of fishing methods besides effecting the conservation and sustainability of the marine resources and thus marine biodiversity of the regional large marine ecosystem.
Similarly, fishing trawling is one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity. In Pakistan and also Indian fishing boats apprehended in Pakistani waters as discussed earlier are using destructive nature of fishing gears which is extremely harmful and a source of biodiversity loss. Nevertheless, the nets used by them are internationally banned, due to their very small mesh size. These nets sweep the sea and practically eradicate all forms of marine life. The consequences of such inhuman practices and blatant violation of international norms are most disastrous for our marine ecosystem.
In order to address the challenges which are considered the great threat to marine diversity, we need to institutionalize the strict mechanism which mainly includes restricted entry to fishery, catch quotas limits or requirements on gear, restrictions on fishing seasons, limits on fishing areas, declaration of marine protected area, prohibitions on dumping or discarding gear, reduce or eliminate government subsidies contributing to fishing over-capacity , surveillance and compliance programs including Vessel Monitoring System (VMS). Last but not the least, cooperation of the Government bodies for compliance of international and regional fishing agreements along with guidelines/agreements relevant to biodiversity issues i.e Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is very significant.
—The writer is an alumnus World Maritime University, Sweden.