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Feb 12, 2015 01:34 PM EST

High Seas Fishing Ban May Boost Global Catches, Equality

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New research suggests that closing the high seas to commercial fishing could be catch-neutral and distribute fisheries income more equitably among the world's maritime nations.

After an analysis of fisheries data, researchers at the University of British Columbia found that if increased spillover of fish stocks from protected international waters were to boost coastal catches by 18 percent, current global catches would be maintained. When the researchers modeled less conservative estimates of stock spillover, catches in coastal waters surpassed current global levels.

"We should use international waters as the world's fish bank," U. Rashid Sumaila, lead author of the study and director of the UBC Fisheries Economics Research Unit, said in a statement. "Restricting fisheries activities to coastal waters is economically and environmentally sensible, particularly as the industry faces diminishing returns."

The findings also indicate that a high-seas moratorium would improve fisheries income distribution among maritime nations. Currently, 10 high seas fishing nations capture 71 percent of the landed value of catches in international waters.

Under a catch-neutral scenario, the United States, Guam and the United Kingdom would benefit the most, each with potential increases in landed values of more than $250 million per year. Canada would see an increase of $125 million per year.

Researchers acknowledge that implementing a high seas ban would be a major undertaking, but argue that the ongoing expansion of human activities into the oceans may soon require major reform to the governance of international waters regardless. Penalties imposed on illegal fishing could offset administrative and operational costs.

The findings are detailed in the journal Scientific Reports.

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