Photo: H. Eriksson

Current high-speed seafood trade leaves consumers blissfully ignorant of its strains on marine ecosystems and fish species. This is because global trade guarantees consistent availability of fish at affordable prices by sourcing from suppliers around the world, despite fish species being on the brink of extintion.

In a new study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, several GEDB-researchers together with WorldFish and Stockholm Resilience Centre collaborators argue that global marine resource exploitation can spread in similar patterns to disease epidemics.

The study is was based on an analysis of the sea cucumber trade. In just 15 years (1996–2011), the sea cucumber sourcing network has expanded from 35 to 83 countries. Overfishing of sea cucumbers is common with 16 species considered to be vulnerable or endangered. It highlights how the speed and connectivity of seafood commerce is severely challenging the capacity of existing regulatory institutions with the potential to decimate fisheries and the livelihoods of those who rely on them.

Learn from WHO
Hampus Eriksson, lead author and scientist at WorldFish says:

"Globalized markets connect distant sources of supply with metropolitan areas of demand. Exploitation expands so fast across the world in these modern sourcing networks that overfishing can occur before the resource is even perceived as threatened by management agencies."

The report’s authors propose that international cooperative initiatives, modelled on experiences in managing contagious diseases, could help to ensure the future sustainability of fisheries.  One example of a model that could be used to control contagious resource exploitation is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global coordination systems to mitigate and control the spread of disease.

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Eriksson, H., Österblom, H., Crona, B., Troell, M., Andrew, N., Wilen, J., Folke, C. 2015. Contagious exploitation of marine resources. Front Ecol Environ 2015; 13(8): 435–440, doi:10.1890/140312