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How Overfishing Threatens Asia's Wild Fish Stocks

Bluefin tuna being cut up on board a Japanese fishing vessel

Bluefin tuna being cut up on board a Japanese fishing vessel

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

The pressure to feed Asia's growing population has led to dangerous levels of overfishing near Pacific coastlines.

An example can be found in Sindangan, a fishing town in the southern Philippines. Wild catches are falling while prices are rising.

This fisherman says the area's once healthy fish stocks are in danger because of an increase in the number of fishing boats.

Across the South China Sea, fish catches near shore have dropped since the nineteen eighties. That drop has pushed fishermen to go offshore with bigger boats.

Benjamin Francisco is an official with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. He says some of the methods they use to increase their catches are destructive.

"The use of fine mesh net, the use of dynamite explosives for fishing, and other fishing gear, that catches juveniles or those that harvest maturing spawning stocks."

Fishing methods like these harm the ability of some species to reproduce. The fish warden in Sindangan, Julie Buot, says most of the local fishermen use fine mesh nets. Such nets have been banned for years because they catch very young fish.

To deal with problems like this, Benjamin Francisco has been promoting the idea of licensing systems. The aim is to limit the number of boats on the water.

Asia has the world's largest fishing fleets. They represent nearly three million of the world's four million fishing vessels. And most estimates show that the numbers are increasing.

In Hong Kong, there are increased efforts to regulate fleets and to ban trawling for fish near shore. More than two hundred million dollars is being spent in an effort to increase catches by small fishing operations. So Ping-man of the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is hopeful about the efforts. He expects catch values to increase.

But Hong Kong's measures are costly. Benjamin Francisco says a lot of governments in Asia are not in a position to copy them.

"The issues are deeply rooted in poverty, the inability of local government to respond immediately, insufficiency of funds."

In Sindangan, Wilfredo Ortega feeds a family of nine children from small-scale fishing. On a recent day, he caught only half a dollar's worth of fish. He had to return to shore early because of monsoon winds.

"In these months, it's quite tight," he says, talking about the difficulty of saving money. "We can only save during the months of November, December, January. We can save by catching young sardines."

The young sardines may feed Mr. Ortega's family for now. But the catches today mean fewer mature fish tomorrow. And they mean an even riskier future for those who depend on fishing when no other work is available.

And that's the Agriculture Report in Special English. I'm Christopher Cruise.

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