Environmental groups point to chemical pollution–not overfishing–as main cause of fishery decline

Published May 2, 2021, 11:27 AM

by Ellson Quismorio

Is overfishing solely causing the fish population to drop? The answer is no, according to a report shared by environmental groups EcoWaste Coalition and Oceana Philippines.

A fisherman from Baseco Compound in Tondo, Manila (Photo courtesy of EcoWaste Coalition)

According to the report “Aquatic Pollutants in Oceans and Fisheries,” chemical pollution is the bigger culprit since it “compromises reproduction, development, and immune systems among aquatic and marine organisms”.

“As a fishing dependent and archipelagic nation, it is incumbent on us to insist and support global and local action that will prevent and control chemical and waste pollution from all sources, which is making the ocean ecosystems sick and incapable of meeting the huge demand for fish,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition.

The group is a participating organization of the International Pollutants Elimination (IPEN), which, along with the National Toxics Network (NTN) of Australia, published the report.

The report said that “overfishing is not the sole cause of fishery declines,” and that pollutants including industrial chemicals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, plastics and microplastics “have deleterious impacts to aquatic ecosystems at all trophic levels from plankton to whales.”

Report authors warned that the impacts scientists have identified are only likely to grow in the coming years and will be exacerbated by a changing climate, noting that “the global seafood industry, and the livelihoods and survival of millions of artisanal fishers and communities who depend on seafood, are at a crossroads.”

“The entire aquatic food web has been seriously compromised, with fewer and fewer fish at the top, losses of invertebrates in the sediments and water column, less healthy marine algae, coral, and other habitats, as well as a proliferation of bacteria and toxic algal blooms. Chemical pollution, along with climate change, itself a pollution consequence, are the chief reasons for these losses,” noted Dr. Matt Landos, report author and director of Future Fisheries Veterinary Services in Australia.

Dr. Mariann Lloyd-Smith, IPEN Senior Advisor and report co-author, stated that the production and use of chemicals have grown exponentially over the past couple of decades.

“Many chemicals persist in the environment, making environments more toxic over time. If we do not address this problem, we will face permanent damage to the marine and aquatic environments that have nourished humans and every other life form since the beginning of time,” she said.

Another report co-author in NTN National Coordinator Jo Immig said: “Governments around the world must urgently acknowledge the environmental, economic, and public health degradation caused by chemical pollution and act on the scientific evidence to develop policy and lead their communities to totally re-think how chemicals are used.”

In this regard, Oceana Philippines Vice President Gloria Estenzo-Ramos urged local decision-makers from all branches of government to muster and “exercise the urgent political will to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all”.

“Our laws are not lacking in addressing impacts of chemical including plastics pollution that destroys the health of our people and our oceans, but, there still is much foot-dragging in performing the mandates of their office. We hope this publication can be among the wake- up calls for all to prioritize health and act in solidarity now as our enduring gift to our present and future generations,” Ramos reckoned.

May is dubbed as Month of the Ocean, the two local groups noted.