Future Outlook of the Fishing Industry in the Mediterranean and Black Seas

As the world’s population continues to grow, finding sustainable ways to ensure food security is more important than ever. According to estimates, by 2050 food production will need to double current rates in order to support this expected population increase. As of now, about 10% of the world’s population experiences hunger, and some 2 billion suffer from malnutrition. One significant solution to this problem may be found in world fisheries, which support the world food supply chain with an essential protein source. In fact, according to one 2017 study, 3 billion people depend on fish as their primary form of protein. The fishing industry is also expected to produce approximately 201 million tons of fish by 2030. The Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, connected by the Bosporus that runs through Istanbul, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles that flows to the Aegean, are incredibly important for the global fishing industry. 

As of 2014, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea represent almost 20% of world fish exports, with Europe and Asia being its two largest trading partners. Asian markets are massive in terms of fish intake, consuming two-thirds of the world’s fish products. Furthermore, the Mediterranean fishing industry alone employs more than 350,000 people, most of whom are artisanal fishers. While these two seas are vital centers for the global seafood supply chain, they are also two of the most overfished areas in the world. Recent statistics released by the World Bank shows that global losses due to overfishing amount to around USD 50 billion per year. Fishing in the Mediterranean-Black Sea region remains unsustainable with over 60% of their fishing stocks overfished. In response, Mediterranean countries in 2017 met in Malta to start the MedFish4Ever Initiative, a multilateral strategy devoted to creating a governance network centered around sustainability in the fishing industry. Meanwhile, in the Black Sea, government representatives coordinating with the European Commission have signed the multilateral Bucharest Declaration and Sofia Declaration in 2016 and 2018 respectively in order to develop more sustainable fishing and to fight illegal fishing.

With various multilateral organizations at work to improve fishing sustainability, “blue growth” is a way to achieve economic development alongside concern for the environment, specifically in the marine-related sectors. Current overfishing, especially of species such as red tuna and bluefin tuna, has been exacerbated by large-scale industrial fishing vessels that are historically supported by government subsidies, including in the European Union. One answer may lie in the development of sustainable small-scale fisheries, especially in the Mediterranean Sea, where more than 50% of the region’s fishermen and almost 80% of its fishing vessels operate in the small-scale fishing industry. Local fishing in particular can easily be integrated into the Mediterranean’s tourism industry, which is the largest sector in the region, valued at over USD 130 billion. In the Black Sea, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is particularly problematic. However, with regional cooperation and increased enforcement, this issue can be mitigated. One other chief risk in the Black Sea is the war in the Donbass region that affects the Sea of Azov, which is connected to the Black Sea. Cooperation and monitoring are rendered almost impossible in this area of high geopolitical tension, and both Russian and Ukrainian fishermen have been detained by the opposing side. Other threats that exist in the Mediterranean and Black Sea fishing industries are from invasive species. In the Black Sea, the comb jellyfish, introduced to the area from the United States, often eats certain fish eggs and larvae, which has decimated the anchovy population. American blue crabs brought to the Mediterranean have also hurt Spanish fishermen by destroying fishing nets. 

Overall, while there are a variety of challenges and risks related to the fishing industry in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, policies focused on sustainability and the expansion of underrepresented industries such as small-scale fishing can help alleviate certain environmental and food security-related issues. While overfishing is a global issue, the Mediterranean and Black Seas are at least in part governed by the European Union, which has the capacity and political will to achieve sustainable growth. Strategic risks such as the war between Russia and Ukraine in particular affect local Black Sea and Sea of Azov fishing industries. In conclusion, the long-term future of the region depends on increased cooperation between state actors and industry leaders.

About the Author

Alexander Lykoudis

Alexander Lykoudis earned his MA in International Economics and China Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC. Previously, he earned Certificates in Chinese Studies as well as International Relations and Affairs from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in China. Alexander is fluent in English and Mandarin with a basic command of Greek.

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