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Fishery: Latin America

As Brazil fails to provide fishery data, species can face decline

Author: Bruna Bronoski

The Brazilian government has not been registering data about fisheries on its coast since 2009. The responsibility of providing the information was meant to be transferred that year from the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) to the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture, but the transition never took place. 

© Otávio Nogueira

The lack of indicators and statistics about what has been caught from the ocean for decades - such as fish species, quantity and periods of fishing - is a threat to marine ecosystems and the future fishing activity. "We can compare the ocean with a reforestation activity. In order to have a financial and sustainable business, a management plan is crucial. We must know the amount of trees in the area, their age and the cutting plan," said Martin Dias, scientific manager at Oceana Brasil, an NGO dedicated to ocean protection and restoration across the globe. "It is the only way to guarantee there will be trees to cut and commercialize in the future. What happens in the Brazilian fishery sector is quite the opposite: we don’t have any plan."

In 2021, Oceana conducted its most recent survey about fishery management by using 22 indicators based on sustainable measures. The statistics show that less than 7 percent of the 117 coastal species fished in Brazil have a known status of stocks; four are overfished (populations are under a secure biological level) and two are being catched above their capacity of recovery. This makes for only eight species with available fishery and mortality figures. Besides, only 50 percent of all coastal fish landing centres in Brazil are monitored. The half that are controlled splits into two categories: 39 percent are partially watched and nearly 11 percent have no monitoring mechanisms at all. "We don’t have any definition of overfishing in Brazil," Dias points out.

Percentage of fish stocks analyzed for which evaluations identified quantitive data that provided biomass trajectories, fishing mortality rates and estimates regarding previous baselines: 7 percent of stocks' situations are known; 93 percent of stocks' situations are unknown. Source: Oceana (2021).

A fish called tainha, caught in southern Brazil, is the only highly monitored species. It is under a federal ordinance that authorises a catch quota of 50 tons per licensed vessel in 2022, with a total capture of 600 to 830 tons maximum, depending on the type of the vessel. Each year the catch quota is recalculated according to the weather and reproductive conditions.

In theory, a federal law on fisheries, approved in 2009, would regulate the activity. However, specialists affirm that Brazil does not have a strong regulation mechanism in place for the sector. "One of the law’s goals is to prevent the fishing stocks from disappearing, but there are no guidelines and concrete steps to achieve that. It lacks a direction to follow if the biomass [fisheries volume] decreases and a recovery plan," said Dias.

While statistics are almost non-existent and the oceans are explored without adequate regulation, Brazilians eat fish they do not know they’re consuming- even sharks. "Cação," for instance, is a popular Brazilian dish that people do not think to associate with sharks. The international organisation Sea Shepherd operates a campaign in Brazil called Cação é Tubarão” (Cação means Shark) in order to raise awareness about it.

In Brazil, 43 percent of shark species are endangered, according to Sea Shepherd. Worldwide, this number reaches 90 percent. "Predatory fishing annihilate 100 million sharks every year in the oceans," said Giselle Reis, Education Coordinator at Sea Shepherd Brazil. She also criticises the lack of official statistics. "For us and likewise for other organisations, it is extremely difficult to draw planning strategies, mitigation measures and conservation goals without technical scientific evidence. It is likely we already have extinct species without even having been able to study them."

climate change coal industryRead our dossier about climate change to learn more about how the crisis affects the world's oceans. 

Climate scientists have been warning over the past decades that oceans are climate regulators. Marine waters regulate global temperatures while providing food for millions of people and hosting tremendous biodiversity. "We are experiencing a range of climate change drivers throughout the planet," said Ana Paula Prates, a fishing engineer who holds a Marine Ecological PhD. "Coral bleaching, ocean acidification, temperature changes, all of them are stressors. Add to it water and air pollution, marine debris, mangrove deforestation to build harbors. And we are still fishing as if the stocks were the original. They are no longer. What is the consequence of all this? Collapse."

Percentage of fish stocks analysed for which catch limits are settled: 4 percent with limits; 96 percent without limits. Source: Oceana (2021). 

Is the Brazilian government worried about fishery data?

The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture, which would have taken on the fishery survey in 2009, was shut down in 2015 and had been incorporated into the Department of Aquaculture and Fishery into the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply. Its current chief Jairo Gund has taken over the Fisheries Secretary last April, replacing Jorge Seif Junior. Seif gave up the function to be able to get on the ballot in the upcoming Brazilian elections, slated for October 2022.

Much like his predecessor, Jairo Gund enjoys attending international fishery markets. His last agenda abroad was in Barcelona, Spain, in the Seafood Expo Global a couple of weeks ago. Gund must adhere to Seif’s plans, as the former secretary is responsible for promoting him to his current high-ranking government position. "I was nominated by Seif, which had our president Bolsonaro’s approval, and we are going to continue the work we have been doing since 2019 by taking out the bureaucratics from the aquaculture Brazilian process," Gund declared after he took over leadership of the Secretary.

As Aquaculture Secretary for almost three years, Jorge Seif had a personal stake in the fishing industry - his family runs a company in Southern Brazil, one of the main spots for that industry in the country. Thus, some rules approved since he took office under Jair Bolsonaro's administration - whose anti-environmental agenda he is aligned with - seemed to have benefited his family's commercial interests. 

According to a report entitled Pesca por Inteiro, compiled by the Talanoa Institute in 2021, a rule that was signed in April 2020 and expanded the allowances to industrial fishing in certain regions of the coast was likely tailored to benefit Seif’s father, whose company owns one of the two purse seiner vessels navigating Brazilian coasts.

In the Brazilian Fishery Audit, carried out by Oceana in December 2020, Jorge Seif Jr. agreed that the Fishery Law must be updated in the country. Alas, this is unlikely to happen anytime in the foreseeable future. 

The long list compiled by the Talanoa Institute also includes normative rulings to suspend closed periods for the sardine fisheries, for example, which protects the breeding season. "We can say Brazilian management over fisheries is paying attention to just one side: the economic and industrial one. The rest of them are being ignored," said Ana Paula Prates, a senior specialist at the Talanoa Institute. 

The Brazilian government announced in 2021 the data release of a satellite monitoring of Brazilian vessels along its 7,367 kilometer coastline. According to the official government website, this monitoring has been applied since 2006; the information, however, is not openly available. FairPlanet asked what percentage of vessels the monitoring system is able to cover, how the information is useful for fiscalisation and how many violations have been registered since then, but all contact attempts were declined.

© United Nations/M. Yousuf Tushar

Artisanal fishers and environmentalists must be part of the conversation

The lack of statistics has an impact on the environment and small-scale fishers as well. Since 2019, a socioeconomic study led by Rare Brasil, a non-governmental organisation that collaborates with artisanal fishery entities in the northern part of the country, indicated that 69 percent of artisanal fishers noticed that marine fishing stocks are declining.

Rare Brasil’s communication manager, Enrico Marone, pointed out the dangers to which artisanal fishers are subjected. "With no firm inspection of the industrial fisheries, there are cases that boats enter mangrove areas, where an infinity of species reproduce. Small-scale fisherpeople also report verbal threats, even gunshots from the vessels, in a territory competition,” says Marone.

"There must be a space to discuss [fishery management] from a sustainable perspective. Not from top-down with a normative ruling dictating everything."

The artisanal fisherpeople used to be included in the fishery policies discussion. There used to be nine Permanent Management Committees (CPGs), created to involve all interested fishing groups, from artisanal to industrial and from scientific to commercial ones, but they were suspended by decree in 2019.

The "Pesca por Inteiro" Talanoa Institute Report recommends their resuscitation. "The Shared Management System needs to be adopted, as the CPGs," reads the report.

"Fishery management is much more about the behaviour of people than the behaviour of fish. It is needed to harmonise interests. Where is there space to do it? In the committees," concluded Oceana’s scientific manager, Martin Dias. "The environmentalists will ask to reduce the catch quota, the industrialists to increase it, all of them have their reasons. There must be a space to discuss it from a sustainable perspective. Not from top down with a normative ruling dictating everything."