Ocean fisheries experts Daniel Pauly and Rashid Sumaila have been awarded the 2023 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, referred to as a “Nobel Prize for the environment,” in recognition of their scientific achievements.

Pauly and Sumaila, who are colleagues at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, have spent decades researching human impacts on marine ecosystems, including overfishing, and their work has been widely used to inform decisions around fisheries management.

Both laureates hold positions as University Killam Professors at UBC — the highest possible honour the university can bestow upon a member of faculty. Both said they wanted to use the Tyler Prize to spread an urgent and evidence-based message: all fishing on the high seas should be banned.

“Creating no-take marine reserves is something we must do. Banning fishing in the high seas, which is the area outside the 200-nautical-mile zones of maritime countries, will create a critically-needed ‘fish bank’ for the world,” said Sumaila.

“If we don’t stop overfishing, we will lose marine stocks essential for food security and biodiversity, and the ocean’s ability to effectively regulate global temperatures,” added Pauly.

“Banning fishing on the high seas……there are so many good reasons to do this”

“A high seas fishing ban is one of the most effective ways to reverse the damage inflicted on the ocean through decades of unsustainable overfishing, mostly at the hands of wealthy Western countries,” Pauly said.

“Our modelling shows that closing the high seas would result in no loss in total global catch – just a more equitable distribution. Most commercially fished species move back and forth between the high seas and coastal areas, where they can be caught in a country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” Pauly said.

“Furthermore, the carbon value of the fish in the high seas is 10 times the value of fish we take each year to sell and to eat. We simply cannot afford to lose this essential ecosystem service,” Pauly said.

Sumaila added that support for a high seas fishing ban continued to grow – and that the closing of Antarctica’s Ross Sea in 2016, which created the world’s largest marine protected area – served as a valuable model.

“But we must move faster. Overfishing increases global emergencies such as climate change, biodiversity loss and food insecurity – particularly for already vulnerable communities, such as Indigenous Peoples and populations in the Global South,” Sumaila said.

“Banning fishing on the high seas – it’s good for biodiversity, it’s good economically, it’s good for global food security. And it’s good for equity of distribution, because smaller countries benefit when fish come into their catchment area, instead of only China, Korea, Japan, Spain etc., taking all the fish in the high seas. There are so many good reasons to do this… before it is too late,” he said.

Further information can be read on Mongabay and Tyler Prize websites.

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