NAIROBI (Reuters) - Pirates and licenced trawlers are pillaging the world's oceans, while proposals on the table for trade ministers meeting in Switzerland next week could prove the final blow to sea life, Greenpeace said on Friday.
Three-quarters of global fish stocks are now classed by the United Nations as fully or over-exploited, and the conservation group said World Trade Organisation plans to slash or cancel fish and fish product tariffs would be a disaster.
"Under trade liberalisation, only a few countries will benefit, and then only in the short term," Daniel Mittler, a political adviser on trade for Greenpeace, told reporters.
"The reality is, all other countries will lose. There must be regulated trade and proper management...The last thing the world needs is a relaunch of the Doha global trade round."
The world's seas are already ravaged, with waters off developing nations most at risk from pirate trawlers flying cheaply purchased flags of convenience, Greenpeace said.
At any one time, some 600 foreign vessels are fishing off the Kenyan coast, said Athman Seif of the Kenya Marine Forum, particularly targeting lucrative hauls of yellow fin tuna.
Some of the boats are licenced, many are not, he said.
"They are sophisticated and unscrupulous, and something must be done," he said at the launch of the report in Nairobi.
MARITIME 'WILD WEST'
Greenpeace says illegal fishing will boom if tariffs are cut or dropped, as trawler crews hunt lucrative export stocks while dumping tons of unwanted "bycatch" caught in their huge nets.
The tariff plans are included in the suspended Doha round of trade talks begun in 2001. But discussions have continued behind closed doors, Mittler said, and next week in Davos, Switzerland, ministers will try to rescue the round.
Greenpeace said studies in Mauritania, Senegal and Argentina showed that trade liberalisation in fisheries was a disaster for the marine environment as well as for local food security.
"Not even the economic case for liberalisation is convincing," it said in its report. "Argentina, for example, is estimated to have lost at least $3.5 million in future earnings by over-exploiting its fish resources after liberalisation."
The group called for an end to double standards that saw countries like Spain declaring protected marine reserves in their own waters to guard tourism incomes, while sending deep sea trawlers to harvest distant seas off developing nations.
Less than 1 percent of the world's oceans is protected under marine reserves, and Greenpeace said that figure urgently needed to be boosted to 40 percent -- alongside robust monitoring and prosecution of illegal fishing practices.
"It's the 'Wild West' out there," said Sari Tolvanen, a marine biologist with the group. "We need to protect large areas, logically and biologically connected, the world over."
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