The authors of a new global study have called for governments to consider banning fishing in the high seas, saying this would help to replenish fish stocks and could reduce climate change.
The Global Ocean Commission's report singled out Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, the United States, Spain, Chile and France.
"If closing the high seas to commercial fishing results in more fish in the sea, it could yield a conservation benefit by contributing to a more sustainable and resilient ocean - not only to overfishing but to other threats such as climate change and ocean acidification," the authors said.
They also called for greater governance of the high seas, which refers to parts of the oceans beyond 200 nautical miles of any coast.
The report also found, for the first time, that living organisms in the high seas absorbed about 500 million tonnes of carbon a year, on average, between 2003 and 2012.
This was equivalent to about 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, about 5 per cent of all man-made carbon dioxide in that period.
If the stored carbon was released into the atmosphere, the economic cost to societies would be about US$74 billion (S$93 billion) to US$222 billion (S$280 billion) annually, the report said.
Co-author Alex Rodgers, of the University of Oxford, told The Straits Times that the sea organisms' carbon storage could be even higher.
"We looked at satellite imagery over the 10 years for phytoplankton, which are creatures that grow by absorbing carbon dioxide," Professor Rodgers said.
"There are other living organisms, some of which live deep in the ocean and only come up to the surface at night, that we didn't capture in the report."
The independent, high-level ocean commission aims to provide politically and technically feasible recommendations on four issues about the high seas: overfishing, large-scale habitat and bio- diversity loss, lack of effective management and enforcement, and other governance deficiencies.
It is co-chaired by former British foreign secretary David Miliband, and its members include former US Environmental Protection Agency head Carol Browner.
It has published policy papers on eliminating marine pollution, deep seabed mining and climate change.
It will publish the findings of a separate 18-month inquiry later this month, setting out the challenges facing the oceans and the solutions required to meet them.
The commission's recommendations will take into account the scientific study that was issued yesterday.
This article was first published on June 6, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.