The Planet’s Fisheries Are In Even Worse Shape Than We Thought
The world’s oceans have been overfished far more than reported, according to a new study.
The report, published in the journal Nature Communications, reanalyzed worldwide catch data and compared it to information that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations uses. Researchers found that from 1950 to 2010, up to 30 percent more fish — more than 35 billion tons a year — were caught than reported to the agency.
Much of this unreported seafood stems from small-scale fisherman, illegal operations and millions of tons of bycatch, or fish accidentally caught and then discarded.
In the same time period, global catch rates have fallen nearly three times faster than estimated as the industry struggles to find healthy populations to fish.
“You have a situation where we have long ceased to live off the interest,” said Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of British Columbia. “We now live off the capital.”
Pauly and the study’s co-author, Dirk Zeller, said a long history of commercial enterprises jumping from fishery to fishery has decimated global populations. While some countries like the United States, Australia and parts of Europe have quota systems in place when numbers grow dire, many other nations offer no such protection.
“Throughout most of the world there is effectively no management,” Pauly said. “This sounds weird when you’re in the [U.S.] and you know that there’s a Coast Guard protecting the waters. But fisheries in the majority of the world have no management — there are nominal rules that are simply not respected, or there are no rules.”