Global fish stocks are falling quicker than reports suggest

ACCORDING to a report released by the Nature Commucations journal, global fish stocks are falling three times faster than official numbers from the United Nations suggest.

The Guardian newspaper reported that overfishing is being blamed for the overall decrease but the discrepancies in figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation are believed to be a reporting failure on the part of sport, illegal and small scale fishing, as well as fish discarded at sea.

“Our results differ very strongly from those of the FAO,” said the head of the research, Professor Daniel Pauly, from the University of British Columbia in Canada. “Our results indicate that the decline is very strong and is not due to countries fishing less. It is due to countries having fished too much and having exhausted one fishery after another.”

The report is the result of a decade-long study from over 400 researchers around the world.

“This work has been carefully conducted by painstaking research into the hidden underbelly of global fishing, country by country, region by region” said Professor Boris Worm, from Dalhousie University in Canada, and who was not involved in the research. “This was a Herculean task that no one else has ever attempted. While the results necessarily remain uncertain, they undoubtedly represent our most complete picture yet of the global state of fish catches.”

Professor Worm goes on to say that while many fisheries have been exploited, certain stocks were being sustainably managed; “where such measures have been taken, we find that both fish and fishermen are more likely to persist into the future.”

The report shows an increase in total catches from 1950 through to the peak year of 1996, and then a decline since 1996 that has been steadily increasing each year since.

The decline since 1996 has largely been attributed to an increase in larger, industrialised fishing fleets and to a lesser extent a cut in the number of unwanted fish discarded at sea.

“It was never really sustainable,” Professor Pauly said. “The fact that we catch far more than we thought is, if you like, a more positive thing,” he said. “Because if we rebuild stocks, we can rebuild to more than we thought before.”

The report highlighted some rebuilding success stories such as the Norwegian cod and herring fisheries but Professor Pauly warned against expecting an improvement.

“I expect a continued decline because I don’t expect countries to realise the need to rebuild stocks. I don’t see African countries, for example, rebuilding their stocks, or being allowed to by the foreign fleets that are working there, because the pressure to continue to fish is very strong. We know how to fix this problem but whether we do it or not depends on conditions that are difficult,” he said.


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