Roughly half of the world’s fish catch is being managed sustainably, but the other half is not properly assessed or managed, leaving vast areas prone to overfishing, according to a new global study.
Published in the journal PNAS, the study compiles estimates of global fish stocks and how fast they are being caught.
In areas where fish numbers are being managed, stocks remain mostly steady. But less well-managed regions have harvest rates three times greater than managed fisheries, and baseline fish stocks contain around half the number of fish.
Since little is known about these unmanaged areas, the authors suggest sustainable fishing management tools need to be made more widely available.
The SMC asked experts to comment on the study.
Francisco Blaha, International Fisheries Advisor, comments:
"Knowing that something works is rather intuitive, but demonstrating that it does, requires good science to prove it, this paper is a substantial step on that complex task. The authors are all well known in their own right, and represent 12 different countries (including New Zealand) from a mixture of academic, regulatory and international development organisations.
"The authors of this paper provide evidence that the efforts of the thousands of managers, scientists, fishers, and nongovernmental organisation workers have resulted in significantly improved statuses of fisheries in much of the developed world, and increasingly in the developing world. Scientifically managed and assessed fish stocks in many places are increasing, or are already at or above the levels that will provide a sustainable long-term catch.
"The stocks of tuna under the management of the Western Central Pacific Commission are an example of good management, under the strong leadership of the Pacific Island countries with the support of the Pacific Island Fisheries Forum Agency in terms of management and compliance and the Pacific Community in terms of fisheries science and data collection/management. They have proven to the world that industrial fisheries can be managed and are not overfished. Unfortunately, this is not the case in other tuna fisheries in other oceans or in many fisheries worldwide. It continues to be a major challenge to bring fisheries science methods and sustainability to fisheries that remain largely unassessed and unmanaged.
"The picture of fisheries management worldwide is a patchy one, and varies geographically and politically. Doom generalisations that all fisheries are collapsing, while perhaps well intended, do not help to fix problems. Fisheries science, management methods and strategies, compliance monitoring and enforcement are far from perfect, but they are perfectible in time. If sufficient resources, good science, clear governance and geopolitical independence are provided to those organisations and stakeholders in charge of managing fisheries, sustainable long term catch can continue to be possible."
Declared conflict of interest: I have corresponded professionally with six of the authors.