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Global Fisheries In Far Worse State Than Previously Estimated: New Report

The decline in fish populations is far worse than previously estimated, according to Minderoo Foundation’s Global Fishing Index (GFI) - the largest independent assessment of global fish stocks to date.

New evidence from a collaborative study involving more than 500 fisheries experts globally shows that half of the world’s 1400 assessed fish stocks are now overfished – rather than just over a third, as previously understood.

A tenth of fish stocks globally are now on the brink of collapse, reduced to just 10 per cent of their original size, the report finds.

Key Findings

  • Half (49%) of assessed fish stocks are overfished – meaning they have less than 40 per cent of their unfished population left. This result is considerably higher than the previous global estimate of 34 per cent.
  • 52% of the global catch since 1990 is from stocks that lack the data to say if they are sustainably fished or not.
  • 82 per cent of countries get a ‘D’ or an ‘E’ grade, including 20 of the 25 largest producers of seafood – among them are China, Indonesia, Japan, Peru and Russia.
  • Even the best-performing countries receive no higher than a ‘C’ grade.
  • There is an urgent need for world leaders to stop overfishing and set ambitious time-bound targets to restore fish stocks to healthy levels.

This world-first assessment of the sustainability of marine fisheries in 142 coastal states is an unflinching analysis that combines data on fish stock health and governance to assess the state of fisheries at a national level – with countries given a grade from ‘A’ through ‘F’.

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Even the best-performing countries – those that are supposedly leading the way - receive no higher than a ‘C’ grade, while Australia receives a ‘D’, with 38% of its assessed fish stocks classified as ‘overfished’ and 60% of the total catch in Australia’s waters from unassessed, data-lacking stocks.

Viet Nam and Malaysia, which are also among the ten biggest fishing countries in the world, receive an “F” grade, along with 18 other countries – the lowest possible.

Minderoo Foundation Chairman Dr Andrew Forrest AO said the report found no country, not even the best, is doing anywhere near enough to protect the ocean from overfishing and restore its health to a flourishing state.

“Half of the world’s assessed fish stocks are overfished and nearly 10 per cent are on the point of collapse – threatening not only ocean ecosystems but also the livelihoods and food security of millions of people,” Dr Forrest said.

“Our Global Fishing Index is a wake-up call to governments and businesses around the world. It is a message to say that we know what is happening, we know what you are doing, and we are here to help fix the problem.

“My message to all 142 of the countries, both developed and developing, is clear. It is time to take accountability for the health of your fisheries, the size of your fishing fleets and the level of access provided to foreign fleets to fish your waters.

“Every single country in this index needs stronger fisheries management, better laws and policies, better enforcement, better data collection, more science-based decisions.

Global Fishing Index program lead Dr Kendra Thomas Travaille said that the lack of available information on fisheries is concerning.

“We lack basic data on 52 per cent of the world’s marine catch. This problem is due to a lack of fisheries monitoring, compounded by a lack of transparency among governments and fishing companies about their fishing activities.”

“Of even greater concern is that in many countries where local communities rely on fisheries for their livelihoods, food, and nutrition - the data on coastal fish stocks are missing altogether,” Dr Thomas Travaille said. “This represents a huge gap, and it’s essential that we help build capacity to manage and monitor these stocks so that they can be fished sustainably for future generations.”

Minderoo Flourishing Oceans Initiative CEO Dr Tony Worby said the primary goal of the Global Fishing Index is to provide an evidence base to improve fisheries regulations and help return fish stocks to sustainable levels.

“The Global Fishing Index provides a road map of recommendations and solutions to address this problem that will guide Minderoo’s philanthropic efforts over the coming decade,” Dr Worby said.

“While the issues and strategies will be very different for each country, all countries need to set ambitious targets to recover overfished stocks and report on their progress,” Dr Worby said. “We are now calling on governments and businesses to declare their intent and demonstrate action to reverse fisheries decline.”

This report is the first from an ongoing study that will measure country-level progress towards the global target set by the United Nations. The UN Sustainable Development Goal (14.4), established in 2015, aims to effectively manage fisheries, end overfishing and restore fish stocks to sustainable levels. However, this new report shows that the commitment from global leaders to achieve this goal by 2020 is still far from being met.

The Minderoo Foundation believes the Global Fishing Index will quickly establish itself as a new mechanism for countries and their governments and corporations to be recognised for turning good intentions into meaningful action, and to track their progress.

The summary report can be accessed on the website alongside data visualisations, data for download, maps, technical information, and case studies of fisheries management approaches in Mexico, the United States, Canada, Timor Leste and states of the South China Sea. More information will be added over time.

Why global fisheries are so important:

About Minderoo Foundation:

Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, Minderoo Foundation is a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration against cancer and building community projects.

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