The State of the World’s Fisheries

Written by on April 10, 2013 in Fish, Policy & Ocean Law

Here’s an interesting contradiction. As if overfishing wasn’t complicated enough, in three days, three articles about overfishing were published, all saying drastically different things. Fisheries in the US are recovering! No, fisheries worldwide are severely overfished. But wait, it turns out that our predictions about fisheries in the future are wrong.

Where did these three conclusions come from and what does it mean? Here’s a quick summary:

Groundfish boat.

Groundfish boat. Photo credit: NOAA.

National Geographic explains that a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states that two-thirds of closely monitored fish species in the US that were severely overfished have made a recovery thanks to management plans implemented 10-15 years ago. Using data from the National Marine Fisheries Service for the 44 stocks that have sufficient population and catch data (all managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act), the researchers found that 28 of those stocks have been designated as “fully recovered” or “having made significant progress towards sustainable populations.”

The results from this study indicate that critically overfished species can recover if they are managed properlyand given enough time. However, the study doesn’t include fish stocks with insufficient data, those not managedunder the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and those fished internationally. So, while it is good news, it can’t tell usanything about the remaining fish stocks.

But despite that bit of good news, CNN recently reported that our oceans are “on the brink of catastrophic collapse.” The problem isn’t limited to just a few places, either. In the Irish Sea, the few fishing trawlers left bring home nothing but prawns and scallops. In Indonesia, people are fishing for juvenile fish and any other protein that can be ground up into fishmeal for local prawn farms. And off the coast of Norway, there’s a coral reef that was just discovered in 2007 that’s likely going to be dead by 2020. In addition to lack of fish, we’re still using destructive fishing methods, like bottom trawling which destroys life on the seafloor and can permanently damage entire habitats.

And, if that wasn’t enough to worry about, new research shows that predictions for fisheries in the future may be wrong. Research from Scripps Institution of Oceanography demonstrates that current predictions for global fisheries”can be a mirage” because previous studies haven’t accounted for enough factors. By using new mathematical methods developed at Scripps, the researchers found that climate change, human actions, and natural ecosystem fluctuations combine to influence populations. If we just focus on the effects of climate change or fishing, we won’t get accurate results. So, it’s possible that we won’t run out of seafood by 2050, but because previous studies only focused on one factor, not the combination, it might actually be sooner.

Fishing boats in New England.

Fishing boats in New England. Photo credit: NOAA.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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