Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining
The following article was published by NATURE COMMUNICATIONS in January 2016
Fisheries data assembled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggest that global marine fisheries catches increased to 86 million tonnes in 1996, then slightly declined. Here, using a decade-long multinational ‘catch reconstruction’ project covering the Exclusive Economic Zones of the world’s maritime countries and the High Seas from 1950 to 2010, and accounting for all fisheries, we identify catch trajectories differing considerably from the national data submitted to the FAO. We suggest that catch actually peaked at 130 million tonnes, and has been declining much more strongly since. This decline in reconstructed catches reflects declines in industrial catches and to a smaller extent declining discards, despite industrial fishing having expanded from industrialized countries to the waters of developing countries. The differing trajectories documented here suggest a need for improved monitoring of all fisheries, including often neglected small-scale fisheries, and illegal and other problematic fisheries, as well as discarded bycatch.
Marine fisheries are the chief contributors of wholesome seafood (finfish and marine invertebrates; here ‘fish’). In many developing countries (and likely also in many ‘transition‘ countries), fish is the major animal protein source that rural people can access or afford1; and they are also an important source of micronutrients essential to people with otherwise deficient nutrition2. However, the growing popularity of fish in countries with developed or rapidly developing economies creates a demand that cannot be met by fish stocks in their own waters (for example, the EU, the USA, China and Japan). These markets are increasingly supplied by fish imported from developing countries, or caught in the waters of developing countries by various distant-water fleets3, 4, 5, with the consequences that:
- Foreign and/or export-oriented domestic industrial fleets are increasingly fishing in the waters of developing countries5, 6,
- Industrially caught fish has become a globalized commodity that is mostly traded between continents rather than consumed in the countries where it was caught7, and
- The small-scale fisheries that traditionally supplied seafood to coastal rural communities and the interior of developing countries (notably in Africa)8 are forced to compete with the export-oriented industrial fleets without much support from their governments.