The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization has been collecting reports for decades on how many fish are caught in the oceans annually. However, those numbers don’t take into account small-scale fishing, recreational fishing, illegal fishing or the bycatch that’s discarded before boats return to harbors. A study published in Nature Communications increases the actual total world catch from 1950 to 2010 by 50 percent.
Daniel Pauly, author of the University of British Columbia study, states, “The world is withdrawing from a joint bank account of fish without knowing what has been withdrawn or the remaining balance. Better estimates for the amount we’re taking out can help ensure there’s enough fish to sustain us in the future.” Based on official counts, global catches peaked in 1996 and have declined modestly each year. The decline isn’t due to less fishing or restrictions on certain fish, though. “It’s due to the countries fishing too much and having exhausted one fish after the other,” says Pauly.
The findings also emphasize the value of fisheries to low-income people in developing countries. The next steps will require well-informed action to preserve this critical resource for people and for the planet.