News / Asia

    Study: Global Fish Catch Drastically Underreported

    Workers on board a ship sort out fish at a Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, Jan.13, 2016. The number of fish caught globally is drastically underreported by about 30 percent according to a study by the Sea Around Us.
    Workers on board a ship sort out fish at a Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, Jan.13, 2016. The number of fish caught globally is drastically underreported by about 30 percent according to a study by the Sea Around Us.

    The number of fish caught globally is drastically underreported by about 30 percent – an error that has significant ramifications for the environment and maritime nations, according to a long-term study released Tuesday.

    The new estimate, in Nature Communications, puts the annual global catch at roughly 109 million metric tons – 32 million higher than what countries have been reporting annually, obscuring an “ominous decline” in seafood resources.

    Countries report to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) their industrial catches, but not those by artisanal, recreational and subsistence fishers.

    Big Catch in Decline (Pew Charitable Trusts)
    Big Catch in Decline (Pew Charitable Trusts)

    But even the available commercial data is misleading.

    “For example, shrimp trawlers retain only the shrimp and the fish that they catch – often eight to ten times the shrimp – gets thrown away,” said University of British Columbia (UBC-Canada) fisheries professor Daniel Pauly, a lead author of the study and principal investigator of the Sea Around Us.

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    “The catches that are submitted by member countries to FAO suggest a slowly-declining catch or even a stagnating catch. But our figures suggest that since 1996 a rapid decrease is happening,” Pauly explained to VOA. “And if you project this forward you end up in a few decades having much less catch, literally no catch. So that is potentially dangerous.”

    Researchers say inaccurate data also handicaps implementation of effective fisheries policy and management measures.

    The study, involving 400 researchers around the world, led by the Sea Around Us, research initiative at UBC, also revealed some surprises.

    “In West Africa the figure that was most astonishing is the enormous role of foreign fishing – of European and Asian vessels fishing legally or illegally – and competing against local fishers,” said Pauly. “On the other hand for the U.S., Australia and some developing countries, such as the Bahamas, what was apparent is the enormous contribution of recreational fisheries which also never get reported to the FAO.”

    "This groundbreaking study confirms that we are taking far more fish from our oceans than the official data suggest," said Joshua Reichert, executive vice president and head of environment initiatives for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

    Pew began supporting the UBC study in 1994 and Vulcan Inc. jointed the collaboration with the Sea Around Us in 2014 to provide African and Asian countries with more accurate fisheries data.

    Data from the study broken down by species, regions and countries is being made available online at: ​http://www.seaaroundus.org/.


    Steve Herman

    Steve Herman is VOA's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based at the State Department.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Tom W from: CA
    January 19, 2016 7:43 PM
    Next time someone tries to tell you, "we don't need to worry about human overpopulation". Smack them with a mackerel! Declining fisheries are a symptom of overpopulation pure and simple.

    by: isolate from: Oregon
    January 19, 2016 7:18 PM
    Greed has wiped out fishing resources that were thought to be inexhaustible. The fishing industry has no scruples: when the fish are gone, it's somebody else's problem. Reminds me of the coal industry in West Virginia: when the coal was gone the owners simply walked away, leaving the clean-up to the taxpayers.

    The irony here is that 70% of the world's yearly catch is wasted, according to The Economist. Simple improvements in catching and processing might extend the industry's life by improving efficiencies, but that would cut into the profits, so it's a non-starter.

    by: Chris C from: USA
    January 19, 2016 3:52 PM
    The article should be read with a great deal of alarm. Once a fishery is destroyed (e.g., the Newfoundland fisheries) they never recover in foreseeable time periods. About 3.4 BILLION people depend on fish as a primary source of protein. What will these people do when there are no more fish or it is so expensive that only the wealthy can eat it? We could easily see wars over fishing rights and practices.

    by: Fred
    January 19, 2016 1:52 PM
    Yes. Because there is no end to the fish in the ocean, until there is an end to the fish in the ocean - Anonymous fisherman

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