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.


    “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: ​

    Steve Herman

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

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    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

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora