Global Fisheries Depleting Much Faster Than Official Figures Show -- Study

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • Jan, 20, 2016, 08:42 PM
Tags : science
(Photo : Getty Images/Jeff J Mitchell) A new study suggests that the amount of fish captured from the world's oceans over the past 60 years has been vastly underestimated - by more than 50%.

A new study suggests that the amount of fish captured from the world's oceans over the past 60 years has been vastly underestimated - by more than 50%.

According to the researchers, official estimates do not include important data relating to small fishing operations, illegal catches and by-catch that is thrown out, writes BBC News.

The researchers believe that global fishing catches are in the midst of a rapid decline because fishing stocks have been exhausted.

However, the some researchers have questioned how reliable the new study is.

According to official figures from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), catches have increased steadily since 1950. This number reached 86 million tonnes in 1996, but has seen a slight decline since, with fish caught amount to 77 million tonnes in 2010.

The researchers from the University of British Columbia dispute these figures - arguing that they have underreported the true numbers of fishing.

The authors of the study argue that the FAO figures are collected from "industrial" fishing activities and do not include small scale commercial fisheries, subsistence fisheries, by-catch and illegal fishing estimates.

In order to gauge a more accurate figure, the researchers created a "catch reconstruction" method to calculate the global impact of fishing.

Using this method, which included estimates and data on the under-reported activities, they found that fishing activities took 53% more fish from the ocean than indicated by the official figures.

They argue that around 32 million tonnes of fish go unreported every year - more than the weight of the entire US population.

"The catches are all underestimated," lead author Prof Daniel Pauly told BBC News"The FAO doesn't have a mandate to correct the data that they get - and the countries have the bad habit of reporting only what they see - if they don't have people who report on a given fishery then nothing is reported. The result of this is a systematic underestimation of the catch and this can be very high, 200-300% especially in small island states, in the developed world it can be 20-30%."

The authors say it is not just about the numbers of fish taken from the seas, the study also shows that the decline in fishing numbers since the mid 1990s is also greater than indicated by official figures.

This is not because less fishing is going on, but rather that less fish are being caught due to exploitation of fishing stocks.

"It was never really sustainable," Prof Pauly told BBC News. "We went through one stock after the other, for example around the British Isles, the stocks in the North Sea were diminished right after the Second World War."

"And then British trawlers went to Iceland and did the same thing there, and so on and so did the Germans, the Americans, so did the Soviets," he added. "They had to expand to survive and now the fisheries are in Antarctica."

However, Professor Trevor Branch from the University of Washington said the study raises another important question - how much fish is left in the world's oceans.

"Catches only tell us what we take out, not what the status of the remaining fish is," he told BBC News. "So it's like trying to measure deforestation from counts of trucks of lumber driving away from forests."

A World Wildlife Fund study found published last year found that many of the world's fish populations were on the "brink of collapse", highlighting tuna and other fish species that have declined by more than half since just 1970.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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