Why we’ve been hugely underestimating the overfishing of the oceans

Jan 19, 2016

Photo credit: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

By Chelsea Harvey

The state of the world’s fish stocks may be in worse shape than official reports indicate, according to new data — a possibility with worrying consequences for both international food security and marine ecosystems.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications suggests that the national data many countries have submitted to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has not always accurately reflected the amount of fish actually caught over the past six decades. And the paper indicates that global fishing practices may have been even less sustainable over the past few decades than scientists previously thought.

The FAO’s official data report that global marine fisheries catches peaked in 1996 at 86 million metric tons and have since slightly declined. But a collaborative effort from more than 50 institutions around the world has produced data that tell a different story altogether. The new data suggest that global catches actually peaked at 130 metric tons in 1996 and have declined sharply — on average, by about 1.2 million metric tons every year — ever since.


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12 comments on “Why we’ve been hugely underestimating the overfishing of the oceans

  • This kind of sniping at religion is no better than the idiots who, for instance, blame a tsunami on “immoral” beach parties. Or floods on allowing homosexuals to marry each other.

    More to the point, this is not a natural disaster, it really is caused by bad – at best, shortsighted – human behaviour, and if you want to bring religion into it, where are the religious leaders who should be teaching their followers how to manage the earth’s resources, in this case the fisheries. The new pope seems a bit better than most, but that might be damning by faint praise.

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  • @OP – The new data suggest that global catches actually peaked at 130 metric tons in 1996 and have declined sharply — on average, by about 1.2 million metric tons every year — ever since.

    The stupidity of over-fishing and illegal exceeding of quotas, is that if conservation areas and stocks are properly managed, the production is sustainable and higher.

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  • This problem has one cause. Overpopulation. Everything else is the result of that.
    Look to god or any body you want, including any involved in any of the many resurrections.
    We’re now done like lemmings at a cliff. with the biosphere changing at an exponential rate
    I’d give humanity 15-20 years to die out. I’ll go much sooner; I’m hypersensitive to heat. We all are. Proteins start to melt at 113F Bye!

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  • Our entire economic system in its current form is, in my opinion, unsustainable in the long term because it relies on methods of energy generation which are inefficient, wasteful and polluting and predicated on the concept of exponential and infinite growth. Unless we as a planet can find some way to first mitigate, then reverse, the incredibly harmful practices that the current model of consumer-based industrial society demands of mother Earth then we, as a species, may not be able to sustain ourselves for much longer, at least not at the level we’ve come to expect.

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  • Ken has it right…

    This problem has one cause. Overpopulation. Everything else is the
    result of that.

    Everyone…. and I mean everyone completely ignore this basic problem. Candidates for the office of president, news commentators, governors, congressmen, mayors, and EVERYONE simply ignore the world wide problem of overpopulation. It is a world wide epidemic: a mental disorder. More sooner than later we will all realize the reality of this problem, and possibly by that time it will be too late to prevent a world wide disaster. It is morbidly fascinating to see that few people on this blog site refer to this basic problem.

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  • It’s really tempting to believe that our biggest problem is overpopulation. So many famous concepts push us to think this way. Tragedy of the commons, lack of understanding of exponential growth, peak resources, historical population collapses, basic biology….

    I used to “believe” it. I mean that if anyone had asked me what the biggest problem for humanity was I would have asserted with full conviction that it was overpopulation.

    I no longer have such strong beliefs.

    Julian Simon woke me up to the understanding that nothing is ever so simple to understand.

    Put one way, even if we just look at the solar system, the amount of resources available to us is pretty much infinite. We just don’t know how yet.

    The race is on to see if we can expand beyond earth before we are annihilated through war or pollution or asteroid or whatever.

    The problem is that sometimes there seems to be no alternative to our current problems but treating it like a zero-sum population pressure issue.

    That’s a worry.

    pop

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  • Peak Oil Poet
    Feb 6, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    Put one way, even if we just look at the solar system, the amount of resources available to us is pretty much infinite. We just don’t know how yet.

    The accessible extraterrestrial resources are far from infinite, and profligate consumption of them will rapidly become self defeating.

    The race is on to see if we can expand beyond earth before we are annihilated through war or pollution or asteroid or whatever.

    There is also no way that any human colonisation of space will substitute for managing a stable population and ecological balance, on Earth.
    It is very unlikely that numbers of colonists in space will make any significant reduction in population numbers on Earth.

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  • such was my way of thinking until about 15 years ago

    many economists think you’re wrong

    me? I have no idea but i know that asserting anything as truth is a fools game

    (and who says it’s about reducing numbers on earth by colonizing space? – this is very constrained thinking based on a belief – and belief is at the core of things isn’t it)

    pop

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  • Peak Oil Poet
    Feb 6, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    such was my way of thinking until about 15 years ago

    Any views on space technologies from 15 years ago are 15 years out of date.

    many economists think you’re wrong

    What would economists know about space technologies and planned missions? – Or about balanced sustainable ecosystems?

    me? I have no idea but i know that asserting anything as truth is a fools game

    Science is about making testable predictions based on evidence. A fool’s game is casting doubts on evidence, based on a lack of understanding.

    (and who says it’s about reducing numbers on earth by colonizing space?

    Nobody who has any understanding of transport requirements or population management!

    – this is very constrained thinking based on a belief – and belief is at the core of things isn’t it)

    I’m not sure what you are on about here, apart from expressing wild speculations on matter of which you show little understanding!

    I quite often deal with space concepts which are somewhat speculative, but deal with them on available evidence – not some sort of “picked out of the air beliefs”.

    If I say that ice available in the polar craters of the Moon, is a limited resource, it is because I have looked at the data and the proposed missions!

    If you want to see me debunk a half-baked article, look at this discussion!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/07/nasa-is-seriously-considering-terraforming-part-of-the-moon-with-robots/

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  • here’s the thing, if one is wise one recognizes when ones’s knowledge is limited

    basing everything you believe on the limited set of things you know is called ignorance (or at best, gambling)

    you believe that your understanding of science trumps anything that an economist might have to say about things

    lots of people have made that mistake – some famously

    pop

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