In this section

The World Fisheries

"In 2000, the FAO stated that 72% of the world's marine fish resources are either fully exploited or in decline. This state of overexploitation has led to practices in cascade fishing, where smaller, immature individuals or different stocks of lesser value and quality replace the former stocks that existed in higher trophic levels. Thus, leading to the current declining trend in fish harvest from high-value demersal fish to lower-value pelagic fish" (Duke). According to statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which manages U.S. fisheries, the tonnage of fish caught in American fisheries from 1950 to 2006 has nearly doubled to more than 4.3 million tons per year, with a peak in 1997 at nearly 4.8 million tons (NOAA, 2007), yet because of this increase in production, the fish stocks have decreased by 90% since 1950 (Big-Fish, 2003). "Only 10 percent of all large fish - both open ocean species including tuna, swordfish, marlin and the large groundfish such as cod, halibut, skates and flounder - are left in the sea" (Big-Fish, 2003). The fisheries are as susceptible to collapse as the ecosystems upon which they depend.

Fish Consumption

One of the largest problems the oceans face today is the increasing demand for fish products. As stocks are continuously fished beyond sustainable levels and demand increases, fish populations worldwide face the possibility of collapse.

"Global consumption of fish has doubled since 1973, and the developing world has been responsible for nearly all of this growth. Countries with rapid population growth, rapid income growth, and urbanization tend to have the greatest increases in consumption of animal products, including fish products, and the developing world has experienced all three trends. China, where income growth and urbanization have been major factors, dominates consumption of fish products. It accounted for about 36 percent of global consumption in 1997, compared with only 11 percent in 1973. India and Southeast Asia together accounted for another 17 percent in 1997, with total consumption doubling since 1973. Although total fish consumption declined somewhat in developed countries, this decline was dwarfed by increase in the developing world" (Ahmed et al., 2003). Without curbing the demand, it is these developing nations that will feel the full force of ecosystem failure.

Image from: ICES Stock Summary Database.

This graph clearly depicts the general decline in cod stocks over the last 50 years. In some cases, the drop represents more than half the initial overall biomass.

Sport Fishing

Sport fishing presents a much larger problem for the world's fisheries than most people realize. It is true that recreational fishing accounts for only 4% of the total fish landed in the United States, but when large industrial fisheries, such as menhaden and pollock, are excluded, that figure rises to 10% (Coleman, Figueira, Ueland, Crowder, 2004). In certain regions, the numbers are even more frightening; recreational fishermen catch 38% of all fish landed in the South Atlantic, and a full 64% in the Gulf of Mexico (Coleman et al. 2004). These figures do not even include all of the fish thrown overboard dead by fishermen due to current sport fishing regulations, such as bag and size limits (Coleman, et al. 2004). Additionally, recreational fishing typically affects only top-level predators, such as marlin, red drum, and red snapper, as opposed to commercial fishing which affects lower-level fish as well. This causes "cascading trophic effects" that can drastically alter marine systems, affecting millions of other fish and humans as well. To make matters worse, sport and recreational fishing are actually growing: 9% in the past five years (NOAA, 2006). Clearly, this is an area the world can no longer ignore.

"Flag Hopping" and Fishing Under Flags of Convenience

Major problems facing the enforcement of international fishing regulations are "flag hopping" and fishing under flags of convenience. These phenomena are direct results of many countries opening their ship registries to fishing companies of other nationalities. Countries can make money from the registry of foreign ships, so the practice of open registry has become very popular in poorer countries such as Panama and Bolivia. All of this sounds fine, when the country allowing open registry follows international protocol. However, the reason flag hopping is so detrimental to international fishing regulations is that many countries where open registry is popular do not abide by international fishing laws and are not parties to relevant international treaties. This means that fishing companies that register under the flags of these countries no longer have to abide by these laws either. They can go into marine reserves and fish, they can fish as much as they want to with no fear of repercussion, and if the country of registry decides that it wishes to comply with international regulations then the fishing company can simply switch flags in order to continue fishing outside of regulations, hence the term "flag hopping". Boats can switch flags without ever docking in the port of the country that they wish to switch to. This phenomenon creates a tremendous loophole in the enforcement of international fishing regulations and limits the effects of fishing regulations (Desombre, 2005).

World Fish Production

Year Fish Caught (million tons) Aquaculture (million tons) Total (million tons) Fishing to Aquaculture Ratio
1950 18.7 .6 19.3 31.17
1960 33.8 1.7 35.5 19.88
1970 62.7 2.6 65.2 24.12
1980 67.2 4.7 71.9 14.3
1990 84.8 13.1 97.9 6.47
2000 95.5 35.5 131.0 2.69
2001 92.8 37.8 130.6 2.46
2002 93.0 40.0 133.0 2.33
2003 90.2 42.3 132.5 2.13

Current Catch

Figures 1 and 2 indicate that the overall amount of fish being sold on the world market is increasing every year. The amount of fish pulled from our oceans is beginning to level off while the amount of fish provided by aquaculture is increasing, but the oceans still cannot support the amount of fishing humanity is doing. This means that the amount of fish being pulled from the ocean currently (wild catch) must decrease for ecosystems to stabilize.

Currently, there about 132.5 millions tons of fish is produced annually worldwide. Of that, 42.3 million tons, or nearly one third of the total, was produced by aquaculture.



Figure 4 shows that rate of growth of per-capita fish production has slowed over the past thirty years. The amount of fish per person has gone up, but the amount of that provide by capture fisheries has remained constant over the years. The amount of fish per person has grown because of the increased supply of fish provided by aquaculture. Because the population is still increasing, the world's demand for fish is increasing. If the amount of fish pulled from the ocean remains constant, as it has over the last 20 or so years, the amount of fish per person will begin to drop, which will cause people to starve, economies to collapse, and our fish stocks to become depleted.



China is a major fish producer but it is also a major consumer. Over the last few years, China has been placing increasing emphasis on aquaculture, which has caused the amount of fish it produces to increase overall while the wild catch has leveled off.

All facts and figures from this section come from the supplied tables.