93% of global fish stocks are fully or overfished

Article by Isabel Key and Mina Frost.

Although the amount of seafood (fish, shrimps, mussels etc.) produced globally has increased more than 8-fold since 1950, the number of fish caught from the ocean has not increased since the 1990s [1]. The increase in seafood production since then has come entirely from fish farming (also known as aquaculture) [1]. About 47% of global fish production is from aquaculture [1]. Whilst aquaculture means fewer fish are taken out of the sea, it has its own environmental repercussions such as those discussed in our last post on shrimp [2,14].

Fishing techniques and machinery are constantly becoming more sophisticated [3] – so why aren’t we taking any more fish out of the sea? This is due to the size of fish populations decreasing – we are removing fish faster than they can reproduce [4]. Indeed, 60% of monitored wild fish populations are fully exploited (which means that no more fish could be removed per year without causing the population to collapse), whilst 33% are overexploited (fish are being removed faster than they reproduce, so their number is decreasing) [10].

Rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification due to climate change, together with chemical and plastic pollution, make it even harder for fish populations to cope with the pressure of fishing [5,6,7,12,13]. This is bad news for marine animals like dolphins and whales that need to eat fish to survive [11].

The most obvious way to help fish is to eat fewer of them, but this is easier said than done! 3 billion people rely on fish as the main source of protein in their diet [8] and 38 million people are employed in fisheries and aquaculture [9]. We’ll discuss what we can do about this in the next post.

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