Humans are emptying the oceans of fish [1] – there may be no edible fish left in the sea by 2050 [2]. If we were to take fewer fish out of the sea each year, then fish populations would be able to increase in size again [3]. By fishing less now, we would have more fish in the future [3,4]. How can we do this?

Governments can set quotas for the number of fish that can be caught each year [5]. This means having fewer fishing boats and fewer people employed in the industry [6], so governments need to provide training in alternative occupations [7].

Unfortunately, this rarely happens for a few reasons, including [8,9]:

1) Tragedy of the commons: if one country fishes less, another country can sail into its waters and take the fish anyway [10]. This means that fishing less only works if everyone does it, which is difficult to coordinate on a global scale [10,11,12]. However, governments can assign certain areas of the ocean to specific fishing boats and strictly enforce quotas [13].

2) Much fishing is done illegally (e.g. illegal catches in West Africa have been ~40% higher than reported catches) [14,15], so even if legal fishing follows government-imposed quotas, the quota will be exceeded by illegal fishing. This can be tackled by using satellites to identify illegal fishing boats [19].

3) ‘Sustainable’ fishing quotas are usually deemed as too high by biologists due to lack of reliable data on fish population sizes and growth rates, and influential lobbying by the fishing industry [9,16].

4) Governments provide huge fishing subsidies to increase yields in the short-term [16]. Without subsidies European fisheries would be bankrupt [16]. Subsidies also cause the collapse of fish stocks, unemployment, and financial loss in the longer term; these ‘perverse’ subsidies need to be removed [17].

So sustainable fishing requires well-informed laws that are strongly enforced [18,19]. You can help by only buying sustainable seafood (such as that labelled by the Marine Stewardship Council) [20].



[2] And see journal reference within article


[4] See: Marine reserves and fishery closures




[8] See: ‘underfished stocks for 7.0 percent of the total assessed stocks’. ‘Maximally sustainably fished’ stocks will not be increasing in number, and due to illegal fishing, these quotas are exceeded.

[9] See: See: Increasing effort is simple, reducing it is painful; Abstract and 2 and 3





[14] See: Illegal fishing



[17] See: paragraph beginning ‘So what are the leading instances of these perverse subsidies?’

[18] See: Introduction, paragraphs 2 and 3



Join our Newsletter!


Climate Science Ltd
Company Nr: 12370672
Registered in England & Wales
Mail: [email protected]


15 Hope Close
United Kingdom

Climate Science is registered as a non-profit company limited by guarantee in England and Wales.

Copyright © 2019-2020 Climate Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Climate Science uses Cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.