State of our Oceans
Fish comprise the world’s largest wild food harvest and provide a vital source of protein as well as livelihoods for many families. Globally, more than 120 million people are dependent on fish for all or part of their incomes, particularly in developing countries. Animals such as whales, dolphins and seabirds also rely on fish for their food. Fish are a vital part of marine ecosystems and are key to the essential services that these systems provide (e.g., global nutrient cycling).
It is troubling that over the last century commercial fisheries have drastically reduced fish populations and altered the world’s marine ecosystems. On a global level, most fisheries are poorly managed and fish stocks have been fully exploited (52 per cent), over-exploited (16 per cent), or depleted (7 per cent). The world’s capture fisheries peaked in the late 1980s and, despite increased fishing efforts, catch rates have dropped. More hours on the water for fishermen have yielded fewer and fewer fish.
Put simply, what we take out of the ocean as seafood or bycatch is greater than what the ocean can sustainably provide. We are not only facing a decline in the capacity of our oceans to provide a sustainable food source but we are destroying the basic ecological processes and food chains that we and marine life depend on.
While the overall catch from the world’s oceans appears to be maintained at a high level, this does not mean that catches are sustainable. High levels of catch have been maintained as commercial fleets move to new, previously unexploited species or areas, once their original target stock is depleted. This “sequential depletion” of marine organisms has been masked until recently by improved technology, expansion to different or deeper parts of the ocean, and over-reporting of fish catches for political reasons by some national fisheries organizations. All the while, previously undesirable species, often lower on food chains, are marketed to consumers.