Global Fisheries Forfeit $50 Billion a Year, UN Report Says


Photo James L. Stanfield/NGS

World fisheries are underperforming to the tune of $50 billion a year, according to a joint report of the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

$2 trillion, about equal to the gross domestic product of Italy, has been forfeited in lost productivity over the past three decades, according to the study “The Sunken Billions: The Economic Justification for Fisheries Reform.”

At the heart of the problem is over-exploitation of fisheries and massive over-investment in the global fishing fleet chasing dwindling stocks — a dying industry propped up by government subsidies.


One outcome of this situation is that, in spite of improved technologies, the global marine catch has been stagnant for over a decade (producing 85 million tons in 2004, about the same quantity as in 1992).

fishery-2.jpgReal landed fish prices have also flat-lined. “The value of the marine capture seafood production at the point of harvest is some 20 percent of the $400 billion global food fish market. The growing market strength of processors and retailers and the growth of aquaculture, which now accounts for some 50 percent of food fish production, have contributed to the downward pressure on producer prices,” the report says.

The World Bank and FAO have solutions.

“With effective economic incentives, rather than being a net drain on the global economy, sustainable fisheries can create an economic surplus, be a driver of economic growth and a basis for livelihood opportunities,” their report says. 

Photo James L. Stanfield/NGS


The institutions recommend these steps:

First, a reduction in fishing effort would increase productivity, profitability, and net economic benefits.

Second, rebuilding fish stocks would lead to increased sustainable yields and lower fishing costs.

fishery-3.jpgAt the same time, strengthened fishing rights can provide fishers and fishing communities with incentives to harvest responsibly and efficiently.

Phasing out subsidies will improve efficiency in many cases.

Greater transparency in allocation of fish resources and greater public accountability for the health of fish stocks will help private initiatives to certify sustainable fisheries.

Photo James L. Stanfield/NGS

The alternative to reform — business as usual– is a continued decline in global fish wealth, harvest operations which become increasingly inefficient, growing poverty in fishery dependent communities, increased risks of fish stock collapses and compromised marine ecosystem.

“Business as usual means increasing political pressure for subsidies; growing public expenditure on fishery management and enforcement; and a sector which, rather than being a net contributor to global wealth, is an increasing drain on society,” says the report.


Photo James L. Stanfield/NGS

Related blog entry:

World Governments Subsidize the Wrong Fisheries, Survey Suggests

Related National Geographic News:

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