Changing Planet

Worldwide Overfishing is Worse Than We Thought

Nobody likes bad news, and this is enough to make an ocean lover cry.  A new study found that overfishing is worse than previous studies have suggested.

What changed to reveal this sad conclusion?  New methods allowed scientists to estimate the status of fisheries that were previously “status unknown.” Since these unknown fisheries make up over 80% of the world’s catch, they’re kind of important.

It’s scary that we’ve been managing the worlds fisheries with so little insight.  Imagine driving your car with 80% of the windshield blacked-out.  It’s hardly accurate to say we’ve been “managing” when we don’t really know what’s happening.

There is some reason for optimism.  In a companion study, scientists report that the decline is not universal, the tools needed for reform are well-known, and if we do the right things we can actually catch more fish in the future.  There is a rational path towards a better future.  But it’s expensive, and it requires scientists, managers, and enforcement of regulations.

Even worse, the costs and benefits of reform are not evenly shared.  If we solve our fisheries crisis, there will be winners and there will be losers.  Do we have the political will to make progress?  And can we afford the resources necessary to intensively manage all of the world’s fisheries?

There’s an interesting finding in another study that suggests we may not need intensive management everywhere.  Some African fisheries show promise at successful ecosystem-based management, without intensive data collection and enforcement.  So maybe we can do better at managing fisheries without spending a fortune on scientific management.

Mark Powell is an ocean conservationist who works for WWF International in Switzerland. He has many varied ocean experiences, including diving in a submersible to study hydrothermal vents over a mile below the surface, commercial fishing, swimming the 41 miles around Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, and being a marine sciences professor.
  • elmo


About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media