National Geographic Society Newsroom

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...

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.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of the world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Mark Powell
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.