Around 90% of the world’s stocks are now fully or overfished and production is set to increase further by 2025, according to report from UN’s food body.
Overexploitation of the planet’s fish has more than tripled since the 1970s, with 40% of popular species like tuna now being caught unsustainably. Manuel Barange, the UN FAO’s fisheries director, told the Guardian that overfishing rates of around 60% in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions were “particularly worrying”.
He said: “There is an absolute limit to what we can extract from the sea and it is possibly very close to current production levels, which have stabilised over last few years. They have grown a little in recent years but we don’t expect much more growth because of the rampant increase in aquaculture production.”
Aquaculture is now forecast to overtake wild-caught fish as the source of most fish consumption in 2021, for the first time. Some campaign groups fear that aquaculture may introduce invasive species, diseases and parasites. The potential for chemical pollution and use of transgenic species are also causes for concern, as are the impacts on wild fisheries and natural habitats. Shrimp farming is thought to have led to the destruction of 3 million hectares of coastal wetlands, including many mangrove forests.
Lasse Gustavssin, the director of Oceana, a marine conservation body, said that sustainable fisheries management should be prioritised instead.
“We now have a fifth more of global fish stocks at worrying levels than we did in 2000,” he said. “The global environmental impact of overfishing is incalculable and the knock-on impact for coastal economies is simply too great for this to be swept under the rug any more.”
Of the world’s top 30 fish consuming nations, 22 were in the UN’s “low income, food deficit” category. Twelve percent of the world’s population now relies directly or indirectly on the fisheries industry.