We’re exhausting the oceans of fish far faster than scientists thought. A new book, Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries, makes the startling claim that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) data on the number of fish caught between 1950 and 2010 was way off by more than half, resulting in “fundamentally misleading” catch data.
Scientists once had only FAO’s data to rely on for the number of fishery catches, according to the book’s description. Intending to paint a clearer image of a dire situation, editors Daniel Pauly and Dirk Keller compiled over 10 years of research in their 520-page tome with information from 273 countries. For example, total catches of fish was thought to peak in 1996 at 86 million tons, but the authors contend that number was in reality 130 million tons.
Why is there a staggering discrepancy between FAO’s data and the book’s data? Well, some countries underreport the numbers of fish caught, even by as much as 500 percent. They often don’t report recreational or subsistence fishing. They also don’t always include fish killed but then tossed back into the ocean – but those discarded fish account for around a quarter of fish caught in the world. Illegal fishing also flies under the radar, but accounts for about one in five fish caught.
Co-author Daniel Pauly told Vice, “The under-reporting is huge. Canada reports zero catch for the Arctic. Zero. The Inuit obviously fish in the sea; it’s not a large quantity, but it shows a lack of real interest for the Arctic. Canada also doesn’t report as ‘caught’ the huge discards that have happened in the fisheries in the East.”
Unfortunately, climate change is only exacerbating the fish issue. Many people in tropical countries, many of which are among the world’s poorest nations, rely on fish for food, but warming ocean temperatures are prompting fish to swim away to the poles.