The project built on a decade-long international collaboration to assemble estimates of the status of fish stocks, or distinct populations of fish, around the world.
“There is a narrative that fish stocks are declining around the world, that fisheries management is failing and we need new solutions – and it’s totally wrong,” said Ray Hilborn, the lead author of the study and a professor at the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.
“Fish stocks are not all declining around the world. They are increasing in many places, and we already know how to solve problems through effective fisheries management.”
The aim of the project was to keep scientists and fisheries managers informed on where overfishing is happening, or where some areas could support even more fishing.
Results of the study were published on Jan. 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The team’s database now includes information on nearly half of the world’s fish harvest, up from approximately 20 percent compiled in the last effort in 2009.
“The key is, we want to know how well we are doing, where we need to improve, and what the problems are,” Hilburn said. “Given that most countries are trying to provide long-term sustainable yield of their fisheries, we want to know where we are overfishing, and where there is potential for more yield in places we’re not fully exploiting.”
The team has spent the past decade working with collaborators worldwide, inputting data on some 880 fish populations from the Mediterranean, Peru, Chile, Russia and Japan to northwest Africa.
They acknowledge they do not have scientific estimates of the health and status of most fish stocks in South Asia and southeast Asia. Fisheries in India, Indonesia and China alone represent 30 to 40 percent of the worldwide fish catch and they are essentially unassessed.
Co-author Ana Parma, a principal scientist at Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council, said there are still big gaps in the data that are more difficult to fill.
“This is because the available information on smaller fisheries is more scattered, has not been standardized and is harder to collate, or because fisheries in many regions are not regularly monitored,” she said.
Pairing information about fish stocks with recently published data on fisheries management activities in about 30 countries, the analysis concluded that more intense management led to healthy or improved fish stocks, while little to no management resulted in overfishing or poor stock status.
Fisheries management should be tailored to fit characteristic of different fisheries and the needs of specific countries and regions for it to be successful, study authors said. “Approaches that have been effective in many large-scale industrial fisheries in developed countries can’t be expected to work for small-scale fisheries, especially in regions with limited economic and technical resources and weak governance systems,” Parma said.