A new study released in Nature Communications says that 30 per cent of the fish being caught worldwide is not reported.
The study found the annual global catch to be roughly 109 million metric tons, about 30 per cent higher than the 77 million officially reported in 2010 by more than 200 countries and territories.
This means that 32 million metric tons of fish goes unreported every year, more than the weight of the entire population of the United States.
“We know the catches, or we thought we did, by countries reporting to [the Food and Agriculture Organization] what they catch. Every year they report to [them],” said Daniel Pauly, a UBC professor with the UBC Fisheries Centre and lead author of the study.
But their findings indicate flaws in how the data is collected. Pauly and his team say most countries focus their data collection on industrial fishing, which overlooks artisanal, subsistence and illegal fishing, as well as discarded fish, which can be difficult to track.
He also pointed out that underreported locations don’t intend to cover-up catches that aren’t being reported.
“It’s simply that they don’t have the qualified personnel to report on that,” he said.
“Data are integral to maintaining global fisheries,” said Raechel Waters, senior program officer for ocean health for Vulcan Inc., which supported the study.
“Without an accurate understanding of fish catch, we risk underreporting or misreporting, which can handicap countries in their efforts to implement effective fisheries policy and management measures…this is particularly important for countries that do not have the resources to conduct comprehensive fishery assessments.”
Underreported locations include the South Pacific – where women conduct the fisheries – and in locations like Australia, Bahamas, South Africa and Florida where sports and recreational fishing are common. Discarded bycatch is also not included in data collection and Pauly estimates that adds up to about 10 million tonnes a year.
Pauly believes the solution is to simply back off fishing.
“If we let go a little bit and allow the stock to rebuild, we would get almost the same catch but on a sustained basis,” he said, adding that the North Sea herring is an example of a species that successfully rebuilt its stock after it was wiped out in Norway in the 1960’s.
“Why do we think fisheries have to be maintained at any cost including at the cost of destroying the marine ecosystem?” asks Pauly.
“We have to fish less.”