There’s no room on the planet to expand fisheries any further, according to a new study that tracks their growth since 1950.
University of British Columbia researchers say that fisheries expanded at a rate of one million square kilometres per year between 1950 and the end of the 1970s. The rate of expansion more than tripled in the 1980s and early 1990s – to roughly the size of Brazil’s Amazon rain forest every year.
Between 1950 and 2005, total catch increased by nearly five times, from 19 million tonnes to a peak of 90 million tonnes in the late 1980s.
“For decades now, numerous fisheries are corporate operations that take a mostly no-fish-left-behind approach to our oceans until there’s nowhere left to go,” says Daniel Pauly, co-author and principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project at UBC Fisheries Centre.
The total dropped to 87 million tonnes in 2005, according to the study – but not for any worthy reason.
“The decline of spatial expansion since the mid-1990s is not a reflection of successful conservation efforts but rather an indication that we’ve simply run out of room to expand fisheries,” says Wilf Swartz, of the UBC Fisheries Centre.
“If people in Japan, Europe, and North America find themselves wondering how the markets are still filled with seafood, it’s in part because spatial expansion and trade makes up for overfishing and ‘fishing down the food chain’ in local waters.”
In fact, less than 0.1 per cent of the world’s oceans are designated as marine reserves and closed to fishing.
“The era of great expansion has come to an end, and maintaining the current supply of wild fish sustainably is not possible,” says National Geographic Ocean Fellow Enric Sala.
“The sooner we come to grips with it – similar to how society has recognized the effects of climate change – the sooner we can stop the downward spiral by creating stricter fisheries regulations and more marine reserves.”