Global Fishing Effort (1950–2010): Trends, Gaps, and Implications

J. Anticamara, R. Watson, A. Gelchu, D. Pauly, (2011). Fisheries Research 107, 131-136.

According to a recent World Bank report, the intensification of global fishing effort and the ensuing depletion of marine fish stocks causes economic losses of 50 billion US dollars annually. Data deficiencies, however, currently hamper analysis of global fishing effort. We analyzed data from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the EUROPA fishing fleet registry, and peer-reviewed and other publications, to determine the global trends in fishing effort from 1950 to 2006. Our results show that global fishing effort, expressed as total engine power and the number of fishing days in a year (kilowatt · days), was roughly constant from 1950 to 1970, and then steadily increased up to the present. Europe dominated global fishing effort, followed by Asia. Projecting current trends suggests that Asia will soon surpass Europe. Trawlers contribute a major fraction of global fishing effort, as do vessels greater than 100 gross registered tons. Current estimates of global fishing effort, the number of vessels, and total vessel tonnage are, however, underestimates given the data gaps that we have identified. Our results are useful in the following ways: (1) they encourage researchers in academia and government to improve global fishing effort databases, (2) they allow deeper global analyses of the impact of fishing on marine ecosystems, (3) they induce caution in accepting current underestimates of economic losses of global fisheries, and (4) they reinforce calls for a reduction in global fishing effort.