Global Trends in World Fisheries: Impacts on Marine Ecosystems and Food Security

D. Pauly, R. Watson, J. Alder, (2005). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 360, 5-12.

This contribution, which reviews broad trends in the history of fisheries, argues that sustainability, however defined, rarely if ever occurred as a result of an explicit policy, but as result of our inability to access a major part of exploited stocks. With the development of industrial fishing, and the resulting invasion of the refuges previously provided by distance and depth, our interactions with fisheries resources have come to resemble the wars of extermination that newly arrived hunters conducted 40- 50,00 years ago in Australia, and 11-12,000 years ago against large terrestrial mammals. These broad trends are documented here through maps of change in trophic levels and fish sizes, which displays characteristic declines, first in the nearshore waters of industrialized countries of the Northern Hemisphere, then spread offshore and to the Southern Hemisphere. This geographical extension met its natural limit in the late 1980s, when the catches from newly accessed stocks ceased to compensate for the collapsed in areas accessed earlier, hence leading to a gradual decline of global landing. These trends affect developing countries stronger than the developed world, which have been able to meet the shortfall by increasing imports from developing countries. These trends, however, along with the rapid growth of farming of carnivorous fish, which consumes other fish suited for human consumption, has led to serious food security issue. This gives urgency to the implementation of the remedies traditionally proposed to alleviate overfishing (reduction of overcapacity, enforcement of conservative TACs, etc.), and to the implementation of non-conventional approaches, notably the re-establishment of the refuges (a.k.a. marine reserve), which made possible the apparent sustainability of pre-industrial fisheries.