Fishermen and FAO tell a different story to the Living Blue Planet report. Image supplied by Seafish: Fishermen and FAO tell a different story to the Living Blue Planet report. Image supplied by Seafish:
Industry Database

Menakhem Ben-Yami looks at difference between the recent Living Blue Planet Report and what the science and fishermen are saying.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a giant environmental NGO, has joined forces with the Zoological Society of London(ZSL)to produce the Living Blue Planet Report1 on the global status of marine mammals, birds, reptiles and fish.

These findings and alarming statistics’ are based on the Living Planet Index2, a database maintained and analysed by researchers at ZSL.

According to WWF's Living Blue Planet Report - a decline of 49% in the size of marine populations occurred between 1970 and 2012. This is "disastrous for ecosystems", and spells "trouble for all nations, especially people in the developing world who depend heavily on the ocean’s resources".

SAMUDRA News Alert reported that according to WWF, "fisheries worldwide on the brink of collapse". Many species essential to commercial and subsistence fishing and the "global food supply (are) depleted" due to overfishing - a major threat to ocean biodiversity. Scombrid population worldwide (tunas, mackerels and bonitos) has been reduced by 75%!

WWF should be complemented for its exquisite glossy report, its graphics, photos, and graphs. It is also accompanied by a reminder that contributions are welcome, and that 92% of all money given to WWF goes directly to delivering conservation results. So it says…

Interestingly enough, WWF reports that according to FAO (2014) 29% of global fish stocks are over exploited, while a further 61% are fully exploited, with no ability to produce greater harvests. It all looks really pretty bad, indeed, and one must ask are we really, as claimed, on the "brink of collapse" with the "global food supply depleted"?

FAO report
So, having read the bad news, I was curious what the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had to say about the same subject and went straight to the horse's mouth - the latest official FAO report. Holy Mackerel, they seem to be saying exactly the opposite! Some extracts:

"Global capture fishery production of 93.7 million mt was in 2011 the second highest ever (93.8 million mt in 1996), and, without the Peruvian anchoveta, 2012 showed record 86.6 million mt,  with 18 countries (11 in Asia) caught over 1,000,000 mt/ year, and over 76% of world's total. Catches in the NW and W Central Pacific are highest and still-growing. In the NE Pacific, the total catch was stable since 2003. The Indian Ocean catches have continued growing, and tuna catches have recovered. Only in some areas of the N. Atlantic areas and in the Mediterranean and Black Seas 2011 and 2012 yields were shrinking, but recovering in the SW and SE Atlantic".

"A new record of more than 7 million mt of tuna and tuna-like species was set in 2012 (hear, hear!). Cartilaginous fishes yields were stable about 760,000 mt since 2005. In 2012. Wild shrimp showed a record 3.4 million mt, and cephalopods over 4 million mt".

I turned to my various fishing sources for unofficial information. Fishing sources are always complaining so, I thought, they'll probably side with WWF/ZSL.

An Icelandic fishing scientist wrote to me that fishermen's and his opinion is that the sea is "loaded with fish of all species" all around the country. Even the cod stock is on the increase, though affected in last 5-6 years by the expanding mackerel and also herring.

Mackerel fisheries in the Icelandic Zone increased from almost zero catch in 2006 to 156,802mt in 2011. Insufficient quotas and overgrazing is one theory.

News from Scotland is even better. According to a Shetland industry leader on the state of fish, "both pelagic and white fish are in much better shape than before. So much so that North Sea cod may soon be able to enter the MSC process"…"who could have believed that even 10 years ago"…"No downward trend in catches. The mackerel is doing very well, with Western mackerel probably at record stock levels; it has moved north and is caught by the Faroese, Icelanders and Greenlanders, which was unknown only a few years ago". 

While, in the Faroes, groundfish catch had been much below ‘normal’, 2014 and 2015 showed an increase in cod fishing. The mackerel fishing is, for the second year, very good - yields increased six-fold over two years to 150,000mt in 2011, and there are now three mackerel processing factories. Fish recruitment was also quite good for the late summer, hence after 10 years scarcity, puffin juveniles survived.

In Australia, Bob McDonald wrote in an article3 in the Tasmanian Times that agenda-driven quota system caused the shrinking of the small-scale coastal fishery in favour to large scale owners, and thus there's no correlation between the real state of coastal stocks and regulation-depressed yields.

In the USA, NOAA reported satisfaction of the state of stocks, including those of its Pacific islands. The debate there is between environmentalists who believe the only way to preserve fish stocks is to shut down fishing, versus scientists like Professor Ray Hilborn, whose position is that scientific management saves fisheries, and that where the right controls are in place, stocks recover and maintain themselves.

Right controls – yes, but according to Time and a Connecticut newspaper of 21 September 2015, due to outdated federal regulations, many millions of pounds of edible and valuable fish are being thrown overboard from commercial fishing boats when fishermen catch the ‘wrong’ species,. The problem is that catch quotas for some species created decades ago now became irrelevant. For example, summer flounder quotas set in 1990 and based on 1980s data are still in force, while the stock has shifted northward.

So it’s as if the WWF and its super-green cronies on one hand and the FAO/UN reporting and the whole real-life fishing world on the other, exist on two different planets…

FAO figures on fisheries production (million mt) 

Capture Inland
Capture Marine
Total capture



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