How many Fisheries are Overfished?

A population that is at an abundance level that produces maximum sustainable yield is fully-exploited (“fully-fished”), meaning the potential for food has been realized without jeopardizing the future abundance of the fish. This is the goal for nearly every fishery in the world. Currently, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that 60% of world fisheries are fully-fished. Fisheries at low abundance are over-exploited (“overfished”). The latest data show that 33% of fisheries are overfished. Under-exploited (“under-fished”) fisheries, or those where potential catch is not being met, compose the remaining 7%. Under-exploited fisheries are sustainable, but from a food security perspective (and perhaps, a carbon perspective), they are not ideal as they leave nutritious, low-carbon food in the ocean.

However, it is not as simple as 67% of fish eaten are sustainable (fully or under-exploited) while 33% are not, because fisheries vary in size. For example, say a sustainable fishery is taking in 80 tons of fish while an unsustainable fishery takes 20 tons. In this scenario, 80% of consumed fish is sustainable, but only 50% of the fisheries are. Generally, management resources, like regulation and enforcement are concentrated in larger fisheries to ensure that a larger percentage of consumed fish is sustainable. With over 5,000 individual stocks and fisheries to track, it is difficult to come up with a set percentage of consumed fish that is sustainable. A recent estimate showed that about 82% of consumed fish are sustainable while 18% come from unsustainable fisheries.

Also, please don’t do this:

Or this:

Grouping unsustainable and sustainable fish is unbecoming.  

If you want to learn more about the fishery science that goes into determining whether or not a fishery is sustainable, check out this section of Seafood 101.

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Learn more about Sustainable Seafood below.