Fisheries in 2048

In 2006, a paper made a projection that all fisheries would be collapsed by the year 2048. The projection was refuted by dozens of follow up papers, and the original authors have moved passed it. However, the apocalyptic sentiment and easy-to-remember year has helped the story live on in the mainstream media.

To clear up any confusion: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) estimates that 66% of fisheries are sustainable contributing 78.7% of consumed seafood. The 2048 projection is not scientifically accepted and should stop being cited.

Below, we go into more detail to explain the history and refutation of the 2048 projection.

To get to the original projection, the paper used time trends in catch data then extrapolated them. It argued that if trends continued, all fish stocks will be collapsed by 2048. The figure below (from the original paper) shows the proportion of fish stocks classified as collapsed plotted against year.


If you continue sloping the line down, it reaches zero at 2048; however, at the time, many places in the world were managing their fisheries sustainably and stocks were not declining. In much of the world fishing pressure had been reduced, and there were no indications to suggest further declines. Indeed, over a decade later, the proportion of overexploited stocks has remained about the same (34% according to FAO).

It is also important to note that the original paper covered a broad range of topics; the 2048 projection was a very small part. However, the authors’ press release stressed the “all fish gone by 2048” projection and that led the mainstream media coverage.

Criticism of the paper was rapid as the basic assertion was that no fish stocks were sustainably managed. In response, several of the authors of the original paper worked with a number of fishery scientists that had criticized them to take a closer look at the abundance trends in fish stocks. This analysis was published in 2009 and showed that, on average, stocks were not on a path to total collapse and were stable over the previous 20 years.

In 2020, the data was updated again and showed that fish populations around the world are generally healthy or increasing in abundance.


Learn more about Sustainable Seafood below. 

Seafood in a Global Context

Commercial Fishing

People & Fish