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Subject: Fw: NATURE article on fisheries
From: William Silvert <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Scientific forum on fish and fisheries <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 8 Dec 2001 19:38:16 -0000

text/plain (173 lines)

After posting a note about the Watson & Pauly article on world fisheries
catches I received several requests for the text of the article, since
apparently the web site given is unreachable (I couldn't find the article
either). The following version was sent out over another mailing list.

The article has generated a lot of press attention, and since the data were
received and reported by FAO, they have been criticised for accepting the
Chinese reports. I found the following FAO response, reported in The
Economist, amusing: "the new findings are based on modelling, which does not
prove anything." As an ecological modeller I find this says a lot about FAO!


Study in Nature provides startling new evidence of declines in global
fisheries since late '80's
Vast over-reporting by China to United Nations has masked falling

Leading scientists raise serious concerns about world food supply of
fish and management and economic decisions based on flawed data

Contrary to the statistics published by the Food and Agricultural
Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which indicate that the global
fisheries catch is stable, leading fisheries scientists reveal that
catches have actually been declining for over a decade. This new
evidence means that the true state of the oceans is far worse than
anyone has previously realized.

The study published in the November 29th issue of Nature shows that vast
over-reporting by the People's Republic of China combined with the large
and wildly fluctuating catch of a small fish, the Peruvian anchoveta,
have painted a false picture of the health of the oceans by inflating
the catch statistics and implying that "business as usual" is

"The global catch trend is not increasing, it is not even stable, but
rather it has been decreasing steadily since the late 80's," states one
of the study's authors, Dr. Reg Watson. "The bottom line is that the
downward trends in global fisheries catches have been obscured.
Fisheries management and economic decisions are being based on flawed
data," says Dr. Daniel Pauly, the other author.

"These earthshaking findings are the most significant fishery and food
security results in decades," says Dr. Jane Lubchenco, a Distinguished
Professor at Oregon State University and former president of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science. "They call into
question the very basis of international fisheries management."

Presently only a single institution, FAO, maintains global fisheries
statistics. As a UN organization, FAO receives but is not able to verify
the statistics reported by member countries, even when they are
suspected of being wrong. No mechanism exists for independent
verification of catch reports.

"I have been troubled a long time by the mismatch between what we know
is the case for various fisheries- that they are going downhill -and the
triumphalist reports of a global catch that continues to increase," says
Daniel Pauly, a renowned international authority on global fisheries.
"This study reconciles what we see at the local level - failing
fisheries - with what is happening at the global level - falling

Using FAO's catch data and a massive statistical analysis that compared
the predicted fisheries against those reported, the authors showed
errors in the official fishery statistics. These inflated statistics
have led to complacency about the need to more effectively manage
fisheries and have resulted in unwise investment decisions by banks and

Over the past 30 years there have been dramatic increases in the
exploitation of world fisheries including more species being marketed
and new fishing areas opening up. Increased effort and fishing pressures
are devouring the accumulated "old growth" riches of the sea. Despite
scientists' widespread expectations that world fisheries would plateau
at values of around 80 million tons, global catches reported by FAO
generally increased through the 1990's - driven largely by catch reports
from China.

The huge discrepancy between what is reported and the true state of
global fisheries is largely due to misreporting by countries with large
fisheries. "Many countries over and under-report their catch statistics,
but none has as big an impact as China," explains Pauly. Although
Chinese waters covers only 1 percent of the world's water surface, China
accounts for 40 percent of the deviation between reported and corrected.

The study highlights anomalies of in the 1990's of as much as 10
tonnes/km2 when compared to reported amounts for Chinese waters. "The
same state entities devoted to monitoring the economy are also tasked
with increasing its output. Our studies showed that whatever leaders set
as production targets is what is officially reported. If you dictate
fisheries to increase by 5 percent then it is reported to increase by 5

"Regardless of 'whodunnit' the message here is that our overfishing
problems are far more urgent than we even realized," says Andy
Rosenberg, Dean of the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture at the
University of New Hampshire and the former deputy director of the
National Marine Fishery Service. "It's not a case of 'lets gradually
phase in some solutions.' It's rather more urgent than that. Overfishing
is not a just a Chinese problem. We have serious overfishing problems
here as does Europe and we need to come to grips with them as urgently
as the Chinese do. This is a global problem, not a case of a few bad

This new picture of the state of the oceans raises serious concerns
about the supply of fish and world food supply, and its ability to keep
up with a rising world population. Some governments and industries
believe that aquaculture is the solution. But Watson and Pauly warn that
it is a fallacy to believe that aquaculture can make up the shortfall,
and caution against their results being used to call for more

"Aquaculture cannot replace wild seafood because so much farmed seafood
relies on wild fish for fishmeal," Watson says. "Currently a third of
all fish landed globally goes into fishmeal and oil. Half is used for
aquaculture and half is used for agriculture.

The aquaculture component is increasing rapidly because we are using
fishmeal to raise carnivorous fish like salmon. If aquaculture is going
to help the situation, you have to raise vegetarian fish - like carp,
tilapia and shellfish - and not supplement their food with fish meals or

Fisheries are the most globalized food industry that exists. Over 75
percent of the world marine fisheries catch (over 80 million tons per
year) is sold on international markets.

This means that what happens in one country matters to another. Many
people do not realize the extent to which fish sold in the U.S. are
caught elsewhere in the world. "A lot of the fish eaten in the US now
are being imported from New Zealand, the Pacific, West Africa and
Antarctica," Pauly says. In terms of value the US catches shrimp, sea
cucumbers and now even jellyfish, and exports much of it to East Asia."

Pauly hopes that the study will remove a psychological weapon (the
distortions in the global reports submitted to FAO) that industry has
used to justify putting out more boats and building bigger trawlers.

"The United Nations FAO must have a stronger position in the future when
negotiating the supply of accurate data from the nations of the world,
and those data must be evaluated," he emphasizes. "Fisheries management
and economic decisions must be based on the best available data."

"I think the high seas must be managed, not simply watched," Watson
says. "We must insist that nations provide statistics that can be

ATTENTION JOURNALISTS: To obtain the studies, maps, graphics and contact
information go to: or contact
Jessica Brown at SeaWeb, phone 202-483-9570,
cell 202-437-5502, or email [log in to unmask]

Dr. Daniel Pauly
University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre
Phone: 604-822-1201
604- 221-5294
Cell: 604-338-4723
[log in to unmask]

Dr. Reg Watson
University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre
Phone: 604-822-0226
[log in to unmask]

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