The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization released their State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 report recently, and the news is not good. Simply put, they world’s wild fish populations are continuing to decline virtually everywhere. The UN organization classifies the world’s wild fish populations into 3 categories based on the level of fishing they are experiencing- those that are under fished, populations currently being maximally fished, and populations that are being harvested at unsustainably levels. Today only 7% of the wild fish populations in our oceans are considered under fished. 60% of all populations are harvested at the limit of sustainability, and fully a third of all species are fished at unsustainable levels and, unless the situation is corrected, risk collapse. The UN says even if harvesting of currently overfished species stopped today it would take years for these populations to recover. Think what happened to the North Atlantic cod. The WWF’s Michele Kuric summed it up pretty well: “We are not winning the battle.”
What can be done? A lot of things, actually. Managing fishing grounds in a more ecologically responsible fashion to start. Reducing wastage, currently estimated at 25% of all landed catch, and stopping irresponsible pirate fishing. But most importantly, to take the pressure off of wild fishing we need to rapidly grow sustainable and responsible aquaculture. Here’s a simple analogy- if we depended on wild-caught mammals for our meat supply it’s probable that the deer, elk, bison, antelope, and elephant would all be extinct today. They continue to survive in large part because thousands of years ago we learned how to domesticate and raise cows, pigs, and poultry. Unless do the same in the oceans- learn to replace hunting with farming- most wild fish populations will inevitably go the way of the auroch and European bison. The aquaculture industry is in many ways just beginning to understand how to harness the bounty of the seas. We should encourage efforts to better understand the ocean, how to safely raise large numbers of fish, and how to enable wild fish to co-exist with farmed fish.