Why don't we feed the oceans?

overfishing: We are eating the oceans empty


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Whether herring, Alaskan pollock or cod, tuna, redfish or mackerel: Germans love fish. Each year they eat an average of 14 kilograms of it. Quite a lot, then, but they are far from being the front runners. In order to meet global demand, fishermen pull millions of tons of marine animals out of the waters every year. The stocks are threatened - more than expected. A current study now shows that there is a high probability that over 50 percent more fish will end up in the nets than previously assumed.

One of the most important data collectors is the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. For decades, the employees have been collecting the fishing data of their 194 member states on catches, fish consumption and the fishing industry. Your reports are fundamental to policy decisions on global fishing. But now a study in Nature Communications question the credibility of the numbers (Pauly & Zeller, 2016).

"We reconstructed the total amount of fish and seafood caught in more than 200 countries between 1950 and 2010 from various data sources," says first author Daniel Pauly. With worrying results: If the reconstruction is correct, then the actual catches over 60 years were on average 53 percent higher than the values ​​given by the FAO. "According to the FAO statistics, the global catch rose to a maximum of 86 million tonnes in 1996. In contrast, we come to 130 million tonnes for 1996," says the biologist. After that, by 2010, according to the reconstruction, the catch fell more than three times as fast as the FAO states. However, it was not caught less because an awareness of animal welfare has prevailed, but because the stocks had declined so much that less ended up in the net.

Should the UN organization actually have delivered such a misjudgment? Or is it the numbers from Pauly and his colleague Dirk Zeller that are questionable?



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One thing is certain: Pauly and Zeller have compiled the data with help from all over the world. The two researchers are the directors of the Sea Around Us scientific project. It was founded in 1999 by the University of British Columbia. Pew Charitable Trust, known for polling, funds it. It has been funded by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation since 2014. At that time, the participants consciously took on the mammoth task of commissioning reconstructed estimates for fish catches in more than 200 worldwide fishing areas from marine researchers and collating the results. The result is the study published today.

"The criticism is not due to the FAO," says Rainer Froese from the Helmholtz Center for Marine Research in Kiel. Together with colleagues, he created the reconstruction for fishing area IVb (North Sea). "The problem lies with the member states who pass their catch numbers on to the FAO and other institutions." So far, almost exclusively the landings - what the fishermen bring ashore - have been weighed and passed on to the FAO via German intermediaries. "The commercial fishermen throw large amounts of dead or half-dead bycatch back into the sea," says Froese. It doesn't appear in the numbers. In addition, the numbers from sport fishing remained completely unrecognized in industrialized nations, and anything from the fishing rod to the mouth in developing countries.

The Sea Around Us team, on the other hand, took all of the above factors into account. For the fishing area IVb (North Sea), Froese and his colleagues rely on scientific studies on catch numbers in small-scale fisheries, on bycatch and on reports from sport fishing associations. They estimated data for years without reliable reports based on the values ​​of the years before and after. In the FAO statistics, on the other hand, years without numbers for certain fish species are included with a zero, which pulls the mean value of the statistics down.

The FAO missed tons of North Sea crabs

The results of the researchers show that it is by far not only developing countries that have difficulties counting fish: "The total reconstructed catch in catch area IVb of 8.5 million tons from 1950 to 2010 is about 63 percent higher than the amount of landings" reported to the FAO and other institutions have been reported, the authors write. The largest part of this distortion is made up of the catch of crustaceans such as North Sea crabs. "Crabs live in the nurseries of flatfish, like the plaice." says Froese. In the sieve devices, these fish got stuck with the big enough crabs. This is one of the reasons why the bycatch in some studies on shrimp fishing is up to 80 percent, says Froese. That's tons of animals that don't appear in the statistics.