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Concept: Overfishing


Data from 4,713 fisheries worldwide, representing 78% of global reported fish catch, are analyzed to estimate the status, trends, and benefits of alternative approaches to recovering depleted fisheries. For each fishery, we estimate current biological status and forecast the impacts of contrasting management regimes on catch, profit, and biomass of fish in the sea. We estimate unique recovery targets and trajectories for each fishery, calculate the year-by-year effects of alternative recovery approaches, and model how alternative institutional reforms affect recovery outcomes. Current status is highly heterogeneous-the median fishery is in poor health (overfished, with further overfishing occurring), although 32% of fisheries are in good biological, although not necessarily economic, condition. Our business-as-usual scenario projects further divergence and continued collapse for many of the world’s fisheries. Applying sound management reforms to global fisheries in our dataset could generate annual increases exceeding 16 million metric tons (MMT) in catch, $53 billion in profit, and 619 MMT in biomass relative to business as usual. We also find that, with appropriate reforms, recovery can happen quickly, with the median fishery taking under 10 y to reach recovery targets. Our results show that commonsense reforms to fishery management would dramatically improve overall fish abundance while increasing food security and profits.

Concepts: Fisheries, Fishing, Catch and release, Overfishing, Population dynamics of fisheries, Fisheries management, Wild fisheries, Fishery


Anthropogenic disturbances are ubiquitous in the ocean, but their impacts on marine species are hotly debated. We evaluated marine fish statuses using conservation (Red List threatened or not) and fisheries (above or below reference points) metrics, compared their alignment, and diagnosed why discrepancies arise. Whereas only 13.5% of Red Listed marine fishes (n = 2952) are threatened, 40% and 21% of populations with stock assessments (n = 166) currently are below their more conservative and riskier reference points, respectively. Conservation and fisheries metrics aligned well (70.5% to 80.7%), despite their mathematical disconnect. Red Listings were not biased towards exaggerating threat status, and egregious errors, where populations were categorized at opposite extremes of fisheries and conservation metrics, were rare. Our analyses suggest conservation and fisheries scientists will agree on the statuses of exploited marine fishes in most cases, leaving only the question of appropriate management responses for populations of mutual concern still unresolved.

Concepts: Fish, Endangered species, Extinction, Ocean, Overfishing, Conservation, Population dynamics of fisheries, IUCN Red List


Pelagic ecosystems are dynamic ocean regions whose immense natural capital is affected by climate change, pollution, and commercial fisheries. Trophic level-based indicators derived from fishery catch data may reveal the food web status of these systems, but the utility of these metrics has been debated because of targeting bias in fisheries catch. We analyze a unique, fishery-independent data set of North Pacific seabird tissues to inform ecosystem trends over 13 decades (1890s to 2010s). Trophic position declined broadly in five of eight species sampled, indicating a long-term shift from higher-trophic level to lower-trophic level prey. No species increased their trophic position. Given species prey preferences, Bayesian diet reconstructions suggest a shift from fishes to squids, a result consistent with both catch reports and ecosystem models. Machine learning models further reveal that trophic position trends have a complex set of drivers including climate, commercial fisheries, and ecomorphology. Our results show that multiple species of fish-consuming seabirds may track the complex changes occurring in marine ecosystems.

Concepts: Ecology, Climate, Ecosystem, Fisheries, Ocean, Overfishing, Systems ecology, Fishery


Overfishing is arguably the greatest ecological threat facing the oceans, yet catches of many highly migratory fishes including oceanic sharks remain largely unregulated with poor monitoring and data reporting. Oceanic shark conservation is hampered by basic knowledge gaps about where sharks aggregate across population ranges and precisely where they overlap with fishers. Using satellite tracking data from six shark species across the North Atlantic, we show that pelagic sharks occupy predictable habitat hotspots of high space use. Movement modeling showed sharks preferred habitats characterized by strong sea surface-temperature gradients (fronts) over other available habitats. However, simultaneous Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking of the entire Spanish and Portuguese longline-vessel fishing fleets show an 80% overlap of fished areas with hotspots, potentially increasing shark susceptibility to fishing exploitation. Regions of high overlap between oceanic tagged sharks and longliners included the North Atlantic Current/Labrador Current convergence zone and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge southwest of the Azores. In these main regions, and subareas within them, shark/vessel co-occurrence was spatially and temporally persistent between years, highlighting how broadly the fishing exploitation efficiently “tracks” oceanic sharks within their space-use hotspots year-round. Given this intense focus of longliners on shark hotspots, our study argues the need for international catch limits for pelagic sharks and identifies a future role of combining fine-scale fish and vessel telemetry to inform the ocean-scale management of fisheries.

Concepts: Fish, Atlantic Ocean, Portugal, Azores, Ocean, Global Positioning System, Overfishing, Shark


Coastal hypoxia (dissolved oxygen ≤ 2 mg/L) is a growing problem worldwide that threatens marine ecosystem services, but little is known about economic effects on fisheries. Here, we provide evidence that hypoxia causes economic impacts on a major fishery. Ecological studies of hypoxia and marine fauna suggest multiple mechanisms through which hypoxia can skew a population’s size distribution toward smaller individuals. These mechanisms produce sharp predictions about changes in seafood markets. Hypoxia is hypothesized to decrease the quantity of large shrimp relative to small shrimp and increase the price of large shrimp relative to small shrimp. We test these hypotheses using time series of size-based prices. Naive quantity-based models using treatment/control comparisons in hypoxic and nonhypoxic areas produce null results, but we find strong evidence of the hypothesized effects in the relative prices: Hypoxia increases the relative price of large shrimp compared with small shrimp. The effects of fuel prices provide supporting evidence. Empirical models of fishing effort and bioeconomic simulations explain why quantifying effects of hypoxia on fisheries using quantity data has been inconclusive. Specifically, spatial-dynamic feedbacks across the natural system (the fish stock) and human system (the mobile fishing fleet) confound “treated” and “control” areas. Consequently, analyses of price data, which rely on a market counterfactual, are able to reveal effects of the ecological disturbance that are obscured in quantity data. Our results are an important step toward quantifying the economic value of reduced upstream nutrient loading in the Mississippi Basin and are broadly applicable to other coupled human-natural systems.

Concepts: Scientific method, Value, Price, Null hypothesis, Overfishing, Shrimp, Microeconomics, Relative price


Previous studies highlight the winners and losers in fisheries under climate change based on shifts in biomass, species composition and potential catches. Understanding how climate change is likely to alter the fisheries revenues of maritime countries is a crucial next step towards the development of effective socio-economic policy and food sustainability strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Particularly, fish prices and cross-oceans connections through distant water fishing operations may largely modify the projected climate change impacts on fisheries revenues. However, these factors have not formally been considered in global studies. Here, using climate-living marine resources simulation models, we show that global fisheries revenues could drop by 35% more than the projected decrease in catches by the 2050 s under high CO2 emission scenarios. Regionally, the projected increases in fish catch in high latitudes may not translate into increases in revenues because of the increasing dominance of low value fish, and the decrease in catches by these countries' vessels operating in more severely impacted distant waters. Also, we find that developing countries with high fisheries dependency are negatively impacted. Our results suggest the need to conduct full-fledged economic analyses of the potential economic effects of climate change on global marine fisheries.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Climate, Climate change, Sustainability, Overfishing, Greenhouse gas, Latitude, Wild fisheries


Coastal Indigenous peoples rely on ocean resources and are highly vulnerable to ecosystem and economic change. Their challenges have been observed and recognized at local and regional scales, yet there are no global-scale analyses to inform international policies. We compile available data for over 1,900 coastal Indigenous communities around the world representing 27 million people across 87 countries. Based on available data at local and regional levels, we estimate a total global yearly seafood consumption of 2.1 million (1.5 million-2.8 million) metric tonnes by coastal Indigenous peoples, equal to around 2% of global yearly commercial fisheries catch. Results reflect the crucial role of seafood for these communities; on average, consumption per capita is 15 times higher than non-Indigenous country populations. These findings contribute to an urgently needed sense of scale to coastal Indigenous issues, and will hopefully prompt increased recognition and directed research regarding the marine knowledge and resource needs of Indigenous peoples. Marine resources are crucial to the continued existence of coastal Indigenous peoples, and their needs must be explicitly incorporated into management policies.

Concepts: Ethnic group, Kilogram, Overfishing, Indigenous Australians, Tonne, Indigenous peoples, Transformation of culture, Metric system


Fisheries data assembled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggest that global marine fisheries catches increased to 86 million tonnes in 1996, then slightly declined. Here, using a decade-long multinational ‘catch reconstruction’ project covering the Exclusive Economic Zones of the world’s maritime countries and the High Seas from 1950 to 2010, and accounting for all fisheries, we identify catch trajectories differing considerably from the national data submitted to the FAO. We suggest that catch actually peaked at 130 million tonnes, and has been declining much more strongly since. This decline in reconstructed catches reflects declines in industrial catches and to a smaller extent declining discards, despite industrial fishing having expanded from industrialized countries to the waters of developing countries. The differing trajectories documented here suggest a need for improved monitoring of all fisheries, including often neglected small-scale fisheries, and illegal and other problematic fisheries, as well as discarded bycatch.

Concepts: Overfishing, Food and Agriculture Organization


The deep sea is the world’s largest ecosystem [1], with high levels of biodiversity [2, 3] and many species that exhibit life-history characteristics that make them vulnerable to high levels of exploitation [4]. Many fisheries in the deep sea have a track record of being unsustainable [5, 6]. In the northeast Atlantic, there has been a decline in the abundance of commercial fish species since deep-sea fishing commenced in the 1970s [7, 8]. Current management is by effort restrictions and total allowable catch (TAC), but there remain problems with compliance [9] and high levels of bycatch of vulnerable species such as sharks [10]. The European Union is currently considering new legislation to manage deep-sea fisheries, including the introduction of a depth limit to bottom trawling. However, there is little evidence to suggest an appropriate depth limit. Here we use survey data to show that biodiversity of the demersal fish community, the ratio of discarded to commercial biomass, and the ratio of Elasmobranchii (sharks and rays) to commercial biomass significantly increases between 600 and 800 m depth while commercial value decreases. These results suggest that limiting bottom trawling to a maximum depth of 600 m could be an effective management strategy that would fit the needs of European legislations such as the Common Fisheries Policy (EC no. 1380/2013) [11] and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC) [12].

Concepts: European Union, Fisheries, Ocean, Norway, Overfishing, Deep sea fish, Legislature, Common Fisheries Policy


Remote polar and deepwater fish faunas are under pressure from ongoing climate change and increasing fishing effort. However, these fish communities are difficult to monitor for logistic and financial reasons. Currently, monitoring of marine fishes largely relies on invasive techniques such as bottom trawling, and on official reporting of global catches, which can be unreliable. Thus, there is need for alternative and non-invasive techniques for qualitative and quantitative oceanic fish surveys. Here we report environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding of seawater samples from continental slope depths in Southwest Greenland. We collected seawater samples at depths of 188-918 m and compared seawater eDNA to catch data from trawling. We used Illumina sequencing of PCR products to demonstrate that eDNA reads show equivalence to fishing catch data obtained from trawling. Twenty-six families were found with both trawling and eDNA, while three families were found only with eDNA and two families were found only with trawling. Key commercial fish species for Greenland were the most abundant species in both eDNA reads and biomass catch, and interpolation of eDNA abundances between sampling sites showed good correspondence with catch sizes. Environmental DNA sequence reads from the fish assemblages correlated with biomass and abundance data obtained from trawling. Interestingly, the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) showed high abundance of eDNA reads despite only a single specimen being caught, demonstrating the relevance of the eDNA approach for large species that can probably avoid bottom trawls in most cases. Quantitative detection of marine fish using eDNA remains to be tested further to ascertain whether this technique is able to yield credible results for routine application in fisheries. Nevertheless, our study demonstrates that eDNA reads can be used as a qualitative and quantitative proxy for marine fish assemblages in deepwater oceanic habitats. This relates directly to applied fisheries as well as to monitoring effects of ongoing climate change on marine biodiversity-especially in polar ecosystems.

Concepts: Qualitative research, Overfishing, Shark, Somniosus