Are Global Fish Stocks Recovering?


are global fish stocks recovering

If you are an environmentally concerned fisherman like me, you are probably wondering about the state of our oceans and their fish stocks. I have often wondered if global fish stocks are actually recovering or declining.

Global fish stocks are in fact recovering. New research concludes that roughly 50% of the world’s oceans’ fish stocks are recovering, or already have recovered, and are now at proposed target rates. And it is all thanks to highly effective fisheries management methods.

It’s a truly marvelous development that is taking place in fisheries all around the globe. Continue reading to find out more about sustainable fishing methods and how they, one day, could restore all of the world’s fish stocks.

Sustainable Fishing Helps to Recover Fish Stocks

The research report, published by the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), shows that efforts of sustainable fishing can yield awesome results and explains, in detail, just how powerful this fishing method can be.

If maximum catch quotas are kept, fish stocks seem to be able to recover fairly quickly and their numbers can virtually explode after only a couple of years. If you let them, fish will recover and be plentiful.

In the recent past, there have been many reports on ever increasing levels of overfishing and decreasing fish stocks all over the world. At the same time, many large scale fisheries management efforts have been put into place, in order to counteract this development. It is evident that more positive light should be shed on this fishing method, as it could help to spread it to new fisheries and regions.

What’s especially positive is the fact that this shows how well scientists and fishermen can work together in order to bring about a sustainable fishing industry. It’s a highly beneficial cooperation that ensures future prosperity for the commercial fishing industry, fishing tourism, as well environmental protection.


Related: If you want to read more about how well researchers and fishermen can work together, you should definitely check out this article as well: Are There Bluefin Tuna in The North Sea?


If there is political and economic will, modern fisheries management efforts could restore many more fisheries and fish stocks. It is a proven and successful method, and hence, the question of its effectiveness is rather unnecessary to ask. Instead, sole focus should be put on implementing it, as soon as possible.

Of course, it will take time, and many other factors (such as climate change) play an important role as well. But if we do not start to act and change things now, it might soon be too late to turn the tide! Science gives us all the answers, we know what to do and how it must be done. So, let’s do it!

Sustainable Fishing According to The Marine Stewardship Council

are fish stocks recovering

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an organization which does base its core principles on the above mentioned science, and tries to implement it wherever possible.

According to the MSC – the Marine Stewardship Council, sustainable fishing equals upholding sustainable levels of fish stocks in the oceans, protecting natural habitats and ecosystems and ensuring that people who depend on fishing can continue to have fishing as their livelihoods. In order to assess the level of sustainability, these three main principles are applied:

  1. Sustainable Fish Stocks – making sure that there are always enough fish in the sea and that stocks can remain healthy and productive
  2. Minimizing Environmental Impact – ensuring a carefully managed fishing activity that minimizes impact on the ecosystem and other species within it
  3. Effective Fisheries Management – controlling that operations are well managed, and making sure that fisheries are able to adapt to changing environmental circumstances

Why Have Fish Stocks Declined?

fish stocks

Effective fisheries management is exactly what the research report highlights as the main reason for fish stock recovery. The researchers explain that for fish stocks to remain at a constant sustainable level, all that needs to be done is to apply sustainable fishing methods. Pretty simple, isn’t it!

The problem was that this was not at all applied to the fisheries of the world. Up until 1995, fishing pressure had increased drastically, while the overall biomass rates had decreased sharply.

Around this time, the first efforts of a more sustainable fishing culture were born. Overall fishing pressure suddenly decreased, as people wanted to see what would happen to stocks if extraction rates would be lowered somewhat. Only 10 years later, in 2005, biomass rates had increased. The thought experiment had turned into a successful real-life implementation.

By 2016, fish stocks’ biomass in the researched areas, including North and South America, Europe, Japan, Russia, Northwest Africa, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, had surpassed the estimated maximum sustainable yield rate.

This means that there were suddenly more fish than expected, while at the same time fishing pressure was below that rate. The stocks had recovered, fishing activity had been reduced, and still enough fish to uphold consumer demand was caught. A level of totally sustainable fishing was reached!


Related: If you want to read up on the overall status of the global bluefin tuna populations, make sure to also read this article: Are Bluefin Tuna Endangered?


What Is Needed to Restore Most Fish Populations?

The researchers’ conclusion is rather simple; if you set clear and reasonable stock levels and catch rates that can ensure a sustainable future for fish populations, and if you then keep your catch quota just below that rate, then fish stocks will recover and become more plentiful. Of course, there can be other factors that might influence the stock rates, but generally, this is what needs to be done.

The scientific evidence is clear and cannot be doubted. Compared to regions that apply intensive fisheries management, regions and waters with less-developed, or nonexistent sustainable fishing methods show catch rates that tend to be 3-fold greater. But they also show only half of the abundance of fish stocks. In other words, they are catching as much as they possibly can and in the process, they are heavily depleting stocks.

On the other hand, the regions that do use implemented methods of sustainable fishing show amazing recovery rates and experience much higher abundance rates. This means that they can catch as many, or even more, fish, while being able to fish less. This, in turn, saves the fisheries time and money. It really is sustainability news at its best!

Fish Stock Recovery Can Be Achieved Fairly Quickly

fish stocks recover
Atlantic Cod
Image by Hans-Petter Fjeld, Wikimedia Commons, Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5

The paper also mentions previous studies that have examined the recovery rates of over 150 fish species with depleted stocks. All of those managed to recover to sustainable biomass rates in only 10 years! For those with heavier depletion, naturally, recovery rates are more extensive, but still far from impossible to achieve!

This is especially positive news for the Arctic and Atlantic cod, a species that has long suffered from severe overfishing. The general perception regarding this fish has long been that it is basically lost. Hence, efforts and moves to more sustainable fishing for cod was regarded not worth it. Fisheries just kept going and going, until the last cod would be caught.

But the research paper on the effects of fisheries management should put an end to that. The presented cases from all over the world show that sustainable fishing is possible and that it is extremely rewarding. Paragraph

The paper concludes that the improving status of fisheries all over the world was made possible by the countless efforts and hard work of thousands of managers, fishermen, scientists and NGOs, as well as the Marine Stewardship Council. It is their awareness and call to action that have turned the tide and I want to thank them all for a job well done.

Feature image by NOAA on Unsplash

Max Loesche

Hi, I'm Max, the founder and head author of Strike&Catch. I have been a passionate fisherman since 1997 and spend as much time as possible on the bank. Click on my name to read my full biography.

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