A recent study shows that world’s fish stocks may decline faster than official reports show since states often fail to update the data they send to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The research found that national data often did not echo the real amount of fish caught since the mid-1950s. Additionally, official reports may be wrong on the sustainability of fishing methods used over the same period of time, as well.
According to the FAO’s reports, fish catches hit a record high of 86 million metric tons in the mid-1990s. But since then the amount has been dwindling. Yet, study authors claim that the data may be incorrect since the record high was in fact 130 million metric tons in the mid-1996 and the decline has been steeper afterwards than the FAO’s estimates indicate.
Lead authors of the recent research, Dirk Zeller and Daniel Pauly, believe that the differences could be tied to the data submitted to the international organization by each state. The data might have been either misinterpreted or plainly underreported.
An example of misinterpretation is the practice of the FAO to mark zero catches for some areas for which states didn’t send any data. In reality, ‘no data’ doesn’t mean that no catches were performed in those areas.
Furthermore, states often fail to report catches done by hobbyists, including discarded bycatches, i.e. fish that are caught for the pleasure of the fishermen, but are discarded soon afterwards), and catches done by poachers. As a result, many catches go underreported.
Considering this situation, about 50 independent experts decided to review the FAO’s official data to see whether it official reports are accurate. After comparing the FAO’s data with bits of data taken from unofficial literature, local experts, and conservationist groups, the research team tried to ‘reconstruct’ the actual catches done between 1950 and 2010.
In the end, study investigators reached the conclusion that world’s fish catches might be 50 percent higher than official estimates show, so fish stocks could also be declining faster than the FAO and national data indicate.
For instance, the researchers estimate that six years ago almost 109 million metric tons of fish were actually caught worldwide, not 77 million as official reports found. But this piece of new data was interpreted as good news because it indicates that world’s oceans produced more food to the world than previously thought.
But there is also a piece of bad news – the team found that global fish stocks has been declining more rapidly since the 1990s than the FAO’s data suggested.
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