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Global Fishery Reform

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Three billion people worldwide rely on seafood as their primary source of protein, and about 260 million people--many of whom live in developing countries--work in ocean-related sectors. Beyond generating food and job security benefits, fishing economies also add billions of dollars to global GDP. Unfortunately, the current status of global fisheries has caused many people to adopt a pessimistic view of the future productivity and value of our oceans: nearly one third of global fish stocks that have been formally assessed are in trouble, and half produce less food, employment, economic value, and biodiversity than they could if they were managed effectively.

In collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund and the University of Washington, SFG has conducted groundbreaking research that suggests that the future of global fisheries does not necessarily have to be as dire as we previously perceived it to be. We have created a new “upside” bioeconomic model that gives the most holistic view to date of the potential benefits we could capture from our oceans if sustainable harvesting practices are adopted in fisheries worldwide. The upside model explores a variety of management reforms and estimates the expected benefits and recovery timeline for individual fisheries, fishing nations, ecosystems, and the world.

In order to estimate the potential benefits of global fisheries reform, we evaluated 4,373 fisheries worldwide, which together represent 77% of global catch. We modeled alternative management scenarios to forecast the effects that each would have on the amount of fish in the water, the amount of catch, and the economic gains for fishers around the world. The results of our research indicate that sustainably managed fisheries could increase wild fish harvests by 16 million metric tons (29%), and generate $53 billion USD (204%) more in profits each year by 2050. The amount of biomass in the water would increase by 118%, making our oceans healthier and more resilient, and enabling fisheries to continue delivering high volumes of food and profits year after year.

Though the health of the world’s fisheries has been steadily declining for decades, our model indicates that in a relatively short time frame, fisheries can once again become more robust and productive, even while fishing continues. In fact, our results suggest that the average fishery could recover in just nine years. What’s more, within the next decade, the percentage of global fisheries considered biologically healthy would increase from about 45% to 77%. By mid-century, the vast majority (around 98%) of fisheries would be near biologically healthy levels, properly positioned to supply food and greater prosperity to a growing global population.

Our research is a call to action for governments, fishermen, and investors, all of whom play a role in transforming the way global fisheries are managed. If effective reforms to end overfishing are put in place today, the ocean could become a sustainable and highly productive source of wild seafood that can help feed a rapidly increasing global population.