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We Are About to Hit the Point of No Return for Sustainable Fishing

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization just released its biannual State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report and the findings are unsettling to say the least.

by Alex Swerdloff
Jul 9 2016, 12:00am

Any and all lovers of seafood better get started hoarding as much katsuobushi, surströmming, and cans of tuna as you possibly can, because it looks like the world's supply of fish will very soon be at a breaking point.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, regularly referred to as FAO, just released its biannual State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report, and the findings are unsettling to say the least. According to the organization's report, we are extremely close to reaching the sustainable limit for the global production of fish. In fact, roughly 90 percent of the world's stocks are overfished, with a forecasted increase in production of 17 percent by 2025.

READ MORE: Pacific Bluefin Tuna Are Really, Really, Really Doomed

The reality is that fish consumption has increased unchecked to the point that the average individual eats a staggering 44 pounds of fish a year. The overexploitation of the world's fish supply has tripled since the 70s, with close to 40 percent of all tuna and other highly sought fish being caught unsustainably.

The UN's director of Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Resources Division, Manuel Barange, explained to the Guardian that the Mediterranean and Black Sea were "particularly worrying", with overfishing rates hovering at about 60 percent respectively.

"There is an absolute limit to what we can extract from the sea and it is possibly very close to current production levels, which have stabilized over last few years. They have grown a little in recent years but we don't expect much more growth because of the rampant increase in aquaculture production."

The sudden increase in consumption of fish is likely due in part to the rise in popularity of aquaculture. José Graziano da Silva, the director of FAO, says that aquaculture is now the source of 50 percent of all fish consumed. Even more impressive, fish farming is set to overcome wild-caught fish for the first time in history as the chief source of fish consumption by 2021. China has been a major proponent of aquaculture and now accounts for 60 percent of all fish farmed in the world.

"My personal view is that it is quite momentous to have reached this level of production," Barange told the Guardian. "In the struggle to make sure we have enough food to feed more than 9 billion people in 2050, any source of nutrients and micronutrients is welcome."

READ MORE: The Future of Farming Is Powered by Fish Shit

Despite the laudable increase in fish farming, the report found "the state of the world's marine fish stocks has not improved." According to Graziano da Silva, illegal fishing practices now account for 26 million tons of fish a year, which is about 15 percent of the global marine and inland fishing output.

The recent strides in aquaculture are seriously good news for developing countries—73 percent of the world's top fish-consuming countries are in the UN's "low-income, food deficit" category—but some conservation groups feel that not only is aquaculture prone to introducing invasive species, it also carries the risk of polluting the nearby natural habitats. Others simply feel the focus on fish farming is misguided and should be channeled elsewhere. Lasse Gustavsson, director for the marine conservation group Oceana, feels the management of sustainable fisheries should be prioritized over aquaculture.

"We now have a fifth more of global fish stocks at worrying levels than we did in 2000," explains Gustavsson. "The global environmental impact of overfishing is incalculable and the knock-on impact for coastal economies is simply too great for this to be swept under the rug any more."

No matter what side of the issue you fall on, it's clear that we're all in deep trouble if consumption trends and fishing practices are left unchecked. In uncertain times like these, it can seem like there is little else to do but hold your loved ones close, even if said loved one happens to be an abalone named Davey. After all, what in the hell kind of a world would this be if there were no fish to devour after a tender embrace?

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José Graziano da Silva
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