Clarifications, Re: Fish Sustainability

Image Credit: Huffington Post Images

I take responsibility for what I write, always. Therefore, I offer a few clarifications and additional explanations to my previous article, "Sustainable Fish Do Not Exist."

In my previous article, I stated that 80% of fish are overfished or overexploited. This 80% figure did come from a FAO report. However, 1) this report was a little outdated, and 2) I did incorrectly state the terms "overfished" and "overexploited" figure.

I do appreciate fisheries management groups for pointing this outdated information to me, along with my misnomers.

In reviewing the most recent FAO report from 2016, What I should have written was that close to 90% of fish are fully-exploited or overfished. To be more specific still, 58% are fully exploited and 31% are overfished.

What this means is that 58% of fish stocks are already at their maximum-production yield with little to no room (if any) to grow in extraction. 31% of fish stocks are already overfished or overexploited, and this figure has been growing since 1974 and continues growing every year (see FAO graph below).

While it is worth noting that 10% of fish stocks globally are underfished, this percentage been falling since 1974.


Image Credit: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2016) - State of World Fisheries.

Meanwhile, world population is expected to grow by another third by 2050 - nearing 9.7 Billion people (see chart below), and some fish stocks are already on the verge of collapse.

Image Credit: United Nations (2015) World Population Prospects

In fact, a recent 2016 FAO report - "Fish to 2030" states, "Supplying fish sustainably--producing it without depleting productive natural resources and without damaging the precious aquatic environment--is a huge challenge. We continue to see excessive and irresponsible harvesting in the capture fisheries and in aquaculture. Disease outbreaks among other things, have heavily impacted production..."

So, while aquaculture and fish farming are growing and now represent about 1/2 of all fish produced in the world, there do remain some problems including pollution, disease outbreak, and some excessive use of wild fish as food for farmed fish, though this too, is improving.

Thus, it is remains difficult for me to understand how increased overexploitation and an increased world population who desires to consume more fish, could remain sustainable.

What's more, several fish species have been declared as critically endangered and threatened with extinction by the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

And, to exacerbate the lack of sustainability in fisheries it has further been reported by the National Institutes of Health fish oils may not be as beneficial as believed. They are certainly not detrimental, but they don't really provide any major benefits.

According to the Institutes of Medicine, only the plant-based sources of omega-3s, Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) and Linolenic Acid (LA) have reference intake values known as adequate intake levels, essentially meaning the minimum level we should be striving to eat every day. Meanwhile, DHA and EPA, the "famous omega-3s," those found in fish, do not. Besides that, DHA can be obtained from algal sources of omega-3.

Finally, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, climate change is expected to create problems with ocean health and fisheries health, through acidification (increasing mortality of certain shellfish and corals), temperature changes (displacing fish stocks), changes to important ocean currents, and even by worsening or increasing oceanic dead zones.

So, to conclude: I did mis-report some figures on overfishing. However, with overfishing growing and underfishing declining, with world population growing, climate change, and some overfishing and collapse of fisheries already present, I still believe that sustainable fish are hard to come by.