New study reveals data gap in global fish catch - Oceana

New study reveals data gap in global fish catch

Press Release Date: February 11, 2016

Location: Manila, Philippines

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Anna Baxter

 Fish harvest is at least 30 percent higher than official reports, according to a recent study made by the University of British Columbia. For the Philippines, a “serious” re-examination of fisheries data is recommended.

“It’s been a known fact that we don’t sustainably utilize our marine resources. This study reveals that we’re doing much worse. If we continue to exhaust our marine resources, there will be nothing left for the future. We have to give our oceans a chance to restore its natural bounty,” said lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice President for Oceana Philippines.

The study on fish reconstruction, led by Dr. Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller through the Sea Around Us project at UBC, reported that 32 billion kilograms of fish catch goes unreported every year.

The annual global catch is actually about 109 billion kilograms, according to the findings of the fish reconstruction study. This is 30 percent higher than the 77 billion kilograms reported in 2010 by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The discrepancy was traced to the exclusion of categories such as artisanal and subsistence fishing, as well as illegal fishing and discarded fish, in the FAO data. Most countries focus their data collection efforts on industrial fishing, the scientists said.

Pauly and Zeller, along with  hundreds of their colleagues around the world, arrived at the new figure after reviewing fish catch data from more than 200 countries and territories. The study compared data from FAO with estimates from a broad range of sources including academic literature, local fisheries experts, fisheries law enforcement, human population, and documentation of fish catch by tourists.

Philippine data

Reconstructed catch data on Philippine marine fisheries from 1950 to 2010 also revealed discrepancies with FAO statistics, according to research done by Pauly and senior scientist for Sea Around Us, Dr. Maria Lourdes Palomares.

Data from FAO showed that fish catch went up from 0.24 million tons per year  in the 1950s to 0.9 million tons per year in the 1970s. Commercial fishing, which accounts for 66 percent of the fish catch, expanded into the open water by the 1980s, resulting in a higher rate of increase that reached about 2.4 million tons per year by 2010.

Adding data for other types of fisheries, the study showed that fish catch in the Philippines should have been lower by four percent between the 1970s to the 1980s, and higher by two percent in the late 1990s to 2000s.

“If the new catch estimates are considered realistic, they should imply a serious re-examination of the Philippine fisheries statistics system,” the study recommended.

Accurate catch information is critical in helping fisheries managers understand the health of fish populations and inform fishing policies, such as catch quotas and seasonal or area restrictions, Pauly said in a statement.

“Discrepancy in reporting fish catch will affect the baseline data, which is an important component for fisheries management. If our baseline data is wrong, our fisheries management strategies will not be accurate and not effective,” said Jimely Flores, senior scientist for Oceana Philippines.

She encouraged scientists and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to work together in revisiting the data on fish catch in the Philippines. “There should be more respect for science as the basis for policies in fisheries management,” Flores said.