When Pew Environment, an arm of the American-based non-profit Pew Trusts who seek to use evidence-based, non-partisan analysis to solve today's challenges tweeted an image stating about 90 per cent of the worlds fisheries are in decline, they were probably not expecting to be on the receiving end of an exasperated fisheries scientist.
"Not 90% in decline, 61% fully fished + 29% overfished. And fully fished means sustainably fished, not “in decline”“, Professor Trevor Branch who is based at the University of Washington responded.
Professor Branch is referring to the same statistics as Pew – those released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and indeed is quite right in what he says. “It’s as if 29 per cent of fisheries overfished is too small of a number to bother the public with. It is not. We need to get that number way down”.
According to the FAO ‘fully fished’ means that the stock is at or extremely close to the maximum sustainable yield – the measure which the FAO use to determine stock status. Whilst this measure is somewhat controversial among scientists and NGOs for a variety of reasons, we have to be careful not to misinterpret what the measure and the statistics are telling us. Sometimes the problem is that information presented to the public is a little outdated.
We can still find claims that the world’s fisheries will collapse by 2048 (a date that gained fame primarily from a university press release covering a peer-reviewed paper) even though the ultimate collapse of all fisheries has been refuted by a number of scientists (including the original authors).
Ensuring that the information presented to the public is as up to date and accurate as possible isn’t just a question of honesty. It could potentially redirect action away from other efforts that can achieve healthier oceans - and healthier fisheries.
This article was written for (and can be read in full in) The Fish Site.
Image: Fishing boat in Fishing Boat San Giovanni in Monterey Harbor . Credit Jay Galvin/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)