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Record high fish consumption keeps populations imperiled

More people than ever are eating more fish than ever, according to a new report by the United Nations covering the year 2008. At the same time, fish populations in the world’s oceans continue to decline threatening marine ecosystems, food security, and the fishing industry itself.

“That there has been no improvement in the status of stocks is a matter of great concern,” Richard Grainger, senior fisheries expert at the UN Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) and one of the report’s editors said in a press release. “The percentage of overexploitation needs to go down, although at least we seem to be reaching a plateau.”

The report finds that on average people eat approximately 37.5 pounds (17 kilograms) of fish every year, the highest amount yet recorded. However, nearly a third of the world’s fish stocks are estimated as overexploited, depleted, or recovering. Half of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, and only fifteen percent are estimated as underexploited, the lowest levels since the mid 1970s, according to WWF.

A freshly-caught bigeye tuna. Photo by

“In a world likely to face a future of increasing food prices and decreasing food security it is becoming more and more apparent that running down one fishery after another is a disaster in the making,” said Alfred Schumm, leader of WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative, in a press release by the conservation organization.

The increase in fish consumption is largely due to aquaculture, which now makes up 46% of the world’s fish supply for food, according to the report. However, the aquaculture industry comes with its own environmental problems, and cannot grow indefinitely.

Kevern Cochrane, director of the FAO’s resources use and conservation division, told the New York Times: “We’re going to run into constraints in terms of space availability, water availability—particularly fresh water—and also environmental impacts and supply of feed.” Farmed fish are often fed with wild fish species that are less in demand, further threatening marine ecosystems.

Eight percent of the world is currently employed in fish-industries in one way or another, according to the report. Fish is also big business: bringing in $102 billion dollars in 2008.

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