Friday, January 29, 2016

New fisheries global catches reconstruction shows stocks being exploited faster and above what has been officially reported.

      That fishing puts a lot of pressure on marine ecosystems is nothing new. However, an article just published in Nature Communications, by Pauly and Zeller, showed that catches officially reported by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) are about 30% underestimated. Much of this is believed to be due to the underestimation of artisanal and subsistence fisheries; however, the non-inclusion of recreational fisheries, discards, by-catch and illegal fisheries are also to blame.
      This article brings the results of a herculean work by over 400 researchers from all over the world, who collected data for about 15 years for the Sea Around Us Project. Daniel Pauly, the first author of this study, is the principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project and a professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at the University of British Columbia (Canada). He co-authored over 500 scientific articles, book chapters and shorter contributions, and authored or (co)edited about 30 books and reports. He is also one of the brains behind some important theories, tools and databases used in fisheries sciences, such as the Fishing Down Marine Food Webs theory, Ecopath with Ecosim software widely used for fisheries modeling, and the on-line encyclopedias of fishes ( and invertebrates (
      We had a chance to have a quick chat with him about the relevance of his new study, especially about some issues regarding artisanal fisheries.

FEME: Apparently, artisanal catches have been growing slowly but surely, almost doubling its catches in 50 years (Figure 1). What are your thoughts on this rise in artisanal catches?

Pauly: The small-scale fisheries catches are increasing, because, in many cases, they (countries and FAO) were using only a fraction of the (human) population to do the estimative. As the population grows, this is reflected in catches, which also increase. Other data that influence the small-scale fisheries catch and that need to be noted are the catch per unit effort, which has shown a decrease in many cases. Because of this, we can see a flat or slight increase in the total catches1. This is why the artisanal catches in most countries are more stable than industrial catches. Another factor to be considered is the higher stability of small-scale fisheries in terms of the total amount of catch. These fishers can switch between species more than the industrial ones. Because of this, their catches are more stable at all species level.
      The FAO data for industrial catches are more precise than for small-scale, so we do not need to put too much effort in its reconstruction. Industrial catches changed (in relation to FAO data) because of the unreported catch. Within the unreported catch, we have discard, illegal fishing and forage fish. Essentially, the industrial catches are driven by the quality of the data that countries report to FAO. The changes in artisanal fisheries are driven largely by the size of the (human) population. 

FEME: In the last decade of your study there seems to be a decrease in the discards. What do you attribute that to? Are we seeing the effects of better legislation and enforcement with associated changes in gears?

Pauly: We believe the discards changed because the fishers are retaining this catch, and using it for fishmeal and other stuff. Also the early estimation of discards rate was too high2, now the discards are decreasing, but not that much. 

Photo by Luan Caio

FEME: What mechanisms and tools would be more advisable to reduce illegal and unreported fishing in small-scale fisheries? Could education help it?

Pauly: When done on a large scale, illegal fishing is not an issue of the fisheries department, it is a justice and police problem. When done in small-scale it is a lack of opportunity, it should not be regarded as a big crime. Education will only be made for those who are hit by it, it will not be effective for all. Even if fishers are empowered, illegal fishing will continue to exist.

Photo by Laura Honda

FEME: What are the main problems faced and caused by small-scale fisheries?

Pauly: Small-scale fisheries are not small. Humans have a perception problem about small actions. Humans cannot realize that small actions done frequently can have big effects. This happens with climate change, evolution, and, small-scale fisheries. People ask me: how can small-scale overfish? Because there are a lot of them, and they fish all the time, everywhere.
      Another thing working against small-scale fisheries is income generation. Income is diffused, not concentrate. If it is not concentrate, small-scale fishers do not have power. Politic power is always associated with money. If you have money involved then the politics will listen to these people. Small communities can easily be ignored, but industrial fishers associations are more difficult to ignore. They are not visible for politicians, been isolated in their poverty. The poverty can isolate people from education, money, and better life quality.
      In most cases, the small-scale fishers do not know what to protest for. They are confused about what is important in their lives and what is important for the next generation. For example, if you ask a fisherman what he wants, he will probably say “big engines”. Using this big engine, he can fish further out there and compete with industrial fishers. If you ask a woman what she wants, probably, she will answer “send the kids to school”. It is a contradiction! I am sure the fishers do not want to see their kids having a life like theirs, they want a better life for their kids, but in the same way they want a better life for themselves. They actually do not know what they want. Then it is easy to be exploited by politicians and by the people who say that they represent the fishers, but don’t.   
      To help the small-scale fishers, the first thing to do is taking the industrial fishery from that area using the state political power. If you cannot do that, you will always have misery in small-scale fisheries. After excluding the trawlers, you need to ask an important question: how many fishers does that area support? Then you can keep a few fishers and the others will need to be taken out of the (fishing) sector, educated and given more economic opportunities.
      This process, basically, follow the Malthusian theory, the population is still growing but resources cannot increase. You cannot get out of this problem, just using aquaculture and agriculture, it is not that case in fisheries. We are at this break point, because of this, we will have to limit the effort even in small-scale fisheries. 

by Ana Helena Bevilacqua 

1 Even though catches can be going up, the total amount a fisher gets for the time he invests in the activity could be going down. For example, if there are more fishers now than in the past, and the ecosystem is reaching its capacity, a country could still be extracting more fish from the oceans than in the past, but each fisher would be extracting less than he used to. In such a case, it is just a matter of time till total catches start decreasing as well. 
2 Earlier estimates of discards can be found in Kelleher, 2005. They were done with the information available at the moment and are considered by some to be less precise than the current ones.