Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 183–200 | Cite as

Food security implications of global marine catch losses due to overfishing

  • U. Thara SrinivasanEmail author
  • William W. L. Cheung
  • Reg Watson
  • U. Rashid Sumaila


Excess fishing capacity and the growth in global demand for fishery products have made overfishing ubiquitous in the world’s oceans. Here we describe the potential catch losses due to unsustainable fishing in all countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and on the high seas over 1950–2004. To do so, we relied upon catch and price statistics from the Sea Around Us Project as well as an empirical relationship we derived from species stock assessments by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 2000 alone, estimated global catch losses amounted to 7–36% of the actual tonnage landed that year, resulting in a landed value loss of between $6.4 and 36 billion (in 2004 constant US$). From 1950–2004, 36–53% of commercial species in 55–66% of EEZs may have been overfished. Referring to a species-level database of intrinsic vulnerability (V) based on life-history traits, it appears that susceptible species were depleted quickly and serially, with the average V of potential catch losses declining at a similar rate to that of actual landings. The three continental regions to incur greatest losses by mass were Europe, North America, and Asia—forming a geographic progression in time. But low-income and small island nations, heavily dependent on marine resources for protein, were impacted most profoundly. Our analysis shows that without the inexorable march of overfishing, ~20 million people worldwide could have averted undernourishment in 2000. For the same year, total catch in the waters of low-income food deficit nations might have been up to 17% greater than the tonnage actually landed there. The situation may be worst for Africa, which in our analysis registered losses of about 9–49% of its actual catches by mass in year 2000, thus seriously threatening progress towards the UN Millennium Development Goals.


Catch loss Food security Undernourishment Landed values 

JEL Classification

Q22 D57 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Supplementary material

10818_2010_9090_MOESM1_ESM.docx (24 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 25 kb)


  1. Agnew, D. J., Pearce, J., Pramod, G., Peatman, T., Watson, R., Beddington, J. R., & Pitcher, T. J. (2009). Estimating the worldwide extent of illegal fishing. PLoS ONE, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004570.
  2. Alder J., Sumaila U.R. (2004) Western Africa: a fish basket of Europe past and present. Journal of Environment & Development 13: 156–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alverson, D. L., Freeberg, M. H., Pope, J. G., & Murawski, S. A. (1994). A global assessment of fisheries bycatch and discards. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 339, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome (Italy), 233 pp.Google Scholar
  4. Arnason R., Hannesson R., Schrank W. E. (2000) Costs of fisheries management: The cases of Iceland, Norway and Newfoundland. Marine Policy 24: 233–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Atta-Mills J., Alder J., Sumaila U. R. (2004) The unmaking of a regional fishing nation: The case of Ghana and West Africa. Natural Resources Forum 28: 13–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baum J. K., Myers R. A., Kehler D. G., Worm B., Harley S. J., Doherty P. A. (2003) Collapse and conservation of shark populations in the Northwest Atlantic. Science 299: 389–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beddington J. R., Agnew D. J., Clark C. W. (2007) Current problems in the management of marine fisheries. Science 316: 1713–1716CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Béné C., Hersoug B., Allison E. H. (2010) Not by rent alone: Analysing the Pro-poor functions of small-scale fisheries in developing countries. Development Policy Review 28: 325–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bjørndal T. (1988) The optimal management of North Sea herring. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 15: 9–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Black, R. (2007). Last rites for a marine marvel? BBC News website. Accessed May 15, 2009.
  11. CCAMLR (Convention on the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources) (2009). Accessed May 2 , 2009.
  12. Cheung W. L., Pitcher T. J., Pauly D. (2005) A fuzzy logic expert system to estimate intrinsic extinction vulnerabilities of marine fishes to fishing. Biological Conservation 124: 97–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cheung W., Sumaila R. (2008) Trade-offs between conservation and socio-economic objectives in managing a tropical marine ecosystem. Ecological Economics 66: 193–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cheung W. L., Watson R., Morato T., Pitcher T. J., Pauly D. (2007) Intrinsic vulnerability in the global fish catch. Marine Ecology Progress Series 333: 1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Christy, F. T. (1997): Economic waste in fisheries: Impediments to change and conditions for improvement. In E. K. Pikitch, D. D. Huppert, & M. P. Sissenwine (Eds.), Proceedings from the 20th American Fisheries Society symposium: Global trends—Fisheries management, 14–16 June 1994, Seattle, WA. Bethesda, MD: American Fisheries Society, pp. 28–39.Google Scholar
  16. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). (2010). Accessed February 2, 2010.
  17. de Mutsert K., Cowan H. J. Jr., Essington T E., Hilborn R. (2008) Re-analyses of Gulf of Mexico fisheries data: Landings can be misleading in assessments of fisheries and fisheries ecosystems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 105: 2740–2744CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Denney N. H., Jennings S., Reynolds J. D. (2002) Life-history correlates of maximum population growth rates in marine fishes. Proceedings of Royal Society B 269: 2229–2237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dewailly E., Rouja P. (2009) Think big, eat small. Science 326: 44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dulvy N., Allison E. (2009) A place at the table?. Nature Reports 3: 68–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dulvy N. K., Sadovy Y., Reynolds J. D. (2003) Extinction vulnerability in marine populations. Fish and Fisheries 4: 25–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF): (2009) Dirty fish: How EU hygiene standards facilitate illegal fishing in West Africa. EJF, LondonGoogle Scholar
  23. FAO. (2005). Fisheries topics: Utilization. Nutritional elements of fish. Text by Lahsen Ababouch. Rome: FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department [online], Updated 27 May 2005. Accessed June 18, 2009.
  24. FAO. (2008). FAOSTAT Statistics Database. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed December 1, 2008.
  25. FAO.: (2009) The state of world fisheries and aquaculture 2008. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, RomeGoogle Scholar
  26. FAO. (2010). Report of the third FAO Expert Advisory Panel for the assessment of proposals to amend appendices I and II of CITES concerning commerically-exploited aquatic Sp. Rome, 7–12 December (2009).Google Scholar
  27. Froese, R., & Kesner-Reyes, K. (2002). Impact of fishing on the abundance of marine species, Vol. 12. ICES Council Meeting Report CM 12/L:12, International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), Copenhagen, Denmark, pp. 1–15.Google Scholar
  28. Froese R., Stern-Pirlot A., Kesner-Reyes K. (2009) Out of new stocks in 2020: a comment on “Not all fisheries will be collapsed in 2048”. Marine Policy 33: 180–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Garcia, S. M. (2009). Rising to depletion? Towards a dialogue on the state of national marine fisheries. Prepared for the Global Program on Fisheries (PROFISH). Preliminary Report. April 2009 (Version2). Agriculture and Rural Development Department. Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  30. Garcia, S. M., & Newton, C. H. (1997). Current situation, trends, and prospects in world capture fisheries. In E. K. Pikitch, D. D. Huppert & M. P. Sissenwine (Eds.), Global trends: fisheries management, pp. 2–27. Proceedings of the American Fisheries Society Symposium 20, Seattle, USA, 14–16 June 1994. Bethesda: American Fisheries Society.Google Scholar
  31. Garcia, S. M., & Grainger, J. R. (2005). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B. Biological Sciences, 360, 21–46.Google Scholar
  32. Gascuel D., Zeller D., Taleb Sidi M.O., Pauly D. (2007) Reconstructed catches in the Mauritanian EEZ. In: Zeller D., Pauly D. (eds) Reconstruction of marine fisheries catches for key countries and regions (1950–2005). Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, pp 105–120Google Scholar
  33. Grainger, R. J. (1999). Global trends in fisheries and aquaculture. In National Ocean Service, NOAA, Center for the Study of Marine Policy at the University of Delaware, The Ocean Governance Group. Trends and future challenges for US National Ocean and Coastal Policy: Workshop materials. Washington, DC, pp. 21–25.Google Scholar
  34. Grainger, R. J., & Garcia, S. M. (1996). Chronicles of marine fishery landings (1950–1994): Trend analysis and fisheries potential. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 359. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.Google Scholar
  35. Gulland J. A. (1971). The fish resources of the ocean. Fishing News (Books), West Byfleet.Google Scholar
  36. Hilborn R., Litzinger E. (2009) Causes of decline and potential for recovery of Atlantic cod populations. The Open Science Fish Journal 2: 32–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hilborn R., Walters C. J. (1992) Quantitative fisheries stock assessment: Choice, dynamics and uncertainty. Chapman & Hall, New York, p 570Google Scholar
  38. Jackson J. B. C., Kirby M. X., Berger W. H., Bjorndal K. A., Botsford L. W., Bourque B. J., Bradbury R. H., Cooke R., Erlandson J., Estes J. A. et al (2001) Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293: 629–638CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Jennings S., Greenstreet S. P. R., Reynolds J. D. (1999) Structural change in an exploited fish community: A consequence of differential fishing effects on species with contrasting life histories. Journal of Animal Ecology 68: 617–627CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kelleher, K. (2005). Discards in the World’s marine fisheries: An update. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 470, FAO, Rome. 131 p.Google Scholar
  41. Klyashtorin, L. B. (2001). Climate change and long-term fluctuations of commercial catches. The possibility of forecasting. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 410, FAO, Rome. 86 p.Google Scholar
  42. Lotze H. K., Lenihan H. S., Bourque B. J., Bradbury R. H., Cooke R. G., Kay M. C., Kidwell S. M., Kirby M. X., Peterson C. H., Jackson J. B. C. (2006) Depletion, degradation, and recovery potential of estuaries and coastal seas. Science 312: 1806–1809CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA): (2005) Ecosystems and human well-being: Current state and trends: Findings of the condition and trends working group. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  44. Myers R. A., Worm B. (2003) Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature 423: 280–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pauly D. (1996) One hundred million tonnes of fish, and fisheries research. Fisheries Research 25: 25–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pauly D. (2009) Beyond duplicity and ignorance in global fisheries. Scientia Marina 73: 215–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pauly D., Christensen V., Dalsgaard J., Froese R., Torres F. Jr. (1998) Fishing down marine food webs. Science 279: 860–863CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pauly D., Christensen V., Guénette S., Pitcher T. J., Sumaila U. R., Walters C. J., Watson R., Zeller D. (2002) Towards sustainability in world fisheries. Nature 418: 689–695CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pauly D., Watson R., Alder J. (2005) Global trends in world fisheries: Impacts on marine ecosystems and food security. Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society B 360: 5–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pitcher T., Kalikoski D., Pramod G., Short K. (2009) Not honouring the code. Nature 457: 658–659CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pramod, G., Pitcher, T. J., Pearce, J., & Agnew, D. (2008). Sources of information supporting estimates of unreported fishery catches (IUU) for 59 Countries and the high seas. Fisheries Centre Research Reports 16 No. 4.Google Scholar
  52. Sadovy Y., Cheung W. L. (2003) Near extinction of a highly fecund fish: The one that nearly got away. Fish and Fisheries 4: 86–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Srinivasan U. T., Carey S. P., Hallstein E., Higgins P. A., Kerr A. C., Koteen L. E., Smith A. B., Watson R., Harte J., Norgaard R. B. (2008) The debt of nations and the distribution of ecological impacts from human activities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105: 1768–1773CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sumaila, U. R., & Hannesson, R. (in press). Is MSY=MEY? Fish and Fisheries.Google Scholar
  55. Sumaila, U. R., & Suatoni, L. (2006). Economic benefits of Rebuilding U.S. ocean fish populations. Fisheries Centre Working Paper #2006-04, Vancouver, BC: The University of British Columbia.Google Scholar
  56. Sumaila, U. R., Khan, A. S., Dyck, A. J., Watson, R., Munro, G., Tydemers, P., & Pauly, D. (in press). A bottom-up re-estimation of global fisheries subsidies. Journal of Bioeconomics.Google Scholar
  57. Sumaila U. R., Marsden A. D., Watson R., Pauly D. (2007) Global ex-vessel fish price database: Construction and applications. Journal of Bioeconomics 9: 39–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2002). Integrated assessment of trade liberalization and trade-related policies: A country study on the fisheries sector in Senegal. Geneva, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  59. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). (2010). Status of Fishery Resources off the Northeastern United States.
  60. Walters C., Maguire J.-J. (1996) Lessons for stock assessment from the Northern Cod collapse. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 6: 125–137Google Scholar
  61. World Bank & FAO. (2009). Sunken billions: The economic justification for fisheries reform: Case study summaries. Permanent URL: Accessed April 15, 2009.
  62. Worm B., Barbier E. B., Beaumont N., Duffy J. E., Folke C., Halpern B. S., Jackson J. B. C., Lotze H. K., Micheli F., Palumbi S. R., Sala E., Selkoe K. A., Stachowicz J. J., Watson R. (2006) Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. Science 314: 787–790CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Worm B., Hilborn R., Baum J.K., Branch T.A., Collie J.S., Costello C., Fogarty M.J., Fulton E.A., Hutchings J.A., Jennings S., Jensen O.P., Lotze H.K., Mace P.M., McClanahan T.R., Minto C., Palumbi S.R., Parma A.M., Ricard D., Rosenberg A.A., Watson R., Zeller D. (2009) Rebuilding global fisheries. Science 325: 578–585CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • U. Thara Srinivasan
    • 1
    Email author
  • William W. L. Cheung
    • 2
  • Reg Watson
    • 3
  • U. Rashid Sumaila
    • 4
  1. 1.Pacific Ecoinformatics and Computational Ecology LabBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of East AngliaNorwichUK
  3. 3.Sea Around Us Project, Fisheries CentreUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  4. 4.Fisheries Economics Research Unit, Sea Around Us, Fisheries CentreUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations