Global fishing fleet 5 times overcapacity

provided by World Wildlife Fund

orld fishing fleet overcapacity is five times greater than previously estimated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), according to a new study by World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The study finds that fishing capacity is 2-1/2 times greater than is needed to catch fish at a sustainable rate. This means that nearly two-thirds of the fishing fleet worldwide could be eliminated and there would still be enough fishing boats to catch all the fish that can be sustainably harvested.

"This powerful report demonstrates convincingly that overcapacity, the main force responsible for strip mining the biological wealth of our seas, is far more serious than we previously thought," said Scott Burns, director of WWF's marine program. "It also shows convincingly how government subsidies to the fishing industry in turn drive overcapacity."

The report also offers eight specific recommendations for a global plan of action to reduce overcapacity. It will be presented as governments gather for an FAO meeting in Rome this month at which fishing states will negotiate an unprecedented agreement to deal with the overcapacity crisis. The October report will include an appendix listing country-by-country estimates of overcapacity for 12 of the world's leading fishing nations.

With 70 percent of the world's 200 most valuable fish stocks including the Atlantic halibut and bluefin tuna either depleted or overfished, the impact of overcapacity is devastating. Mounting evidence also shows that loss of fish species is setting off a chain reaction in the marine environment that limits possibilities for recovery. According to the study, changes in the marine food web may cause future marine fish catch to fall dramatically as the remaining fish become smaller and more difficult to catch.

The study's release coincides with WWF's launch of its 500 Day Countdown Tour, a four-day, four-city tour of America that aims to engage the public in efforts to reverse the tide of environmental destruction. The launch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium will spotlight organizations that have committed to promote and implement sustainable fishing standards as identified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). It also aims to encourage all Americans to become better educated about the world's oceans by focusing on several critical marine conservation issues. For example:

  • Every year 29 million tons of fish, seabirds, sea turtles, and marine mammals are killed and discarded into the sea as incidental or unwanted by-catch. In total, one out of every three fish caught is wasted.
  • Coral reefs are one of the oldest types of living systems on Earth and the variety of life they support rivals the richest rainforests. Unfortunately, the world has already lost nearly one-tenth of its original coral reefs due to rising ocean temperatures, dynamite fishing, coral bleaching and souvenir hunting, and another third is at risk of destruction within the next two decades.
  • Every year more than 700 million gallons of toxic chemicals are dumped into the ocean 70 to 80 percent of it originating on land. Since 1988, there have been more than 22,000 beach closings and advisories because of pollution more than 4,000 last year alone.
  • The ocean covers 70 percent of the Earth's surface and is home to more than 80 percent of living organisms, yet despite its importance, the United States has spent more money on space research than it has on exploring our oceans leaving 95 percent a complete mystery.

After the 500 Day Countdown Tour kickoff in Monterey Bay, WWF will travel to the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas, to highlight the decline of the world's most endangered animals, including the rhinoceros and tiger. The third day will bring WWF to Zoo Atlanta to focus on the devastating damage to the world's forests and the new role corporations are playing in the conservation of these valuable resources. The tour will conclude in New York City, where WWF will release the results of a nationwide survey of people's view on the state of the environment and unveil WWF's vision and plan of action for reversing overall destructive trends in the environment.

On each day of the tour, WWF will call on people to take the "Living Planet Pledge" (found at to help make this 500-day period a turning point in the effort to leave our children a living planet. The Pledge is a statement of commitment to work a little harder to incorporate conservation values into how we live, what we buy, how we vote and what we teach our children.

"As the new millennium approaches, we have a unique opportunity to protect the precious web of life," said Burns. "WWF's 500 Day Countdown Tour will help bring home the urgency of that mission while encouraging people in the United States and around the world to make their own commitment to global conservation."

  World Wildlife Fund, known worldwide by its panda logo, leads international efforts to save life on Earth. Now in its fourth decade, WWF works in more than 100 countries around the globe to leave our children a living planet.

World Wildlife Fund, 1250 24th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037; (800) CALL-WWF;