All Fish Stocks will NOT be Collapsed
This paper appeared in late 2006 in the Journal Science. Using time trends in catch it argued that if current trends continue all fish stocks will be collapsed by 2048. The figure below (modified from the original paper) shows the proportion of fish stock classified as collapsed plotted against year. Fitting the data points and projecting forward, all fish stocks would be collapsed by 2048.
It is important to note that the original paper covered a broad range of topics that have not been particularly controversial and the claim that all fish stocks would be collapsed by 2048 was a very small part of the paper. However, the authors press release emphasized “all fish gone by 2048” and that was what led the front page coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Criticism of the paper was rapid as the basic assertion was that no fish stocks were sustainably managed. In response to the criticism and the recognized problem that there are many reasons the catch of a fish stock may decline that are unrelated to the abundance of the stock, several of the authors of the paper worked with a number of fishery scientists to look at the abundance trends in fish stocks. This analysis was published in 2009 also in the journal Science, and showed that on average fish stocks where abundance was available were not declining, but increases and declines were roughly equal.
This graph from the 2009 paper shows that stock assessments performed by research agencies showed that stocks were on average stable in the last 20 years, and the lower graph shows that scientific research surveys also were stable in the last 20 years.
Since the 2009 paper there has been a wide range of papers published showing that fish stocks in many countries are well managed and increasing. No scientist now would support the assertion that all fish stocks will be collapsed by 2048.
Nevertheless, many web sites and blogs continue to repeat this story.
Here are a few more papers that rebut the myth:
Worm, B., R. Hilborn, J. K. Baum, T. A. Branch, J. S. Collie, C. Costello, M. J. Fogarty, E. A. Fulton, J. A. Hutchings, S. Jennings, O. P. Jensen, H. K. Lotze, P. M. Mace, T. R. McClanahan, C. Minto, S. R. Palumbi, A. Parma, D. Ricard, A. A. Rosenberg, R. Watson, and D. Zeller. 2009. Rebuilding Global Fisheries. Science 325:578-585.