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Missing fish: 30 percent of global fish catch unreported

Global fish stocks are suffering a steeper decline than official numbers suggest.

By Brooks Hays
Missing fish: 30 percent of global fish catch unreported
A Palestinian boy watches over the day's catch at a local fish market near the Gaza City harbor. New research suggests the official numbers for the annual haul of fish from the world's oceans, or global catch, fail to account for artisanal, subsistence and illegal fishing. File photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- A new report out of Canada suggests nearly a third of the global fish catch goes unreported. For those in charge of managing commercial fish stocks, ignorance is not bliss.

"The world is withdrawing from a joint bank account of fish without knowing what has been withdrawn or the remaining balance," Daniel Pauly, the report's lead author and a professor of marine biology at the University of British Columbia, said in a press release. "Better estimating the amount we're taking out can help ensure there is enough fish to sustain us in the future."

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Pauly and his colleagues estimate 109 million metric tons of fish are taken from the planet's oceans every year -- 30 percent more than the 77 million metric tons officially reported. That's a lot of missing fish.

Researchers say the discrepancy is the cumulative failure of dozens of nations to account for artisanal, subsistence, and illegal fishing. At least 9 percent of the global catch are discarded fish -- fish caught and thrown back by commercial operations.

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Understanding the health of global fish stocks is vital to the efforts of fisheries managers and conservationists, who rely on accurate information to shape regulations and preservation efforts. Stock numbers and population trends dictate catch quotas, location restrictions and more.

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"This groundbreaking study confirms that we are taking far more fish from our oceans than the official data suggest," said Joshua S. Reichert, head of environment initiatives for the Pew Charitable Trusts, which sponsored the study. "It's no longer acceptable to mark down artisanal, subsistence, or bycatch catch data as a zero in the official record books."

"These new estimates provide countries with more accurate assessments of catch levels than we have ever had," added Reichert, "along with a far more nuanced portrait of the amount of fish that are being removed from the world's oceans each year."

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The new report was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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