Stop the misinformation: the oceans will not run out of fish by 2048

This last year has been a stark reminder that we must be vigilant about questioning the information that we receive from the media. That today, as we are constantly inundated with a steady stream of the latest news, it is ever more important to question our sources, reflect on the content, and apply a critical eye to everything we read.

Last month, an article published on Forbes.com attempted to educate consumers about the status of our world’s oceans and the fish in them by painting a familiar, but largely unsubstantiated picture that has been repeatedly touted by the media in the last decade: “the oceans may run out of fish by 2048, so you should stop eating them.”

For the 1 billion people who rely on seafood for protein (largely in undeveloped countries), not eating fish isn’t much of an option - and for the many more who use seafood as a nutritious, healthful source of protein as a component of their diets, adding to the misinformation about the status of our world’s fisheries makes the notion of sustainable seafood confusing, as well as potentially damaging for the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on fishing as a way of life.

The best available evidence shows that the oceans, in fact, will not run out of fish by 2048.

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Published in a highly reputable source, it is easy for the uninformed reader to fully accept what is printed on page as fact. Upon further examination, however, the reader discovers that the research providing the basis for this review is not only outdated, it is a report that has been strongly criticized and largely dispelled in the fishery science community. In fact, the very authors of this paper wrote a follow up report refuting their own findings. 

The Science.

The Forbes.com article in question cites (multiple times) the now infamous “The oceans may run out of fish by 2048” statement - a statement based on a study published in 2006 by Boris Worm and others, which despite its staying power in the media, has been largely rejected within the fishery science community, and, indeed, overturned by Worm et al. themselves in 2009. The most recent global assessment, led by UC Santa Barbara economist Christopher Costello, projected that at worst 10-20% of fish stocks will be sustainably managed by 2050, and that a majority of stocks could be sustainable by 2050 if recent management successes in places like New Zealand, Iceland, and the western U.S. are replicated elsewhere.

Overstating the direness of the state of global fisheries risks obscuring the many ways people can consume and enjoy seafood sustainably. Fortunately for seafood eaters, the best available evidence shows that global fisheries won’t collapse in the next 30 years. While much work remains to manage fisheries more sustainably, and to combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing around the world, as consumers, we needn’t stop eating fish. Rather, we must become more educated and informed about our seafood purchases. Making a commitment to eat lower on the food chain - bivalves (clams, oysters, mussels) - and choosing to purchase seafood that is fully traceable back to the source, you can reap the benefits of seafood without contributing to the problem. Recent legislation in the United States is making it harder for seafood harvested illegally to enter the country, providing greater access to responsibly harvested seafood. Making informed purchases drives market share away from those fisheries that are suffering the effects of irresponsible fishing - it sends a message to seafood companies and retailers that consumers demand transparency and are active participants.

By questioning our sources - both in seafood and the news - we all contribute to a healthier ocean.