To meet the ever-increasing fish demand, global seafood production has quadrupled over the past 50 years. As one of the biggest environmental problems of our lifetime, we cannot afford to let this issue go unnoticed. Here are 11 mind-blowing overfishing statistics and facts you should know about.  

11 Overfishing Statistics and Facts

Fish Production

1. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) fisheries capture statistics, between 970 to 2,700 billion fishes were caught from the wild each year between 2007 and 2016. Between 51 and 167 billion farmed fishes as well as 250 to 600 billion crustaceans were killed for food in 2017 alone.

2. The world produces around 200 million tonnes of fish and seafood every year. This comes from a combination of wild fish catch and fish farming. In fact, the rapid growth of aquaculture over the last few decades means we now produce more seafood from fish farms than we do from fisheries.

3. According to FAO, the top seven producing countries of global capture fisheries accounted for almost 50% of total captures, with China producing 15% of the total, followed by Indonesia and Peru with 7% respectively, India standing at 6%, the Russian Federation as well as the US at 5% and finally Vietnam at 3%. The top 20 producing countries accounted for about 74% of the total capture fisheries production.

Fish Consumption 

4. Global food fish consumption increased at an average annual rate of 3.1% from 1961 to 2017, a rate higher than that of all other animal protein foods such as meat, dairy, and milk. This has massively increased pressure on fish stocks across the world.

5. Per capita food fish consumption grew from 9.0 kilograms in 1961 to 20.5 kilograms in 2018, by about 1.5% per year. This proved that the average person’s consumption of fish has more than doubled in just half a century.

6. Global fish production is estimated to have reached about 179 million tonnes in 2018, of which 82 million tonnes came from aquaculture production. Of the overall total, 156 million tonnes were used for human consumption, equivalent to an estimated annual supply of 20.5 kilograms per capita. The remaining 22 million tonnes were destined for non-food uses, mainly to produce fishmeal and fish oil.

overfishing statistics

Figure 1: Global fish production, 2018

What Are the Most Threatened Fishes?

7. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified the Atlantic bluefin tuna as “endangered” in its Red List of Threatened Species, mainly due to challenging efforts in harvest control. Both Eastern and Western Atlantic stocks have declined at least 50% since 1970.

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8. The European eel is another critically endangered species included in the IUCN Red List. According to model projections, habitat degradation and overfishing, along with pollution and climate change, may push the European eel toward extinction by the end of the century. 

9. Over the past 50 years, overfishing has wiped out more than 70% of specific shark populations. For example, manta and devil ray sightings decreased by more than 90% between 2003-2016. White-tip sharks have been among the hardest hit, with a 98% population drop in the last sixty years due to overfishing. A 2015 IUCN report found that over 25% of sharks, rays, and skates are currently threatened with extinction. Overfishing, bycatch, climate change, pollution, habitat loss, prey loss and human disturbance have all collectively played a role in the decline of global shark species, with over a third of shark species now threatened with extinction

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Future Outlook

10. According to estimates, if nothing changes, the world’s oceans could be virtually empty by 2048, meaning we might run out of fish before mid-century.

11. As part of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 14), the UN and FAO are working towards maintaining the proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels. This, however, requires much stricter regulations of the world’s oceans than the ones already in place. In July 2022, the WTO banned fishing subsidies to reduce global overfishing in a historic deal. Indeed, subsidies for fuel, fishing gear, and building new vessels, only incentivise overfishing and represent thus a huge problem. 

Research for this article was conducted by Earth.Org research contributor Chloe Lam

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