Pauly and the study’s co-author, Dirk Zeller, said a long history of commercial enterprises jumping from fishery to fishery has decimated global populations. While some countries like the United States, Australia and parts of Europe have quota systems in place when numbers grow dire, many other nations offer no such protection.
“Throughout most of the world there is effectively no management,” Pauly said. “This sounds weird when you’re in the [U.S.] and you know that there’s a Coast Guard protecting the waters. But fisheries in the majority of the world have no management — there are nominal rules that are simply not respected, or there are no rules.”
He said aside from fisheries in Antarctica, which remains one of the last bastions of ocean, most have been grossly mismanaged. Around 9 percent of all fish caught — equating to billions of tons — are thrown out, the unintended victims of bycatch from mass fishing enterprises like shrimp trawlers.
Last year, a World Wildlife Fund study found many of the planet’s fish populations were on the “brink of collapse,” pointing to stocks of tuna and other fish that have declined by more than half since just 1970.
Pauly said consumers only need to look at the relatively common meal of fish and chips, which used to heavily feature cod. Now, as stocks of the fish have fallen to the point that officials have instituted months-long bans on catch, cheaper alternatives have mostly replaced the cod.
“It’s very difficult to find the fish you expect,” he said. “Cod is now a delicacy, and this process of luxurization is already underway.”