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World fish stocks are in worse state than expected, study says

Palestinian fishermen displayed their catch in Gaza City.MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images

The world’s fish population is in a dire state, with about half of assessed stocks being overfished, according to a study backed by Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest.

The rate of depletion is worse than previous estimates of just over a third, Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation said in a report Sunday. A tenth of fish stocks worldwide is now on the brink of collapse, reduced to 10% of their original size, the study shows.

The findings are based on 48% of the total global catch for which there’s sufficient data, according to the report. The other half lacks information to say if they are sustainable or not. More than 1,400 stocks were assessed from 142 countries.


The journey to replenishing fish numbers isn’t easy. The report noted that it could take between three and 30 years for stocks to recover, and in many places that would require a major overhaul. The foundation recommended increased intervention and investment from governments, as well as better auditing and management practices from businesses.

Forrest is Australia’s third-richest person and the chairman of iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group. He has beefed up his interests in agrifood, completing a PhD in marine science, expanding into aquaculture and focusing much of his foundation’s work on ocean conservation. He recently challenged JBS SA’s plan to acquire a Tasmanian salmon producer on environmental grounds.

More details from the report:

  • Researchers gave nations a grade, ranging from 'A' to 'F', based on their progress toward restoring fish stocks and governance capacity.
  • Highest scoring countries are Chile, Iceland, Ireland, Lativa, Norway and the U.S. with a 'C' rating, indicating well-developed governance systems but more work is required across additional stocks to reach global sustainability goals.
  • Twenty countries received an 'F' grade, including Vietnam and Malaysia, where nearly all stocks are unassessed or overfished, and there's little prospect of advancing without major improvements in management, the report said.