Overfishing: Worse than you might think

We have a choice to get fishing right. If we don’t, we’ve got a serious food crisis on our hands.

Amanda Leland Amanda Leland Senior Vice President, Oceans

Of all the threats facing the oceans today, overfishing takes the greatest toll on sea life—and people.

What is overfishing?
Overfishing is catching too many fish at once, so the breeding population becomes too depleted to recover. Overfishing often goes hand-in-hand with wasteful types of commercial fishing that haul in massive amounts of unwanted fish or other animals, which are discarded.

As a result of prolonged and widespread overfishing, nearly a third of the world’s assessed fisheries are now in deep trouble—and that’s likely an underestimate, since many fisheries remain unstudied.

Why does overfishing matter?
Overfishing endangers ocean ecosystems and the billions of people who rely on seafood as a key source of protein. Without sustainable management, our fisheries face collapse—and we face a food crisis.

What leads to overfishing?
Poor fishing management is the primary cause. Around the world, many fisheries are governed by rules that make the problem worse, or have no rules at all.

What’s the alternative?
With smarter management systems, known as fishing rights, we can reverse the incentives that lead to overfishing. Under fishing rights, fishermen’s interests are tied to the long-term health of a fishery. Their income improves along with the fish population.

Does it work?
Yes. From Australia, Belize and Chile to Denmark, Namibia and the United States, fishing rights have helped transform struggling fisheries. In the Gulf of Mexico, red snapper populations are three times what they were in 2007 when we helped reform that fishery. Over the next five years, we are working to ensure that sustainable fishing is firmly established in the U.S. and other countries.

  • 3 billionpeople worldwide rely on seafood as a key protein source.

Policy resources

A new “upside” model shows the environmental and economic benefits gained from making sustainable fishing the norm.

See the report »