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Keywords:

  • biodiversity;
  • ecological function;
  • ecosystem structure;
  • over-capacity;
  • social benefit;
  • sustainability

Abstract

The world's seas and oceans are a vital source of animal protein from fishing and a major contributor to global food security. It has been argued that global wild-catch production has reached its limit, and there is concern that many species are overfished. Concerns are also mounting about the state of marine ecosystems and the ecological impacts of fishing on them, with increasing efforts to protect marine biodiversity. Fisheries appear to be at an impasse – demand for seafood is rising but so is concern about the impacts of fishing. However, through a simple analysis, we show that global exploitation rates are well below long-term sustainable levels at a whole ecosystem level. The oceans can support considerably higher sustainable catch than currently harvested. Overfishing has happened but only to a small fraction of species as a result of intensive and selective fishing. Shifting fishing effort away from highly targeted stocks towards currently underutilized species would reduce pressure on overfished species, result in fewer adverse ecosystem effects of fishing and increase overall fisheries production. This shift requires significant changes to our views about seafood, particularly in the developed world. We suggest ways in which this paradigm shift could happen and the range of expertise that would be required to achieve higher global yields with less ecological impact.