A new analysis of data from fishing vessels shows that 55 percent of the world’s oceans are under pressure from the fishing industry, according to BBC News. The study was published in Science Magazine, and was led by Global Fishing Watch.
That amounts to four times the area of the planet dedicated to agriculture, and a shockingly high figure given that fishing only accounts for 1.2 percent of the world’s food production for human consumption.
By analyzing 22 billion messages from fishing boats and ships, the global map provides information that was unavailable previously. In addition to the geographical distribution of fishing activity, the analysis showed how political and cultural forces affect fishing activity.
According to David Kroodsma, of Global Fishing Watch:
“You’d think that fishing activity would follow some natural pulse of the seasons, but in fact that’s secondary to whether it’s a weekend or not, or whether there’s a moratorium, or a public holiday. Because fishing is an industrial activity tied to politics and culture, this is actually a positive message because it shows we have a lot of human agency in the way we fish the oceans, and it’s entirely within our power to change things.”
His team examined data from 2012 to 2016, from Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders of large fishing craft. This system automatically sends messages periodically about the location and course of these vessels. The analysis looked at messages from more than 70,000 ships, using algorithms to sift through the data, able to determine what gear the vessels are using, and when.
The analysis showed the most intense activity in northeast Atlantic and northwest Pacific, as well as pockets near South America and West Africa. Fishing fleets from just 5 countries were responsible for over 85 percent of fishing activities on the open ocean, outside exclusive economic zones.
What’s most exciting is what comes next,” according to Kroodsma.
“We can now ask questions that we have the data to answer. Where are different species at risk because of bycatch? Because you can now see the overlap between species’ ranges and fishing effort. Or, how do subsidies affect fishing? Or, do fishermen respond more to [fuel] prices than to some type of regulation? Or, what parts of the ocean need more protection? We can now have much more informed discussion.”
Smaller fishing vessels, which do not use AIS, are left out of the analysis. But since most of the vessels operating on the high seas are larger, the data for these areas is fairly comprehensive.