Fisheries and aquaculture make significant contributions to global food security, livelihoods and economy, producing 167 million tonnes of fish, providing 17 percent of global populations' intake of animal protein and supporting the livelihoods of 12 percent of the world population. The United Nations has initiated and led a series of initiatives to achieve sustainable development, including the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, the Rio +20 agreement in 2012, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015. All these initiatives set a target of ending overexploitation of fishery resources, and the SDG Target 14.4 requests all fisheries manged sustainably and restoring depleted fish stocks to the level that produces maximum sustainable yield by 2020.
The FAO has monitored the state of the world's fishery stocks since 1974 by tracking about 500 stocks, which account for about 80% of the global catch. A myriad of data were used in our assessment, including FAO landings data from 1950-2015, assessment results from regional fisheries management organizations and country institutions, life history parameters, fishing effort and fishery independent information such as survey data.
To balances the goals of using the best available data and assessing stock status worldwide, some stocks were evaluated based on formal model-based assessment, but others using catch rates or surrogate measures of biomass. When data are insufficient for formal assessment, catch trends and expert judgment were also used to assess stock status. The FAO uses two measures for quality control. One is close consultation with local or regional experts on the fishery and the other is seeking supplementary information when the assessment is based on qualitative diagnostics or unpublished information.
The percentage of world fish stocks fished within biologically sustainable levels decreased from 90% in 1974 to 67% in 2015. The continuing decline indicates a worsening state of global fisheries sustainability and sounds the alarm that the SDG Goal 14.4 - zero overfishing by 2020 - may not be achieved. The results also show great variations among regions in the proportion of sustainable fish stocks from 91% in the East Central Pacific (FAO Area 77) to 38% in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. This highlights the need to strengthen fishery policy, governance, legal framework and management practice and to establish an effective global partnership that facilitates the implementation of the SDGs in an inclusive approach at the global level.