The Sea Around Us at Vancouver’s March for Science (PHOTOS)

Photo by Deng Palomares

Photo by Deng Palomares

“It was the most organized, punctual march I’ve ever attended,” the Sea Around Us‘ Graduate Student Madeline Cashion said about the March for Science that took place in Vancouver on April 22, 2017.

Some 500 people gathered at Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza and, at 10 a.m., they started walking towards Creekside Park near Science World. Once there, an array of figures such as Dr. Scott Sampson, Paleontologist & CEO of Science World; Erin A’tman Ryan, Research Coordinator with the BC SPCA and member of the Syilx (Okanagan) Nation; and Marine Biologist Abby Schwarz, among others, gave speeches that touched upon the importance of academic freedom and evidence-based policy making, the cuts to scientific research funding proposed by the U.S. government, and climate change denial.

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Missing Catch movies

Sneak peek: The Sea Around Us’ research featured in the film “An Ocean Mystery: The Missing Catch”

Missing Catch movies
Researching and reporting on overfishing and underreported fish catches is not an easy task.

Nevertheless, for the past 18 years, the Sea Around Us has taken on this mission and nowadays its global reconstructed catch data has become a point of reference for scientists, conservation practitioners, fishers, and fisheries managers across the world.

But getting this information and the associated implications to the general public, and inspiring people to take action on it, is a whole different story. Fortunately, filmmaker Alison Barrat, from the Khaled Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, understood how important it is to spread the word about the true amount of fish we are taking out of our oceans and, with the support of the Smithsonian Channel, Rare and the Sea Around Us, produced and directed the documentary An Ocean Mystery: The Missing Catch.

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Photo by Elias Levy, Flickr.

Three cheers for biodiversity

Photo by Elias Levy, Flickr.

Photo by Elias Levy, Flickr.

Text by Daniel Pauly

Yes, the 6th Extinction is underway, and we are going to lose quite a bit of the Earth’s biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine, because of our agriculture, our fisheries, and because there are so many of us. But we should try to minimize the loss, using all the tools at our disposal.

One of these tools is slowing down, or even reversing, the rate at which we expand into and thus transform and ultimately destroy natural ecosystems and their biodiversity. On land, this consists of creating parks where the natural vegetative cover, notably forests, can maintain or reestablish itself, and provide habitats for animals that cannot live in landscapes shaped by agriculture.

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Photo by Nicolas Bailly

Thoughts on UBC’s Reconciliation Totem Pole

Photo by Nicolas Bailly

Photo by Nicolas Bailly

Text by Daniel Pauly

On April 1, 2017, a 17 m totem pole was raised at the south end of the University of British Columbia’s Main Mall. It is the Reconciliation Pole carved by Haida master carver and Hereditary Chief James Hart.

Hundreds of Vancouverites gathered for the event, which started at 1 p.m. with speeches by various First Nations dignitaries and dances. It was only shortly before 5 p.m. that the crowd -to which I belonged- on the small amphitheater to the south of the pole, was called on to tighten up the ropes that were laid along the field and connected to the semi-raised pole which was still resting on scaffolding.

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On meeting the Dalai Lama

Daniel Pauly and the Dalai Lama

Text by Daniel Pauly

On March 17, I met the Dalai Lama for a brief moment, following a long keynote speech he gave at a conference on ‘Buddhism in the 21st Century’, held in Lalanda, in the Indian State of Bihar.

It was not that I had suddenly given up on my freedom from religion. Rather, when I was invited to participate in this conference – along with a few western scientists involved in environmental conservation and animal welfare – I did not find any good reason why I should not accept, given that Buddhism appears to be the rare faith that does not require you to check your knowledge of physics, biology and history, as well common sense at the door.

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Teaching about Filipino sardines in Canada

Amy Coghlan, Eric Sy, Sony de Guzmán, Gordon Tsui, Sarah Popov. Photo by Deng Palomares

Amy Coghlan, Eric Sy, Sony de Guzmán, Gordon Tsui, Sarah Popov

Asunción de Guzmán, aka “Sony” in the underwater-research scene, is passionate about sardines, particularly those caught in the Philippines.

In fact, she is so fond of the tiny pelagic fish that she flew all the way from Manila to Vancouver Island to present at the “Drivers of Dynamics of Small Pelagic Fish Resources” symposium, organized by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and the North Pacific Marine Science Organization.  Continue reading

The Sea Around Us expands its global presence

Dr. Dirk Zeller, lead of the Sea Around Us – Indian Ocean node

Dr. Dirk Zeller, lead of the Sea Around Us – Indian Ocean node. Photo by Valentina Ruiz Leotaud

We are proud to announce that Dr. Dirk Zeller, Senior Scientist and the Executive Director of the Sea Around Us has been appointed as Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of Western Australia (UWA), a new position created at the UWA School of Biological Sciences and the UWA Oceans Institute. Dr. Zeller’s appointment supports the establishment of the Sea Around Us – Indian Ocean node at UWA.

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“An Ocean Mystery: The Missing Catch” to screen at UBC

Missing Catch invitation 2

Following its premiere on Earth Day at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and on the Smithsonian Channel, award-winning ocean conservation film An Ocean Mystery: The Missing Catch will screen in Vancouver on April 28, 2017.

Join the Sea Around Us for this free screening at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries – in the AERL Lecture Theatre (Room 120), 2202 Main Mall. Screening will start at 11 a.m. RSVP REQUIRED.

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Unexpected findings in West Africa

Sarah Popov and Dyhia Belhabib. Photo by Valentina Ruiz Leotaud

As we mentioned in a previous blog post, Dyhia Belhabib, Program Manager-Fisheries for Ecotrust Canada and a West Africa advisor to the Sea Around Us, and Sarah Popov, a research assistant at the Sea Around Us, were invited to Senegal by the MAVA Foundation with the aim of meeting a range of fisheries stakeholders and addressing the main challenges the subregion’s fishing sector is facing.

The pair left Vancouver on February 19, 2017 with their hopes high and a scheduled packed with workshops and community engagement activities.

However, it took them almost twice the estimated time to arrive in Senegal for their week-long stay.


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Cautious fish evolve out of marine reserves

Photo by Matana_and_Jes, Flickr

Photo by Matana_and_Jes, Flickr

New research supports the creation of more marine reserves in the world’s oceans because, the authors say, fish can evolve to be more cautious and stay away from fishing nets.

The research suggests that by creating additional “no-take” areas, some fish will stay within marine reserves where they are protected from fishing. While other fish will move around the ocean, these less mobile fish will continue to live in the protected areas, pass this behaviour on to their offspring, and contribute to future generations, increasing the overall stock.

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Making fisheries science accessible

Photo by Kyle Gillespie

Photo by Kyle Gillespie

Text by Madeline Cashion

Public speaking is an intimidating feat for pretty much everyone.

I am an extrovert who actively strives to listen more than talk (usually unsuccessfully…) while in conversation with any number of people, and yet I have a strong physical aversion to speaking in front of an audience in a professional setting. In part, this is because describing your science in a way that is accessible not only to other researchers but to a generalist, non-scientific audience is surprisingly tough. For example, terms that I use every day like gear, landings, discards, and exclusive economic zone are considered jargon to people who do not work with or study fisheries.

To a scientist, using common words in place of jargon seems imprecise and sensationalist. Science communication is difficult in any forum but can be almost impossible when you are in front of an audience and the immobilizing effects of the “fight or flight” response begin to eclipse your confidence.

Here’s a quick anecdote from a recent such experience of my own:

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Promoting small pelagic fish in Victoria

On March 11, 2017, the Sea Around Us Principal Investigator Daniel Pauly attended the international symposium “Drivers of Dynamics of Small Pelagic Fish Resources,” organized by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and the North Pacific Marine Science Organization in Victoria, B.C.

During a lecture in front of the “Remote sensing and ecology of small pelagics” Working Group, Dr. Pauly presented a paper “Mapping small pelagics, fisheries and the primary production they require,” which he co-authored with the Sea Around Us Senior Scientist Dr. Maria Lourdes Palomares.

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Reconstructing world views

Simon-Luc Noel

Although his last name means ‘Christmas’ in French, six years ago, Simon-Luc Noel exchanged North-Pole-like Beaumont in Alberta for the far more temperate Vancouver. He has not regretted it one bit.

For Simon-Luc, the ‘rain city’ has been a place of learning. First, he registered at the University of British Columbia where he completed a bachelor’s degree in Oceanography and Biology; then, he joined the Sea Around Us where he furthered his understanding of some of the urgent issues affecting the global oceans.

Talking about the moment when he applied to become a research assistant, Simon-Luc states that he was (and still is) convinced that “the idea of reconstructing catches to provide estimated numbers where most would simply put a zero is valuable and interesting. Thus, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get stuck into learning about global fisheries, while I decide on a Master’s degree down the line, and eventually a Ph.D.”

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The Women in the Sea Around Us

It is no secret that the proportion of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is much lower than that of men. According to the global non-profit organization Catalyst, women accounted for less than a third (28.4 per cent) of those employed in scientific research and development across the world in 2013.

In Canada specifically, the percentage of women working in the STEM fields has increased only by 2 per cent in the past three decades to 22 per cent in 2015 from 20 per cent in 1987.

Things are slowly improving, but there is still a long way to go. This is why at the Sea Around Us we thought it was important to introduce you, our readers, to the female scientists whose work is key to the success of our project.

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A globetrotter in the search for new adventures

Darcy Dunstan

Darcy Dunstan moved to Vancouver in September 2015 and a month later he was already working at the Sea Around Us.

Even though he is from a small town called Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island, this 20-something has always pushed to expand his horizons. First, he moved to the British Columbia capital to pursue a biology degree at the University of Victoria. Having grown up close to the ocean and having explored the underwater world since age 10, Darcy was convinced that he wanted to focus his career on marine biology.

Even before finishing his university degree, he was already combining his passion for traveling and his love for nature. In the summer of 2013, he spent a couple of months in Belize researching tropical ecology and culture. Later on, in February 2015, he flew to Thailand to help conduct coral reef and seagrass bed surveys at a marine conservation centre.
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Jellyfish fisheries research awarded by the Vancouver Aquarium

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 was a great day for the Sea Around Us’ postdoctoral fellow Lucas Brotz.

During the celebration of the 22nd Annual Coastal Ocean Awards, the Vancouver Aquarium presented Lucas with the Michael A. Bigg Award for student research “for his exceptional contributions to the understanding of jellyfish in waters around the world.” Specifically, judges were impressed with his global catch reconstruction of jellyfish as food for humans.

For Lucas, this honour closes with a flourish a decade’s worth of work under Daniel Pauly’s guidance and, at the same time, opens up new opportunities to continue exploring the almost uncharted world of jellyfish.

LISTEN to Lucas explaining the “shocking findings” regarding the amounts of jellyfish people eat worldwide.

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Challenges in West Africa

Sarah Popov and Dyhia Belhabib.

Without a doubt, team efforts generate the best results.

With this mindset, a couple of scientists embarked on a journey to West Africa on February 18, 2017.

Dyhia Belhabib, Program Manager-Fisheries for Ecotrust Canada and a West Africa advisor to the Sea Around Us, and Sarah Popov, a research assistant at the Sea Around Us, were invited to Senegal by the MAVA Foundation with the aim of meeting a range of fisheries stakeholders and addressing the main challenges the subregion’s fishing sector is facing.

Senegal was the country of choice because that is where West Africa’s Fisheries Commission is based.

Dyhia Belhabib and Sarah Popov explain more in the following video.

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ON VIDEO: Daniel Pauly and the Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries

The Aquatic Ecosystems Research Laboratory 120 was packed and people on social media were frantically asking about how to join the Facebook Live stream.

For over an hour, the Sea Around Us Principal Investigator, Daniel Pauly, presented the methods and findings in the Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries, which he published in late 2016 together with Dirk Zeller.

For those who could not be in attendance, the IOF’s communications department prepared series of videos that capture the highlights from Pauly’s presentation.

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IOF Seminar Series: Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries

On February 17, 2016 the Sea Around Us‘ Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller will be sharing their views on the importance of the Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries, the first book to provide accurate, country-by-country fishery data.

Their presentation is part of the IOF Seminar Series held every Friday at the Aquatic Ecosystems Research Laboratory 120, located at the University of British Columbia 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver. Continue reading

Millions of tonnes of prime fish off limits to humans

Every year for the past 60 years, an average of 20 million tonnes of fish caught in the global ocean have not been used to nourish people.

A new study emerging from the Sea Around Us project at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries reveals that from 1950 to 2010, 27 per cent of commercial marine landings were diverted to uses other than direct human consumption.

This trend has not changed in recent years and it poses serious questions regarding food security, as most of the diverted fish are classified as food-grade or prime food-grade.


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The looming extinction of the Maui dolphin

Maui’s dolphin. Photo by New Zealand Department of Conservation, Flickr

The world’s rarest and smallest known subspecies of dolphin, the Maui dolphin, is about to go extinct. Its population is down to 60 individuals from 2,000 in the 1970s.

Journalist Christopher Pala just launched a series of articles focusing on the reasons behind the disappearance of this subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin and the actions governments are taking (or not) to stop the death toll from rising.

Follow this link to read the first article of the series in Science.

Why did FAO choose to ignore the existence and trends of the reconstructed catch data?

Marine Policy recently published “Comments on FAOs State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA 2016),” authored by the Sea Around Us leaders Drs. Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller.

Both scientists expressed their concern over the implications for resource management and global food security of ignoring information aimed at filling the gaps that exist in the data reported by countries to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

They divide their observations into a few main points:

VIDEO: How much is fished in your country’s waters?

Photo by Alper Çuğun, Flickr.

Trawl nets, drift nets, longlines, etc. have allowed fleets across the world to turn their fishing operations into massive extractive activities.

In several countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones, such expansion has led to depleted fish stocks. Some of those countries, however, have enough capital to buy access to other countries’ waters, extract their resources and sell them across continents. “They are just exporting the problem,” the Sea Around Us Senior Scientist Dirk Zeller has said.


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Developing love for fishery data

Ar’ash Tavakolie

Ar’ash Tavakolie

At some point in his life after having been in Vancouver for a few years and being done with his Ph.D. at UBC, Ar’ash Tavakolie really wanted to join an organization working to make the world a better place.

He wanted, of course, to put his engineering and machine-learning skills to good use, so he was looking for a place where data processing and knowledge creation were the focal points. That is how he landed, a decade ago, at the Sea Around Us. “The fact that it was in marine conservation also encouraged me. I felt I could pay my dues to the environment,” he says with a smile.

Ar’ash loves that, through the collaborative work he was doing with the Sea Around Us team, he was able to help spread the word about how much countries are (over)fishing and the dangerous situation in which fisheries are putting the world’s fish stocks.

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Can Brexit save the UK’s seas?

Photo by Chris Allen for Geograph, licenced under CC.

Photo by Chris Allen for Geograph, licensed under CC.

The British press was all over them.

The day after they received the Ocean Award in the Science category, the Sea Around Us leaders, Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller, were bombarded with questions regarding their findings on declining fish stocks and their catch reconstruction research method.

Talking to the BBC, Pauly explained that the decline is due to overfishing. He also said that, in most countries, real catch numbers are 50 per cent higher than what is actually reported by official bodies, while in Europe the figure shrinks to about 30 per cent. “What is not counted (in Europe) is the fish that is discarded -and quite a big amount of fish is being discarded-, and about 10 per cent that is caught illegally and is not counted,” he said.

The next question was expected: Can the UK design and implement better fishery policies once it leaves the European Union?


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Daniel Pauly named “Scientist of the Year” by Radio Canada

“C’est un honneur,” the Sea Around Us Principal Investigator and UBC Killam Professor with the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, Dr. Daniel Pauly said after Radio Canada’s Les Années-lumière named him “Scientist of the Year.”

Pauly is being recognized for his lifelong research efforts on the human impacts on global fisheries, which hit a high note in 2016 with two major publications, both co-authored with Dirk Zeller: The Nature Communications paper “Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining” and the Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries, released by Island Press.

Yanick Villedieu, host of Les Années-lumière, explained that the award aims at highlighting the work of a French-speaking scientist who, throughout his/her career but particularly in the past year, had a major discovery, achievement, or publication of national and international significance.

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“Zero is not a good estimate”: Sea Around Us on global fisheries

Fish sale at the beach. Photo by, Flickr.

The morning after accepting the 2017 Ocean Award in the Science category, the Sea Around Us leading team, Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller, met with the British press at the Science Media Centre.

After receiving praise for their Nature Communications paper “Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining” and the Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries, Pauly and Zeller were asked to explain the Sea Around Us’ findings regarding the fact that global fish catch is 50 per cent higher than what is officially reported by the FAO.

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Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller win Ocean Award

Charles Clover, Daniel Pauly, Dirk Zeller, and Sacha Bonsor. Photo by Boat International.

During a ceremony held at London’s “hottest place,” Restaurant Ours, the Sea Around Us leading team, Dr. Daniel Pauly and Dr. Dirk Zeller, received the Ocean Award in the Science category for their contributions to marine conservation and ocean health through the publication of the Nature Communications paper “Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining” and the Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries.

In these two publications, the scientists based at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries reveal, among many other things, that global marine fisheries catches have been declining, on average, by 1.2 million metric tons every year since 1996 due to overfishing.

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In less than two minutes, learn why fish catches are declining

Photo by Nat Van Egmond, Flickr.

Photo by Nat Van Egmond, Flickr.

As the Sea Around Us team revealed in its 2016 Nature Communications paper, global fish catches have been declining, on average, by 1.2 million metric tons per year since 1996.

This decline has resulted in lower per capita seafood availability and threatens food security in poor, developing countries. In fact, a group of scientists, among them the Sea Around Us Senior Scientist Dirk Zeller, has predicted that 11% of the global population could face micronutrient and fatty-acid deficiencies driven by fish declines over the coming decades.

That is 845 million people living with extremely low levels of iron, zinc or vitamin A.

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Sea Around Us’ work leads top 10 conservation wins of 2016

The Sea Around Us team couldn’t be more honoured. Today, National Geographic‘s Ocean Views published the “Top 10 Ocean Conservation Victories of 2016” and our program took the first spot.

“Future (fishery) management will have a more solid scientific foundation thanks to a decade of research by the Sea Around Us Project,” Marine Biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson wrote.

In 2016, the Sea Around Us compiled most of its findings in two major publications: The Nature Communications paper “Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining” and the Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries.

The main discovery? Countries drastically underreport the number of fish caught worldwide, and the numbers obscure a significant decline in the total catch .

Follow this link and read more on NatGeo’s article.

Sea Around Us updates real catch numbers

The Sea Around Us team is pleased to announce that the marine fisheries catch data and derived indicators on its website have been updated from 2010 to include information from 2011, 2012, and 2013.

This means that time series with 64 years’ worth of data (1950-2013) are available for free on, as is our catch mapping tool.

The documentation of data, methods, and assumptions made for this update will be presented for each country and territory in early 2017, after a further update to 2014 has been completed.

sau-updated_19117611_01a3118f59e5051cdb44c86c516e5d7e6e044720 Continue reading

A recording artist with a passion for fish

Maria Ho

Maria Ho

Maria Ho has been with the Sea Around Us since October of 2014 and has, since then, been the right hand of Dr. Daniel Pauly and Dr. Dirk Zeller.

As their administrative assistant, she enjoyed being what she calls a “resource person” and populating their calendars back to back with talks, trips, Ph.D. defences, press commitments, lectures and so on. “I love coordinating events, conferences, and catering for meetings. I also enjoy proofreading work and editing text for publication. I like helping people,” she says.

Before joining the Sea Around Us at Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, Maria held a similar job at BC Children’s Hospital for more than nine years. When she was considering joining the Sea Around Us, she knew that the change was going to be drastic, but there was something stronger pushing her to make the move. Continue reading

Global fishery trends in one book

The Sea Around Us team recently launched the Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries, the first book to provide accurate, country-by-country fishery data.

In just a few months since it was released to the market by Island Press, the Atlas has become an indispensable resource for researchers, students, fishery managers, professionals in the fishing industry, environmentalists, and so on.

It has also gathered attention from the press in Canada, the US, Spain, and Venezuela.

On the below video, Dr. Daniel Pauly, the Sea Around Us principal investigator, expands on the findings published in the book regarding reported vs. unreported global catch and the challenge of dealing with unreliable statistics from certain countries, among other topics.


Daniel Pauly on the importance of the Albert Ier Grand Medal

As we mentioned in a previous post, last November Sea Around Us principal investigator Dr. Daniel Pauly was conferred the 2016 Albert Ier Grand Medal in the Science category.

In a ceremony held at the Maison des Océans in Paris, Pauly was handed the award by Albert II, Prince of Monaco, and M. Robert Calcagno, General Director of the Institute Océanographique.

Feeling hugely proud and very pleased by the honour, he said that the importance of the distinction is that it helps bring attention to the urgent issues affecting the world’s oceans.

Indigenous people eat 15 times more seafood than non-Indigenous people


Researchers from the Nereus Program at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries developed a global database of over 1,900 Indigenous communities and estimated seafood consumption at 2.1 million metric tonnes per year or 2% of global catch.

In other words and as the infographic above shows, coastal First Nations consume 74 kg of seafood per capita, whereas the global average is 19 kg.

The study was conducted, with the support of thousands of researchers across the world, by Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program leaders Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor, who is the Manager and Research Associate, and Yoshitaka Ota, who is the Program Director of Policy.

For more than two years, the researchers worked with communities recognized as Indigenous groups, self-identified minority groups, and Small Island Developing States and their findings have just been published by PLOS ONE.

As an anthropologist who has worked with Indigenous fisheries in Indonesia, Japan, and Papua New Guinea, among others, Ota understands that local policies tend to be weak but, when gathered and analyzed with a global perspective, stronger links can be built.

He also wanted to pursue a study that relied on big data. “I met with Daniel Pauly five and a half years ago and he said I should work with Indigenous peoples at a global scale,” Ota remembered.

A third source of inspiration for this research on seafood consumption by First Nations came from Nereus’ own interest in tackling issues, such as climate change, whose impacts are especially felt by minorities and vulnerable populations. “But local needed to be global,” Ota said.

On this video, the study’s lead author, Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor, gives more details about their findings.

To read more about the study, visit Nereus Program’s website.

The plan to ban fishing in more than half the world’s oceans

Fishes eye view of the Island Star. Photo by Derek Keats, Flickr.

Fishes eye view of the Island Star. Photo by Derek Keats, Flickr.

This analysis was originally posted in New Scientist, and can be found here.

By James Randerson.

IT IS one of the planet’s last true wildernesses, yet a handful of the world’s wealthiest nations are plundering its riches to satisfy the appetites of luxury consumers – all with the help of billions in public money.

The great blue wilderness in question is the “high seas” – the 58 per cent of the ocean outside the 200-nautical-mile limit that defines the area each coastal country can exploit as an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The vast majority of the high seas is a fishing free-for-all with almost no legal protection, but now a bold idea is taking root: why not ban fishing there altogether?

The plan might seem an impossible conservation dream, especially with a new US president who has rejected internationalist foreign policy and environmental protections, but it has been gaining momentum. At the Our Ocean conference, hosted by the US Department of State in Washington DC in September, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke warmly about the notion of placing the high seas off limits. Turning this vast area of ocean into a marine protected area would be “an extraordinary step”, he argued.

(…) So like a nautical Robin Hood, a ban would take from the rich and give to the poorest nations, whose own coastal waters are being deprived of migratory fish by the high seas trawlers. “Globally we will benefit but you are going to have losers,” says Rashid Sumaila at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Continue reading the full story by clicking here.

Impacts of climate change on contaminants in fisheries

Dr. Elsie Sunderland (left). Photo: Valentina Ruiz Leotaud.

Dr. Elsie Sunderland (left). Photo: Valentina Ruiz Leotaud.

By: Valentina Ruiz Leotaud.

On November 17th, the Nereus Program hosted a talk with a VIP guest speaker: Dr. Elsie Sunderland, the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science at Harvard University.

In an hour-long presentation, which took place at UBC’s Green College, Dr. Sunderland summarized part of the work that her research group is undertaking on the biogeochemistry of global contaminants.

Many environmental contaminants biomagnify in marine food webs, reaching high concentrations in top predators, which means that they are posing health risks to humans and wildlife.

Sunderland started by saying that focusing just on carbon pollutants provides a very narrow view that ignores the vast array of substances affecting the environment. Even when policymakers think they are choosing the greenest options when it comes to energy generation, they might be doing quite the opposite.

Dr. Elsie Sunderland.

Dr. Elsie Sunderland.

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Dr. Daniel Pauly (Photo from

Daniel Pauly awarded the 2016 Albert Ier Grand Medal

Photo: M. dagnino – Institut océanographique.

Photo: M. dagnino – Institut océanographique.

Just a day after World Fisheries Day, Sea Around Us Principal Investigator, Dr. Daniel Pauly, was awarded the 2016 Albert Ier Grand Medal in the Science category during a ceremony held at the Maison des Océans in Paris.

The Albert Ier Grand Medal is the most prestigious prize given by the Oceanographic Institute to great names of the marine world. It takes the form of a medal in gilded bronze bearing the embossed profile of Prince Albert Ist, a pioneer of modern oceanography and founder of the Institute.

Dr. Pauly is acknowledged as one of the greatest specialists of marine resources and the effects of overfishing in the world.

Besides attending the gala, Dr. Pauly is set to participate in the conference “Only One Ocean: Issues and Solutions,” which was organized by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Institute also with the idea of honouring him.

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On #WorldFisheriesDay learn how to use our tools

The Sea Around Us has reconstructed catch data for some 273 Exclusive Economic Zones, with the idea of helping countries better manage their fisheries.

As Dr. Daniel Pauly has said, this publicly accessible database builds on FAO statistics but overcomes its deficiencies by incorporating not only landings, but also by identifying the EEZs where the landings come from, presenting data by sectors (i.e., industrial, artisanal, subsistence and recreational) and estimating the illegal and otherwise unreported and undocumented catches.

The video above shows, step by step, how to view and download catch data by fishing country. Besides choosing among regions, users can also decide, by clicking on the “Dimension” drop-down menu, whether they want to see the information by EEZ, High Seas, Taxon, Commercial Groups, Functional Groups, Fishing Sector, Catch Type or Reporting Status.

The graphs also show how the reconstructed catch differs from official reporting.

Sea Around Us discusses future during annual retreat


Photo by Valentina Ruiz Leotaud.

The setting was ideal: The ocean on one side, the forest on the other.

There wasn’t a sound to be heard except that of a few seagulls, a sea lion somewhere, the waves lashing back and forth, and the enthusiastic team of the Sea Around Us talking about plans and projects for the coming years.

It was all part of the Sea Around Us’ annual retreat, which took place on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast on November 4th-6th, 2016.

Leaders Daniel Pauly, Dirk Zeller, and Deng Palomares traveled with associated faculty, staff, and students with the idea of updating everyone on everything: from finances to exciting new initiatives and potential new directions.

Photo by Deng Palomares.

Photo by Deng Palomares.

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Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries

Sea Around Us’ new Atlas reveals why the ocean is giving us 1.2 million MT less of fish every year

Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries

Global marine fisheries catches have been declining, on average, by 1.2 million metric tons every year since 1996 and FAO knew very little about this.

Fortunately, the Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries has just been released and it explains, in detail and country-by-country, the reasons behind this unprecedented phenomenon, its consequences when it comes to food security and the steps that can be taken to ease the dire situation.

The 520-page book, published by Island Press, is the product of a 10-year research effort led by two renowned scientists from the Sea Around Us project at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries: Dr. Daniel Pauly and Dr. Dirk Zeller, who were backed by close to 400 researchers from 273 countries.

Why wasn’t this issue reported before? Because for the past 50 years, member countries have been giving FAO misleading information regarding their fishery data. Thus, while the UN agency officially divulged a peak in global catches of 86 million metric tons by 1996, the real figure the UBC experts unearthed was of 130 million metric tons. Following that spike, numbers have been in sharp decline.

Countries’ inaccurate information is the result of unaccounted catches, such as those originating from recreational, artisanal, and illegal fishing, as well as from discarded bycatch.

One of the three chapters on Canada included in the Atlas reveals that Arctic catches, for example, are entirely missing from official reports. “These are almost exclusively subsistence for the local people,” Zeller explains. “So, what Canada is telling the world community is that no one is eating fish up there in the Arctic, which is simply wrong.”

The Atlas also shows the impact of discards in Canada’s fisheries data. “The northwest Atlantic was the area with the largest discards worldwide in the 1960s and 1970s,” Zeller says. The reasons for discarding were mostly getting ‘non-marketable animals’ and high grading, a ‘fish the best and leave the rest,’ -kind of practice.

Catches everywhere have been bountiful up until now, the Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries states. But the decline in volumes reveals that fish stocks are in danger. And climate change is only making things worse.

There is still hope, though. The Sea Around Us scientists present a series of recommendations on how nations can rethink the way they approach ocean management, in order to rebuild their fish stocks.

The Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries is, thus, an indispensable resource for policy makers, researchers, students, professionals in the fishing industry, and all others concerned with the status of the world’s oceans.

Until January 6, 2017, the book will be available around the world for a reduced price of $60.00. Island Press ships worldwide and readers can use the code 4ATLAS for an additional 20% discount.

The Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local independent bookseller, and through international distributors in the UK and Europe, Canada, and Australia.

A perfect storm: Climate Change and Overfishing

The Sea Around Us has been featured in the IRIN news network, with an extensive story outlining how overfishing and climate change are warping our marine ecosystems. Within the story, Executive Director and Senior Scientist Dr. Dirk Zeller provides analysis of how the Sea Around Us data is helping to better understand the crisis.



By Jared Ferrie

Oceans have absorbed more than 93 percent of the heat generated by human activity since the 1970s, according to a report published this month by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

It says a “truly staggering” rise in temperature has caused chaos in the seas: dangerous microbes and cholera-carrying bacteria are breeding in warmer waters, along with toxic algae, which could poison fish and humans that eat them; coral reefs that provide the habitat for a quarter of the world’s marine species are dying; species including turtles, seabirds, and fish are being driven into cooler waters towards the poles.

For experts researching global fisheries, the IUCN report, compiled by 80 scientists in a dozen countries, landed with a dull thud on top of a growing pile of their own studies that show overfishing is already decimating stocks worldwide.

Dirk Zeller, executive director of the Sea Around Us research institute at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia, said it’s hard enough trying to convince countries to scale back fishing to sustainable rates. And as with overfishing, the warming seas won’t affect everyone equally.

To read the full story, click here.

Future fisheries can expect $10 billion revenue loss due to climate change

Developing countries that are dependent on fisheries for food and livelihoods may be the hardest hit, while many developed countries could see revenue increases. Image: Tuna for sale at Auki market, Malaita Province, Solomon Islands. Photo by Filip Milovac., WorldFish, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Developing countries that are dependent on fisheries for food and livelihoods may be the hardest hit, while many developed countries could see revenue increases. Image: Tuna for sale at Auki market, Malaita Province, Solomon Islands. Photo by Filip Milovac., WorldFish, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The following is work being done by Sea Around Us partners the Nereus Program and OceanCanada


Global fisheries stand to lose approximately $10 billion of their annual revenue by 2050 if climate change continues unchecked, and countries that are most dependent on fisheries for food will be the hardest hit, finds new UBC research.

Climate change impacts such as rising temperatures and changes in ocean salinity, acidity and oxygen levels are expected to result in decreased catches, as previous research from UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries has found. In this study, the authors examined the financial impact of these projected losses for all fishing countries in 2050, compared to 2000.

“Developing countries most dependent on fisheries for food and revenue will be hardest hit,” said Vicky Lam, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, and the study’s lead author. “It is necessary to implement better marine resource management plans to increase stock resilience to climate change.”

While many communities are considering aquaculture, also known as fish farming, as a solution to ease the financial burden of fishing losses and improve food security under climate change, when researchers examined the growing industry, they found it may exacerbate the negative impact on revenues.

“Climate adaptation programs such as aquaculture development may be seen as a solution,” said William Cheung, associate professor at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and a study co-author. “However, rather than easing the financial burden of fishing losses and improving food security, it may drive down the price of seafood, leading to further decreases in fisheries revenues.”

The researchers used climate models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to examine the economic impact of climate change on fish stocks and fisheries revenues under two emission scenarios. In a high emission scenario, the rates continue to rise unchecked, while a low emission scenario meant ocean warming is kept under two degrees Celsius.

“Global fisheries revenues amount to about $100 billion every year,” said co-author, Rashid Sumaila, professor at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and Liu Institute for Global Studies. “Our modeling shows that a high emissions scenario could reduce global fishing revenue by an average of 10 per cent, while a low emissions scenario could reduce revenues by 7 per cent.”

The researchers found the countries that rely highly on fish are the most vulnerable, including island countries like Tokelau, Cayman Islands and Tuvalu. Meanwhile, many developed countries, such as Greenland and Iceland, could see revenue increases as fish move into cooler waters.

The study was published today in Scientific Reports: http://www.​nature.​com/​articles/​srep32607

A Look Back: Recreational fishing accounts for half of all fish caught in The Bahamas


Here we look back at a paper published in the summer of 2015:

By: The PEW Charitable Trusts

Tourist fishing is big business in The Bahamas, but exactly how big was not known until now.

Scientists with the Sea Around Us— a scientific initiative at the University of British Columbia supported by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts—conducted a catch reconstruction, reviewing a range of data sources to estimate unreported catch. They found that recreational anglers landed about 8,000 metric tons a year over the past 60 years—approximately half of all fish caught in the country. This more accurate estimate may allow the government to better protect the local food supply.

“We depend heavily on tourism, but it can be a double-edged sword,” says Nicola Smith, a marine ecologist from Nassau and a doctoral candidate at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “You could get into serious ethical issues if the majority of the natural resource needed for sustenance is diverted for tourism and not being closely monitored.”

In The Bahamas, no one is keeping regular count of all the fish that tourists catch at sea or eat in restaurants. The government tracks only large-scale commercial catch, a common practice in many countries because commercial fishing is often considered more important to the local and national economies and because small-scale operations can be difficult to monitor. This limitation largely excludes categories such as artisanal, recreational, subsistence, and illegal fishing, as well as discards—fish that are caught and thrown away—and masks the true extent of fishing worldwide.

“The government is not systematically counting any of it, despite its importance for tourism,” Smith says. “The legislation to monitor and regulate recreational fishing has lagged behind the advertising.”

As the lead author of the Sea Around Us study, co-authored by Dirk Zeller of UBC, Smith is looking at the bigger picture. Her analysis worked to “reconstruct” the catch by all fisheries sectors in The Bahamas from 1950 through 2010 as part of a global project focused on identifying total fish catch, including previously uncounted data from many countries and spanning several decades.

Catch reconstruction is based on the idea that some catch information exists outside official fishery statistics and that it can be pulled together to produce a more complete picture of the catch. In the case of The Bahamas, Smith estimated catch by subsistence fishers using population data and a conservative assumption of per-capita consumption. She estimated how much fish the tourists were landing by combining catch limits with data from government tourism surveys.

Another category of catch proved especially difficult to estimate: small-scale commercial fishing. Fishermen in this sector sell much of their catch directly to restaurants rather than to processing plants, which are monitored by the government. Smith interviewed fishers and hotel purchasing managers and found that it was common for artisanal fishers to moor at a dock to sell fish directly to a hotel restaurant. It remains unclear what proportion of the country’s entire catch can be attributed to this practice. For this study, the researchers conducted a survey to estimate per-visitor fish consumption, then calculated total catch using hotel room occupancy data.

Oceana Canada to host science symposium in October 2016


An exciting symposium will take place this fall looking at the health of Canadian fisheries.

Oceana Canada is hosting a science symposium in Ottawa on October 26, 2016, titled Rebuilding Abundance: Restoring Canada’s Fisheries for Long-Term Prosperity.

At the event Principal Investigator of the Sea Around Us, Daniel Pauly, will be giving the keynote address. He believes Oceana can play a central role in helping Canada maintain sustainable fisheries.

“Oceana has helped other countries rebuild their stocks,” said Pauly. “And they have an excellent record of making fisheries data more transparent and available to the public,” he added.

Canada is making more money from its seafood industry than ever before, but it depends on a small number of stocks. There is growing evidence that with the right policy, management and enforcement measures in place, Canada can rebuild its fisheries and communities for long-term prosperity.

A fisherman departs from Fisherman's Cove located at the South East of Halifax Harbour.

A fisherman departs from Fisherman’s Cove located at the South East of Halifax Harbour.

The symposium will address these important questions:

1. What are the opportunities for recovery and growth of our fisheries?
2. What policy changes will best support healthy fisheries and oceans?
3. What reforms are needed to increase abundance and ensure the fair and equitable distribution of resources?

“As Oceana staff have done in other countries where they are active, they will work to make the information on Canadian stocks transparent, and then focus on having them rebuilt, so that we can have greater abundance and higher catches,” Pauly said.

To learn more and register for the symposium, click here.

Tools and data for improving fisheries policy worldwide

Credit: Choh Wah Ye, via Flickr.

Credit: Choh Wah Ye, via Flickr.

This article was originally posted in OpenChannels, and can be found here.

By David Geselbracht, Communication Officer, Sea Around Us,

Access to better data on the world’s fisheries is essential for improving fisheries policy globally, especially in developing countries where data on fisheries is often extremely limited. The Sea Around Us, an initiative based out of the University of British Columbia, investigates and documents the impacts of fisheries on the world’s marine ecosystems. The initiative has reconstructed catch data for over 250 Exclusive Economic Zones with the goal of providing some of the most comprehensive global fisheries data needed to improve policy.

To make access to data simple and efficient for fisheries managers, policy makers, and research, the Sea Around Us has developed several free, publicly-available research tools:

•A catch allocation mapping tool allows users to view where in the world countries fish, and how their fishing has changed geographically over time. A video tutorial on the tool is available here.

Interactive graphs allow users to view, analyze and download catch data and relevant references across multiple regions. In addition, users can view catch data for different regions and taxa across time – from 1950-2010 – and see how the reconstructed catch differs from official reporting.

Taxon distribution maps (found through the mapping tool) allow users to see where marine taxa that are part of the Sea Around Us global catch data occur globally. A video tutorial on the maps is available here.

•The Sea Around Us also offers indicator tools such as Marine Trophic Index and economic tools that elucidate how government intervention can both help and hinder fisheries sustainability.

•A biodiversity tool provides key information on taxa in the Sea Around Us database.

The data mentioned above and used in the tools are also easily downloadable and available for use by researchers, governments, NGOs, and other interested users.

Sea Around Us data highlighted in The Great Orchestra of Animals.

The Great Orchestra of Animals, published by the Cartier Foundation.

The Great Orchestra of Animals, published by the Cartier Foundation.

Work by the Sea Around Us was recently used for the book Le Grand Orchestre Des Animaux, a visually stunning oeuvre described as an “aesthetic, scientific, and philosophical” exploration of the animal world, and a book that also describes the innovative work of Bernie Krause, an American musician and ecologist who dedicated his life to the collection of natural soundscapes.

Dr. Dirk Zeller collaborated with the Cartier Foundation—who produced the 350 page book—and identified Sea Around Us data and graphs that could be used in a section describing the decline of global biodiversity.

Maps depicting the increase in global fish catch from 1950.

Maps depicting the increase in global fish catch from 1950.

Specifically, a graph showing the recent decline of global fish catch was used that was originally published in the Pauly and Zeller 2016 paper, Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher that reported and declining. Using Sea Around Us data, the Cartier Foundation also created visual renderings of global fish catch through time from 1950 to 2010, using maps with coloured gradients.

The Great Orchestra of Animals looks at the methods, purpose, and passion of Bernie Krause—the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of his lifelong pursuit of natural sounds—which are currently part of an exhibition in Paris. Visitors enter into immersive soundscapes that make audible a world often silent in our cities and towns —from the purring of jaguars at night, to the sonorous songs of humpback whales. The exhibition ends in January 2017.

To hear some of the sounds found at the exhibition, visit

Video: Dr. Dyhia Belhabib concludes West African capacity-building workshop

Dyhia Belhabib gives a presentation at the E

Dyhia Belhabib gives a presentation at the West Africa capacity-building workshop

After two weeks of work and lectures the West Africa capacity-building workshop is coming to a close.

Organized by Dr. Dyhia Belhabib and funded through the MAVA Foundation, researchers from West African countries collaborated on many fisheries issues important to the sub-region.

Watch this 5 minute video to better understand what the workshop was about, and who was involved.

Under-reporting of Fisheries Catches Threatens Caribbean Marine Life

Turks and Caicos. Credit: Tim Sackton.

Turks and Caicos. Credit: Tim Sackton.

A recent study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Marine Science reveals that marine fisheries catches have been drastically under-reported in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean, threatening the marine environment and livelihoods of the local community. Lead researcher Aylin Ulman recently based at the Sea Around Us (Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries) in Vancouver, and her team call for urgent action from policy-makers to ensure the future sustainability of the fishing industry in this archipelago nation.

Fishing has historically been the main industry in the Turks and Caicos Islands, although tourism is now taking the lead. A higher demand for locally caught seafood is placing increasing pressure on local marine life. The islands operate small-scale fisheries for queen conch, Caribbean spiny lobster, and finfish as the three main target taxa groups. The local government is required to report all catches to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), as all UN member countries are voluntarily bound to complete each year. However, the data that are passed on by Turks and Caicos to the FAO are incorrect because they account only for commercial catches destined for export, omitting all catches caught and consumed by locals and tourists on the islands. “DEMA has done a great job of monitoring fish sold to the country’s fish plants,” said Aylin Ulman. “However, it seems they have not always had enough staff to monitor seafood being sold or given to locals and tourists, whether that be at the dock, in shops, or in restaurants.”

To be able to trade with signatory nations of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, it must be demonstrated that the international trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten the stocks local survival. The data illustrated from this report clearly demonstrate that the conch export quota is unsustainable and should be drastically reduced to protect local conch stocks from overexploitation. The derivation of the ‘so called’ maximum sustainable yield quota incorporates catches only destined for export, but sometimes factors in local consumption estimates which have been vastly underestimated, putting the future of the stocks at risk. For a better estimate of the amount of seafood caught around the islands, and hence total reconstructed catches for the island nation, the authors assessed all catches between 1950 and 2012. More accurate records of catches for export, artisanal, and subsistence fisheries were identified from Turks and Caicos Islands Government reports. In addition, a recent and thorough seafood consumption study completed in 2013 involving locals and tourists enabled more accurate estimates of the previously unreported local consumption amounts. The reconstructed data also includes estimates of recreational catches and illegal poaching.

Using recently developed mathematical models and newly collected data, Ulman’s research team have been able to project the most accurate estimates to-date of fish consumption by TCI residents and tourists. The results showed that the actual catches were an alarming 2.8 times higher than that reported to the FAO, and 86% higher after her team had adjusted the reported data using expert analysis, and this has very troubling implications. Reported catches have been used to put regulations in place for sustainable catch limits. However, these limits have been unsustainable, leading to the overexploitation of marine life. In fact, local consumption of conch is close to the total number allowed to be caught under these ‘sustainable’ limits, and this is without taking into account the number of conch that are exported, which almost equate to local consumption. As a result of this study, the authors hope that in the future catch limits will be based on total seafood catches from all fishery sectors. Local seafood consumption surveys should continue to be completed once each 3-5 years to track changing patterns, especially with the ongoing growth of tourism. These considerable local consumption catch amounts must be factored into the equation when calculating the total allowable catch limits, especially for the key species of conch and lobster to determine if it is even possible to continue the export business.

New legislation is needed to reduce seafood catches so the stocks are being fished within safe limits, and this study adds new weight to the urgency of this issue. The Turks and Caicos Islands Government have recommended a stop to the export of conch for up to five years to allow populations to recover, but they have been delayed in implementing this. While the results of the research may seem like bad news, the researchers are quick to emphasize that the new data may actually present an opportunity. Edward Hind added, “The staff at DEMA now have the knowledge to set catch limits that really will work. If the government supports the TCI’s fisheries scientists in collecting better catch data going forward, then the country can have healthy fisheries for decades to come.”

The under-reporting of fisheries catches is common in other regions and neighbouring island nations. Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica are facing the same the problems and urgent action is required to avoid further overexploitation of marine life.
Read the full article by Aylin Ulman, Lily Burke, Edward Hind, Robin Ramdeen and Dirk Zeller: ‘Conched Out: Total Reconstructed Fisheries Catches for the Turks and Caicos Islands Uncover Unsustainable Resource Usage’ in Frontiers in Marine Science.

Longtime Sea Around Us member Kyrstn Zylich embarks on new career

Kyrstn Zylich is set to begin her studies in occupational therapy at the University of Alberta this September.

Kyrstn Zylich is set to begin her studies in occupational therapy at the University of Alberta this September.

Kyrstn Zylich — for many years a key pillar of the Sea Around Us team — will soon be departing for the frozen tundra of Edmonton in pursuit of an advanced degree in occupational therapy at the University of Alberta.

A senior research assistant with the project over the past four years, Kyrstn has been instrumental in coordinating and finalizing countless catch-reconstruction reports and datasets, many in collaboration with colleagues across the globe.

She started with the project as a volunteer in 2011, and soon after transitioned to a full-time research assistant opportunity. In 2012 she made the jump to senior research assistant and has since proven herself a highly organized, collaborative and thoroughly positive member of the team.

For Kyrstn, what made her time at the Sea Around Us especially memorable were the colleagues she worked with.

“A big part of why I enjoyed the job was that I loved the people here, and I’ve made so many incredible friendships,” she said.


It was a class she took as an undergrad called “Darwin’s Fishes” — taught by Daniel Pauly — that really sparked her interest in marine sciences. “We read sections of the Origin of Species and discussed different concepts within; we talked about natural history, and shifting baselines,” she said.

When Kyrstn took over the job as senior research assistant in 2012 she was thrust into a demanding role. But she took to the challenge like a fish in water and thrived in the new position.

“I was able to communicate with people from all over the world, answering their questions about catch-reconstructions, editing reports and training people, among a variety of other duties,” she said.

She is now off to tackle a new challenge. Her affinity for science has led her to occupational therapy, where she wants to learn hands-on skills to help children with cognitive injuries better participate in school; and aid the elderly so they can stay independent; or help those with injuries transition back to work.

She has a month before her masters program starts in September.

“I’m very sad to be leaving the West Coast, it’s so beautiful here. But I’m excited to explore a new city and have a change of scenery,” she said.

However, the bigger issue for Kyrstn is sports. Kyrstn is a die-hard Vancouver Canucks fan and her office is draped with images of hockey players like Alex Burrows and, the ‘anointed one’, Trevor Linden. When asked whether she will change her allegiance to the Edmonton Oilers she doesn’t hesitate: “Never.”

As the sports-bars fill up with rowdy Oilers fans in Edmonton, Kyrstn acknowledges she may have to “silently support” her hometown team.

The Sea Around Us wants to thank Kyrstn for her tremendous contribution to the project, and wishes her success in her future endeavours!

Collaborative Research

Dyhia Belhabib gives a presentation at the West Africa capacity-building workshop

Dyhia Belhabib gives a presentation at the West Africa capacity-building workshop at UBC

On the third day of the West Africa capacity-building workshop researchers narrowed down subject areas to analyze — areas, they agree, that are affecting all countries in the West Africa sub-region, and therefore, need to be confronted through nation-to-nation collaboration.

Dr. Dyhia Belhabib, who organized and is coordinating the two-week workshop, said that four topics have been decided upon. These are, broadly, climate change, marine protected areas, illegal fishing, and governance. A different group of researchers will look at each of the topics.

For climate change, it is important to understand the resilience of artisanal fisheries in the facing of changing temperatures, and mitigation steps that can be taken. Regarding marine protected areas (MPA’s), the researchers will look at tools for assessing and evaluating their effectiveness, and how MPA’s create resilience in local communities. A group of researchers will study whether enforcement is an effective measure to recover value lost by IUU fishing. And finally, another group will study the need for better data in facilitating effective governance.

The workshop is a unique opportunity for researchers from multiple West African countries to share data and experience.

Alkaly Doumbouya, a Senior Scientist at Guinea’s centre for fisheries science, believes finding data to combat these issues is difficult — yet meeting with researchers from other countries, and with the Sea Around Us, can help fill in the gaps.

“It is not easy to find data because data is rarely made public. And the ministries do not work well together,” he says about Guinea, where he is from.

Alkaly Doumbouya,  Guinea. Senior Scientist at the country's fisheries research centre.

Alkaly Doumbouya, Guinea. Senior Scientist at the country’s fisheries research centre.

To help with this issue, other members in the workshop are helping to find relevant data, he adds.

Dyhia, who is facilitating the dialogue among the various groups, is emphasizing the sharing and collaboration of information. “Every group is contributing to other groups” she says.

Doumbouya believes Dyhia is essential to the workshops functioning. “Dyhia has travelled to all these countries and understands the issues there,” he says.

Doumbouya’s group in the workshop is looking at illegal fishing. He says there is a lot of data on the number of illegal boats caught, and how much fish they have caught, as well as the fines they have paid — yet the problem is that all the data is spread through various institutions in his country, Guinea. He hopes that countries in the sub-region can come together, share data, and create standardized rules to measure the effects of illegal fishing, and enforce rules prohibiting it.

The workshop will break after lunch for a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium. Updates to come.

Nicola Smith visits Rome for the Committee on Fisheries and represents the Bahamas

(Left): Edison Deleveaux, Deputy Director of Marine Resources, Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, The Bahamas, attending COFI 32. (Right): Nicola Smith and Dyhia Belhabib at COFI 32 side event (b).

(Left): Edison Deleveaux, Deputy Director of Marine Resources, Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, The Bahamas, attending COFI 32. (Right): Nicola Smith and Dyhia Belhabib at COFI 32 side event (b).

By Nicola Smith

I attended the FAO 32nd session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) as a part of the official Bahamas delegation on 11th – 15th July 2016 in Rome, Italy. Edison Deleveaux, deputy director of Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources in The Bahamas, accompanied me as part of the delegation. The trip was made possible due to the generosity of the Sea Around Us at the University of British Columbia. Dyhia Belhabib from the Sea Around Us and Angela Bednarek from The Pew Charitable Trusts joined Mr. Deleveaux and I in Rome for COFI 32 and coordinated our stay while there. In addition to attending the COFI meeting, I presented key findings from The Bahamas fisheries catch reconstruction study (1950-2010), conducted by Dirk Zeller and I and published in the January 2016 issue of Fishery Bulletin, at the COFI 32 side event entitled, “Reliable fishery statistics and importance for food security assessments”.

Attending COFI 32 was significant for The Bahamas for three main reasons. First, and most important, this was the first time that a delegation from The Bahamas has had the opportunity to attend COFI. Second, as an official spokesperson for the government of The Bahamas, Edison Deleveaux made a country statement on the floor of COFI on 11th July 2016 that specifically addressed the need to improve catch data collection and reporting in The Bahamas. In his statement, Mr. Deleveaux mentioned that The Bahamas was implementing a new, improved fisheries data collection system with assistance from the FAO. This new system accounts for catches from the subsistence fishery for the first time and improves upon reporting of catches from the small-scale artisanal fishery. Moreover, Mr. Deleveaux highlighted in his statement that although this new data collection system is promising, it still does not account for catches from the recreational fishery in The Bahamas, which a catch reconstruction study conducted in collaboration with the Sea Around Us showed to be substantial. This latter point about unreported catches from the recreational fishery is important, and was the focus of my presentation during the COFI 32 side event the following day on 12th July 2016. Third, during COFI, Mr. Deleveaux and I were able to speak with Milton Haughton, executive director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism Secretariat, and Mark Williams, director of the Marine Resources Department in St. Kitts and Nevis, to coordinate country statements on the floor of COFI 32 about the impacts of climate change on fisheries in the Caribbean, which are already being felt.

The side event at COFI 32 on fishery statistics was a huge success. The event was organized by the FAO and co-sponsored by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the governments of The Gambia and The Bahamas. The event was held on 12th July 2016 at 12h30 to 14h00 in the Ethiopia room of the FAO, and consisted of several presentations followed by a panel discussion that was moderated by Fred Kingston, executive secretary of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. Dyhia Belhabib gave a presentation on “Catch reconstructions: approach, results and implications in a data poor context” while I presented on “The ‘other’ half of the story: unreported catch data for The Bahamas”. National representatives from The Gambia, Cameroun and Senegal also gave presentations in addition to Manuel Barange, director of Fisheries and Aquaculture Division at FAO, who presented on “FAO’s approach to improvement of statistics for securing small-scale fisheries”. There were approximately 50 people in the attendance, including Edison Deleveaux from The Bahamas delegation.

My presentation was well received at the side event. I emphasized the importance and magnitude of catches from the recreational fishery in The Bahamas – recreational fishing accounted for 55% of total reconstructed catches from 1950 through 2010 – and the need to report catches from this sector, which is closely linked to tourism in small island states. Several people, including FAO staff members and various country delegates, approached me after my presentation to congratulate me on a great talk and to state that they had not realized the importance of recreational fisheries and its strong ties to tourism. Some people such as Philippe Michaud, president of the Seychelles Fishing Authority, Ministère des Finances, du Commerce et de l’Économie Bleue, also expressed that there were several similarities between their own countries and The Bahamas in terms of the close linkage between tourism and recreational fisheries. Philippe Michaud also raised the point that there is a need to conduct an economic valuation of recreational fisheries in small island states dependent on tourism.

The greatest success of the side event, from my perspective, was when the FAO acknowledged the validity of reconstructed catch data for The Bahamas. Specifically, during the panel discussion, Luca Garibaldi stated that the FAO was willing to accept all of the reconstructed catch data for The Bahamas, particularly the recreational catch data, provided that The Bahamas government officially endorses the reconstructed catch data and retroactively submits it to the FAO. Mr. Garibaldi also expressed the need for The Bahamas catch reconstruction to be updated to 2015.

West African workshop: Fisheries Economics

Dr. Rashid Sumaila gives a lecture to West African researchers as part of a Sea Around Us workshop funded through the MAVA Foundation.

Dr. Rashid Sumaila gives a lecture to West African researchers as part of a Sea Around Us workshop funded through the MAVA Foundation.

The second day of the West Africa capacity-building workshop saw Dr. Rashid Sumaila give an engaging lecture on the economics of fisheries. The workshop is being coordinated by Dr. Dyhia Belhabib and is funded through the generous support of the MAVA Foundation.

Sumaila discussed several fundamental principles — like supply and demand, externalities, and incentives — and applied them to real world examples in West Africa.

Sumaila also discussed how fishing subsidies — the bad ones, at least — can negatively affect fisheries management policies, and how this has been an issue for a long time. For instance, in the seminal book Wealth of Nations, legendary philosopher/economist Adam Smith talked at length about fishers off the coast of the UK during the 1700’s — who were, as Sumaila summarizes, “not fishing for fish but fishing for subsidies.”

Fisheries economics is important for many West African countries, especially Sierra Leone, Senegal, and The Gambia, where entire coastal communities rely on fish catches to sustain their livelihoods — and yet, where illegal fishing, often by foreign fleets, is devastating their ability to continue fishing as they’ve done for hundreds of years.

Josephus Mamie is from Sierra Leone and works for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, where he is responsible for supervising statistics data collection and analysis, and implementation of fisheries policies. He is at the workshop to broaden his knowledge and connect with different researchers confronting a spectrum of issues.

“It’s always good to learn about new initiatives and to work with renowned scientists like Rashid Sumaila and Daniel Pauly,” he said.

Josephus Mamie is from Sierra Leone and works for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, where he is responsible for supervising statistics data collection and analysis, and implementation of fisheries policies.

Josephus Mamie is from Sierra Leone and works for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, where he is responsible for supervising statistics data collection and analysis, and implementation of fisheries policies.

In Sierra Leone, fishing is becoming less economically viable due to the scourge of illegal fishing. Mamie believes Sierra Leone needs to take concrete steps to confront the issue.

“We need a national plan of action to combat illegal fishing. But right now we have limited capacity, capability, and capital to address it,” he said.

Sumaila agrees. The fishing sector in West Africa is in trouble and today thousands of fishers are unemployed, and all too often their livelihood has been ‘stolen’ by foreign fleets. In fact, many fishers are migrating north in search of employment in Europe — a dangerous and often disappointing journey.

Sumaila believes researchers in West African countries need better data and better arguments to pressure their governments to implement more effective policies. He hopes that after the two week workshop, many of the researchers present will have better tools to move that conversation forward.

West African Scientists to work with the Sea Around Us at UBC


Sea Around Us Workshop at the University of British Columbia

July 25th – August 5th, 2016
By Dr. Dyhia Belhabib

We are happy to announce a fully funded capacity-building workshop for fisheries scientists and fisheries experts from the West African sub-region (i.e., Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Cape-Verde, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone), funded by the MAVA Foundation. The workshop –- which will run between July 25 and August 5 — will be held at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia. The Sea Around Us has focused its work over the last decade on the ‘reconstruction’ of total catches by the marine fisheries of the world, with a heavy emphasis on fisheries – domestic and foreign – in West Africa.

The training-plan for the workshop will focus on the priority issue of each country, using detailed catch reconstruction data, Marine Protected Area coverage, climate change indexes, and other parameters researched by participants. Their research will focus on data and knowledge gaps that require addressing and will produce scientific papers authored or co-authored by the candidates. The workshop will also include instructions on major concepts such as fishing down the marine food webs and shifting baselines, fisheries economics and policy, climate change impacts, Marine Protected Areas, as well as details of the global Sea Around Us and FAO databases, the global online encyclopedias FishBase/SeaLifeBase, and some basic training in scientific writing.

Expected outcomes:

At the end of the workshop, each participant or group of participants will be expected to produce a draft of a paper whose topic will be conceptualized within the above stated fields. This paper will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal during or immediately after the workshop.

The Sea Around Us, which together with the Fisheries Economics Research Unit (FERU), and the Changing Oceans Research Unit (CORU), form the Global Fisheries Cluster ( — which itself is headquartered at the Institute of Oceans and Fisheries at UBC. Participants are expected to interact with and develop collaborations with these units based on their country’s priority issues. It is hoped that these interactions and collaborations will be leveraged into future opportunities for data exchange and collaborative research work.

Furthermore, the participants are expected to develop a solid regional West Africa network and work closely with colleagues from other West African countries to research common issues and priorities.

The Sea Around Us at COFI 2016

COFI Side Event

The most recent meeting of the Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (COFI) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) ended July 15 in Rome, and Dr. Dyhia Belhabib represented the Sea Around Us.

COFI is essentially the global parliament of fisheries. It is the only global inter-governmental forum where major international fisheries and aquaculture problems and issues are examined.

Dyhia also participated at a COFI side event where catch reconstructions were discussed between the FAO, the Sea Around Us, country representatives, staff from The Pew Charitable Trusts and Vulcan Inc., and other interested parties. This side event was sponsored by the governments of The Bahamas and The Gambia in collaboration with the Sea Around Us. It was a good opportunity for Dyhia to explain what catch reconstructions are, and why they are helpful to countries for improving their national data on fisheries catches.

Here is a summary of the Sea Around Us’ experiences at COFI and the associated side event:

This was the second time that Sea Around Us participated at COFI. And this time, we had a side event organized by FAO and co-sponsored by The Bahamas and The Gambia, in collaboration with the Sea Around Us.

FAO strives for reliable catch statistics and they help countries in their data collection and capacity building. FAO relies heavily on statistics provided by countries. However, often some catch data are deemed to be non-existent simply because a country has no formal data collection program in place for certain aspects of fisheries, e.g., recreational fisheries or subsistence takes. This constrains the data FAO can report on behalf of these countries, leading to global statistics under-representing actual total catches, as clearly documented in a paper in Nature Communications by Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller in early 2016 [accessible here], and in other regional [e.g., Pacific islands, accessible here] and country-specific publications [example accessible here or here]. This is where the Sea Around Us with its catch reconstruction approach can contribute, by using reasonable and conservative methods to estimate those catches missing from official data collection programs.

Side event at COFI

The Sea Around Us submitted a proposal for a COFI side event co-sponsored by the governments of The Bahamas and The Gambia. The COFI organizing committee combined this proposal with a data event proposed by FAO. Thus, FAO kindly organized a combined side event, and Dyhia Belhabib was able to meet several FAO statistical staff, including Marc Taconet, Lucas Garibaldi and the new Director of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Resources Division (FIA), Manuel Barange.

During the event, Dyhia had the impression that there were misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding the reconstruction methods that the Sea Around Us and the large number of our international collaborators use. This misunderstanding indicates to us that many of the people who quickly criticize a country’s catch reconstruction often seem not to have read the relevant papers and reports carefully to understand the methods and approaches used. To criticize that the methods used are not ‘proper’ or ‘relevant’ seems to also miss the fact that around 1/3 of all reconstructions have now been embedded in the scientific literature and have thus undergone independent and critical expert peer-review. Thus, it is not viable for the international fisheries statistical community to continue to disregard, ignore or downplay this growing body of global work.

Some other criticism that made the assumption that all the reconstruction work was done from Canada (where the Sea Around Us is headquartered) also points to a clear lack of proper prior research from those who raised this point. The Sea Around Us worked with over 400 co-authors from 200 countries. Dyhia’s work alone requires her to spend over 50% of her time working on active engagement with our partners in West Africa. The diversity of the panel participants, including from The Gambia and The Bahamas (apparently their first ever participation at COFI) talking about catch reconstructions was very informative by itself.

As part of our engagement, Dyhia also held direct discussions with FAO staff to hopefully help dispel the lingering misconceptions about the methods used to derive the reconstructed catch data. After all, we often are able to use classical catch data estimation methods to ‘reconstruct’ catches. For example, in The Gambia we merely multiply data on fishing effort by a typical catch assessed for that kind of effort. The Gambia is currently re-assessing its artisanal fisheries using the catch reconstruction method to submit to the FAO these new data, corrected backwards in time. Both The Gambia and The Bahamas will be following up by including data resulting from catch reconstructions as part of their next data submission to FAO, a huge step for the countries and for the Sea Around Us.

This also led to a conversation about separating catch data by major fisheries sectors, namely small-scale and large-scale, which the Sea Around Us has applied to all countries in the world, in part in support of the FAO Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty, which was adopted at the last COFI meeting. This led to a conversation with the FAO team on fishing effort, and we will follow up on this. Hopefully one day, regional fisheries bodies, scientists and the general public will be able to access official data separated by sector, and thus better contribute to the public resource debate. We are hopeful that we will be able to collaborate with and assist FAO in the future. After all, we strive for the same goals.

Finally, The Bahamas made a statement on the main floor of COFI in support of the importance of considering reconstructed data as an alternative to ‘nothing’ in data reporting schemes.


This year’s COFI in Rome allowed the Sea Around Us to work with the FAO, member countries, and NGO’s to better understand the importance of catch reconstructions, which can help fill data gaps and provide a more accurate and comprehensive historical baseline for fisheries catches.

African Fisheries Plundered by Foreign Fleets

Credit: Christopher Pala

Credit: Christopher Pala

The following story was published in the Inter Press Service News Agency, and is by journalist Christopher Pala.

The original article can be found here.


In 2011, Dyhia Belhabib was a volunteer in the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver when she was asked to participate in the Sea Around Us’s project to determine how much fish had been taken out of the world’s oceans since 1950 in order to better avoid depleting the remaining populations of fish.

Belhabib had studied fisheries science in her native Algeria, so she was initially asked to oversee the Algeria component. She ended up leading the research in 24 countries. And though she was an expert and an African, over the next five years, the world of African fisheries took her from surprise to surprise, many of them disquieting, just like Voltaire’s Candide. And echoing Pangloss, who repeats “All is for the best in the best of possible worlds” to a Candide dismayed at the state of the world, the Food and Agriculture Organization insisted the world catch was “practically stable.”

“The most depressing thing for me was the realization that African countries got no benefit at all from all the foreign fleets,” she said. “In fact, the fishing communities suffered a lot, and in most places, the only people who made money were the government officials who sold the fishing licenses.”

The study found that the global catch was 40 percent higher than the FAO reported and is falling at three times the agency’s rate. But under this picture of decline, Belhabib uncovered a dazzling array of cheating methods that highlighted the low priority most governments place on fisheries management – and implicitly on the health of the people who depend on the sea for most of their animal protein.

When Belhabib started with Algeria, she was puzzled to see that the government reported to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) that between 2001 and 2006, it had fished 2,000 tons of bluefin tuna on average, and yet reported to the FAO that it had caught almost none. Belhabib discovered that for once, the FAO’s zero catch was not a metaphor for “We have no data,” as the study found in many countries. In fact, undeterred by the fact the Algerian fishermen didn’t know how to fish tuna with long-line vessels, the government had simply bought some boats and sold their quotas to countries that did, notably Japan and Italy.

The next country she tackled was Morocco, which took over the Western Sahara in 1975 over the objections of its nomadic people and the international community. The territory has unusually rich waters and two-thirds of Morocco’s catch comes from there. The study estimated the local value of the catch since 1950 at 100 billion dollars, but since it was almost entirely sold in Europe at twice the price, the real value of the catch was 200 billion dollars.

Had the Moroccan government insisted that foreign fleets pay 20 percent of that value, as the EU claims it does today in Morocco (in fact, the study found it pays 5 percent), it could have received a revenue stream of one billion dollars a year, which, had it gone entirely to the Western Sahara, would have doubled the GDP per capita of 2,500 dollars a year for its 500,000 people. Under the current agreement, the EU pays 180 million dollars for access to all of Morocco’s waters, or 120 million dollars for access to the Western Sahara’s waters. How much actually goes to the territory is unclear. Other nations pay far less.

Mauritania has a fleet of locally flagged Russian and Chinese large trawlers that haul in whole schools of small blue-water fish called sardinella. The coast is studded with idle processing plants built to turn them into fish meal, which is used as animal feed. Belhabib discovered that the ships were reporting to the government only a tiny fraction of their actual haul – some of it illegally taken from neighboring countries and selling the rest for higher prices in Europe. “The authorities had no idea,” she said. “They thought their fleet were landing and reporting their whole catch.”

In Senegal, which unlike Mauritania has a strong tradition of fishing, President Macky Sall expelled the Russians in 2012 because their ships had depleted the populations of sardinella, infuriating many Senegalese. “The Russians just got licenses in Guinea Bissau and went back to Senegal and continued to fish, though not as much,” Belhabib said.

The Senegal reconstruction also documented how the European bottom-trawlers severely depleted the country’s near-shore. As population pressure increased demand for cheap fish, the number of artisanal fishermen soared, and many went to work up the coast in Mauritania, where few people fish. But a conflict in 1989 with Mauritania resulted in the expulsion of thousands of Senegalese fishermen, even as the industrial fleets were increasing their catch off both countries, most of it stolen.

Out of desperation, hundreds of Senegalese fishermen and dozens of canoes over the past decade have been boarding Korean and Portuguese converted trawlers that drop them off near the coasts of other countries. There, they illegally drop baited hooks into underwater canyons out of the reach of bottom trawlers where large, high-value fish can still be taken. These spots, marine biologists say, have served as marine reserves, places where coveted, overfished species could reproduce unhindered – and are now being depleted too, pushing the stocks closer to collapse.

Belhabib’s team also discovered to her horror that subsidized European Union fleets had flocked to the waters of countries weakened by civil war, notably Sierra Leone and Liberia, increasing their stolen catch when the people needed cheap protein most.

They found that South Africa made no attempt to control or even report the extensive fishery in the rich waters off its Namibian colony; in 1969, for example, 4.8 million tons of fish worth 6.2 million dollars were caught, but only 13 tons were reported to the FAO. Today, Namibia has the best-managed fishery in Africa after effectively banning foreign-flagged fleets

Finally, examinations of illegal fishing determined that Spain, whose seafood consumption is double the European average, steals more fish than any other nation, followed by China and Japan.

A Global, Community-driven Marine Fisheries Catch Database

Turau via Getty Images

Turau via Getty Images

By Daniel Pauly

To manage the fisheries in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), countries need to know their catch. Ideally, countries (i.e., their department of fisheries or equivalent agencies) would know much more—size and productivity of the stocks being exploited, economics of the fisheries, etc.—but it is essential to know about catch as the goal of a fishery is to generate and maintain a catch, and if possible, to increase it.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) does maintain a publicly available database of fisheries statistics, based on submissions by its member states, but this covers only landings (i.e., it omits discarded bycatch), does not identify the EEZs where the landings come from, doesn’t present the data by sectors (i.e., industrial, artisanal, subsistence and recreational) and doesn’t estimate the illegal and otherwise unreported and undocumented (IUU) catches usually generated by roving distant-water fleets.

A publicly accessible database that builds on the FAO statistics but overcomes the deficiencies mentioned above has now been created (at which covers the fisheries of all maritime countries and territories of the world, from 1950 to 2010, and will be regularly updated. It is based on historic catch reconstructions by about 400 colleagues throughout the world, a decade-long support of the Sea Around Us by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the technical wizardry of programmers at Seattle-based Vulcan Inc., which complemented a two-year grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

The database, which also presents catch-related data and indicators (e.g., ex-vessel values of catches, different types of subsidies received by the fisheries of each country, stock-status plots) allows managers, scientists, students or ocean activist to find out how much is caught of the EEZ of each country and territory, by species or group of species, by sectors, by catch type (discarded or retained), and thus to acquire an understanding of the fisheries that was impossible to obtain previously, and which should help toward an improvement of their management. The data underlying the interactive graphic displays can be downloaded for further analysis.

All information on marine biodiversity in that database is derived from FishBase ( for fishes and from SeaLifeBase ( for invertebrates. These recognized online encyclopedias are closely linked to, and so allow for acquiring more information on exploited species.

Additionally, the database has a spatial expression, i.e., the catch data it contains have been plotted in space using knowledge of the global distribution of exploited fish and invertebrates (from FishBase and SeaLifeBase) and of the fisheries that rely on them. The result is that catch maps can be produced, by (group of) species and/or countries, showing, for example, how fisheries have expanded geographically from 1950 to the present.

As mentioned above, this database does not provide all the key information required to manage fisheries; notably, it lacks time series of biomass (i.e., the weight is of the fish left in the sea). We have plans to overcome this deficiency in the next few years. In the meantime, however, we hope that the interactive graphs and maps that can be viewed on, and datasets that can be downloaded from, will contribute to a better understanding of marine fisheries. For example, using this database, we could recently demonstrate that the world marine fisheries catches are about 50% higher than suggested by the FAO statistics (which can be viewed as a good thing, since it implies the oceans are more productive than we thought), but have been declining rapidly since 1996, which is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed.


This was just one example of what can be done with our database and website. We hope that these tools, moreover, will be questioned by empowered users, and that their feedback will gradually improve both. We also hope that, in the process, our website will become a relied upon one-stop go-to place for information on marine fisheries, and will thus contribute, via their improved management, to the incomes and food security of the millions of people who depend on fish.

The database described here allow time contrasting, for the first, the performance of large-scale (industrial) and small-scale (artisanal and subsistence) fisheries on a global basis. The definitions of large-scale (‘industrial’, often mislabeled ‘commercial’) and small-scale (often mislabeled ‘traditional’) are those prevailing in each maritime country. Governments tend to favor industrial fisheries, although it is the small-scale fisheries with meets most of the sustainability criteria.

The original article in the Huffington Post can be found here.

Nutrition: Fall in fish catch threatens human health


How will the 10 billion people expected to be living on Earth by 2050 obtain sufficient and nutritious food?

In the face of declining fish catches this question is much harder to answer. Yet, in a wide ranging article, several researchers — including Dr. Dirk Zeller from the Sea Around Us — try to answer it.

Read the full commentary in Nature here.


An Antidote to high-tech fishing

The following is a features essay written by Daniel Pauly in the most recent Save Our Seas Magazine. Below he describes the effects of industrial fishing on the oceans over the last 130 years — and how marine protected areas are needed to help conserve and restore what has been lost.


Feeding frenzy: whitetip reef shark feeding in the Maldives. The island nation declared its waters a sanctuary for sharks in 2010.  Photo by Mohamed Shareef | Getty Images

Feeding frenzy: whitetip reef shark feeding in the Maldives. The island nation declared its waters a sanctuary for sharks in 2010.
Photo by Mohamed Shareef | Getty Images

Industrial fishing began in the 1880s, when steam trawlers started to be deployed along the coasts of the British Isles. Frighteningly efficient, they soon liquidated coastal stocks of bottom fish – fish that had previously been exploited by subsistence and artisanal fisheries for centuries, even millennia, but had persisted.

The steam trawlers then had to expand their range into the open North and Irish seas and subsequently beyond, all the way into North Atlantic and Icelandic waters. The same expansion, but shifted a decade or so later, occurred with the nascent industrial fisheries of France, Germany, Russia, the United States and Japan. It’s a recurring pattern: the introduction of industrial fishing begets expansion because trawlers and other industrial fishing vessels (such as purse seiners) generate a pressure that generally cannot be tolerated by the species being targeted at a given fishing ground – and even less by the by-catch species, which are, by definition, subjected to unregulated fishing. Thus, one stock disappears after the other, and new stocks in previously unfished areas have to be found.

This depletion–expansion dynamic prevailed through much of the 20th century, albeit with the interruption of two world wars, which radically reduced industrial fishing and allowed fish to recover – if only temporarily – especially in the North Atlantic. In some areas, when this effect was strong, like in the North Sea, the recovery after a temporary reduction in fishing established the principle not only that stock abundance was inversely related to fishing intensity, but also that overfished stocks could recover, and some within a few years. In the last quarter of the 20th century, some countries, for example the US and Norway, built on this to counter the depletion–expansion dynamic of their fisheries. They allowed the stocks they had overexploited to rebuild, which the stocks did and now support vibrant ‘new’ fisheries.

In most other countries, however, the depletion–expansion dynamic continued. Thanks to their onboard technology, trawlers and other industrial vessels could fish anywhere in the world, in deep or shallow waters or far from coastlines, and in conditions from tropical to polar. These developments meant that previous obstacles to fishing – depth, distance, ice cover and inclement weather – could now be overcome. We could fish everywhere, anytime we wanted. And we did.

As a consequence, essentially all fish resources in the world are being fished. Given that most of the world’s fisheries are not managed (or that their management is so ineffectual as to be non-existent), this also means that fish with characteristics that render them more vulnerable to fishing than other species, or which are highly sought after, are increasingly under the threat of extinction. This is particularly well illustrated by the sawfishes (Pritis spp.), whose long, saw-like rostra get caught in any net they encounter; by the manta rays now hunted because of the alleged curative value of their gill plates; or by the many species of large sharks being decimated by targeted fishing, driven by the high commercial value of their fins, which are used for shark-fin soup.

These species cannot withstand any fishery that is anything but extremely well managed (which is rare), and they will thus thrive only in the few places where they are left alone. Such places are marine protected areas or, more precisely, no-take marine reserves. Moreover, in addition to sheltering the biodiversity that sawfishes, manta rays and large sharks represent, marine protected areas safeguard thousands of other species – and the ecosystems in which they are embedded – from the depredations of industrial fisheries that are driven by an increasingly out-of-control demand, especially from East Asia and the rich countries of Europe and North America.

That marine protected areas are effective in protecting marine life is amply demonstrated in the scientific literature: within them, biomass and biodiversity are higher and individual fishes are larger, thus producing more eggs and larvae that can enrich surrounding areas. This is not surprising. After all, fishing removes fish from the ecosystem; thus ceasing to fish, given time, should reverse its effects.

There are obviously a number of factors that intervene in the effectiveness of the protection afforded by marine protected areas, such as the degree to which the regulations protecting biodiversity are enforced, the size of the protected area and the fishing activity surrounding the protected area. Nevertheless, the principle holds that marine protected areas, and especially no-take marine reserves, are our best defence against the depletion–expansion dynamic that characterises industrial fisheries, especially now that they are operating in all ocean areas.

It is thus encouraging that the fraction of the oceans that was protected by a motley collection of small, often ineffective marine protected areas, and whose growth had long been anaemic, has increased massively in recent years. This occurred through the creation of very large marine reserves around uninhabited islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans. The constructive example that these reserves provided has even jump-started a debate about the feasibility of protecting the High Seas, or at least some parts of the oceans currently beyond national jurisdiction, which we must do if they are not to be transformed to a seascape with more plastic than fish.

The original article can be viewed here.

Ships flagged for illegal fishing still able to get insurance: UBC study

Luigi Guarino, Flickr

Luigi Guarino, Flickr

New research from the University of British Columbia finds that rogue fishing vessels are able to secure insurance including those that have been flagged by international watchdogs for unlawful activity.

“Restricting access to insurance could play a major role in ending illegal fishing, and right now, it’s a largely overlooked method,” said lead author Dana Miller, who studied illegal fishing and insurance while she was a postdoctoral fellow at UBC.

Illegal fishing is a major problem that siphons an estimated $10 to 20 billion annually from the global economy, and causes millions of tonnes of fish to disappear from the oceans. It damages habitats and makes fishing harder for law-abiding fishers. Insurance can be financially beneficial for fishing vessels because it eliminates the risk of large financial loss should an accident occur.

So how could illegal vessels be prevented from obtaining insurance? The answer is relatively simple. Researchers recommend insurance companies check lists of known illegal vessels before issuing insurance. These lists include regional fisheries management organizations’ Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) vessel lists, and the list of vessels that INTERPOL has issued Purple Notices for, seeking information on their activities, associations, and whereabouts.

“This approach is a much less expensive way to prevent illegal fishing than traditional methods,” said co-author Rashid Sumaila, the project director of OceanCanada and a professor in the UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

Efforts to combat illegal fishing often focus on monitoring and surveillance, through the use of satellite tracking and inspections. However, the insurance industry has largely been left out of the discussion, even though they may have the ability to make a significant impact on the number of illegal vessels by refusing insurance.

Miller and her colleagues at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries investigated insurance information for 94 IUU fishing vessels and 837 legal vessels that were required, by international law, to have insurance because of their size. They identified the insurers of 48 per cent of the illegal vessels and 58 per cent of the legal vessels and often the same companies provided insurance to both illegal and legal fishing vessels.

Some of the most notorious illegal fishing vessels were found to have insurance coverage including the Bandit 6, a fleet of six fishing vessels wanted for illegally taking Patagonian tooth fish from southern waters. The Bandit 6 vessels were recently caught in different regions of the world after being on internationally recognized lists like the European Union’s IUU vessel list for years.

“It was shocking when we found that out,” said Miller. “Insurers should take the simple step of consulting IUU fishing vessel lists to make sure that these notorious and well-known ships are refused insurance.”

The authors also recommend that insurers mandate that all vessels over a certain size be assigned an International Maritime Organization ship identification number, and operate satellite automatic identification vessel tracking technology. These measures would tighten regulation and increase transparency.

Read the original press release here.

Tim Cashion: Inside the world of fish for feed

Millions of tonnes of sardines are used every year to feed livestock and other fish

Millions of tonnes of sardines are used every year to feed livestock and other fish

The latest research report from the Sea Around Us investigates the use of fish for feeding livestock and farmed fish. In this report, we document the country by country analysis of which fish are used for feed, and in what forms. This is the first time this type of research has been conducted on a global scale.

Nearly 20 million tonnes of fish are not used for human consumption each year – but rather, are mainly fed to other fish, often during the process of ‘fish farming.’ Given the importance of fish as a source of food for billions of people around the world, for its protein and its micro-nutrients, the use of fish for purposes other than human consumption could negatively affect global food security.

To better understand this, I used methods similar to those used in ‘catch reconstructions’ to find out how much fish each country catches to feed other fish.

This work required me to comb through national statistics, peer-reviewed literature, newspapers, press releases, and other sources to gather data on the use of different species for these different purposes. The goal was to find out the amount of fish that was eaten by animals (fish or livestock) and by humans – and then to do this for each country, fish species, and time period from 1950-2010.


Most of the fish used for fishmeal are small bony fish that live near the ocean surfacelike anchovies, herrings, and sardines. While these are often passed over in favour of high demand species like tuna and salmon, they have a high concentration of good quality protein and micro-nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids.

Not only is this work useful to understand how we use fish to feed people (either directly or indirectly), it can also add value to other projects we are involved in. This new data will be incorporated into the newest version of our price estimation to better evaluate the value of fisheries globally. As fisheries used for feed are often less valuable than fisheries used for human consumption, accounting for the end use of the fishery landings allows us to make better estimates of the value of fisheries and to understand fishing behavior as it is driven by prices.

There are major impacts of using fish for animal feed rather than for feeding people. This work begins to uncover these trends in how this use has changed over time for every country and every species. This allows us to understand these impacts in a better way, and to propose solutions of how we can fish sustainably while maximizing economic and nutritional benefits to human society.

To learn more about the use of fish for feed and its implications, read the report, or Tim Cashion’s blog (the lead researcher) Fishing For Feed.

You can also follow Tim Cashion on Twitter: @FishingForFeed

New Zealand fishery catch estimated at 2.7 times more than reported: study

gbi visit 21 8 04 015

The total amount of marine fish caught in New Zealand waters between 1950 and 2010 is 2.7 times more than official statistics suggest, according to the best estimate to date.

Unreported commercial catch and discarded fish account for most of the difference.

Fish of little or no perceived economic value have been routinely dumped at sea and not reported. Bycatch – fish caught along with the target species – is common and unavoidable. They’re routinely dumped, if unmarketable, under the minimum legal size, or the fisher has no quota.

The extended reconstructed estimate for 1950-2013 reveals an estimated 24.7 million tonnes of fish was unreported, compared to the 15.3 million t reported.

“This study is part of a wider New Zealand research project aimed at informing seafood industry efforts to become as economically and environmentally sustainable as possible,” said lead researcher Dr Glenn Simmons, from the New Zealand Asia Institute.

“To maintain sustainable fisheries and seafood businesses themselves, you need to know how much fish is being caught. There was already strong evidence that we didn’t know that, because the official statistics are incomplete.”

“Unreported catches and dumping not only undermine the sustainability of fisheries, but result in suboptimal use of fishery resources and economic waste of valuable protein.”


Dr Simmons and his team were among 400 researchers worldwide who collaborated on a landmark, 15-year long global “Sea Around Us” project at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia that sought to fill in the gaps left by official catch data.

The global results were published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications in February. The New Zealand results have now been published by the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia.

Catch statistics that New Zealand and other countries report to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) do not include illegal or otherwise unreported commercial catches and discards. They also omit or substantially underreport fish taken by recreational and customary fishers.

The New Zealand researchers drew on an extensive body of documentation, including stock assessment reports, peer-reviewed literature, unpublished reports, and information obtained under the Official Information Act, as well as 308 confidential interviews with industry experts and personnel with first-hand knowledge and experience, of fishing and reporting practices. They combined this data with official catch data to statistically “reconstruct” a more comprehensive, robust catch estimate. The same method was used throughout the global series of studies.

The main New Zealand findings were:

– New Zealand’s reconstructed marine catch totalled 38.1 million tonnes between 1950 and 2010, which is 2.7 times the 14 million tonnes reported to the FAO.
– Since the Quota Management System (QMS) was introduced in 1986, the total catch is conservatively estimated to be 2.1 times that reported to the FAO.
– Unreported commercial catch and discards account for the vast majority of the discrepancy.
– Recreational and customary catch was 0.51 million tonnes, or 1.3 percent
– Only an estimated 42.5 percent of industrial catch by New Zealand flagged vessels was reported.
– 42 percent of the industrial catch was caught by foreign-flagged vessels, which dominated the catching of hoki, squid, jack mackerels, barracoota and southern blue whiting – some of the most misreported and discarded species.
– The extended reconstructed estimate for 1950-2013 is 40 million t, comprised of 19 million tonnes nationally reported, 5.8 million tonnes of invisible unreported landings, 14.7 million tonnes of unreported dumped commercial catch, and 549,000 tonnes of customary and recreational catches.

The findings also reveal how the QMS, despite its intentions and international reputation, actually undermines sustainable fisheries management by inadvertently incentivising misreporting and dumping, the researchers wrote in their report.

“A striking finding was the extent of misreporting to avoid deemed value penalties – at sea and on land. This highlights a weakness of the QMS, which relies on full and accurate reporting, yet, in practice, incentivises misreporting, which undermines the sustainability of fisheries. Fisheries management and stock assessment officials must spend more time talking and listening to the fishers themselves, observers and compliance officers.”

The evidence shows the QMS is in need of a robust critical review, along with consideration of alternatives to ensure the latest information, processes and technology are being utilized.

“Improving the transparency and reliability of fisheries data reporting is essential,” the researchers conclude in the report. “The future sustainability and certification of fisheries will depend on how the government addresses the under-reporting problems, which have long been a cause of concern.”

The researchers conclude that “Maori ought to play a greater role in fisheries management…they have a critical role to play in terms of Kaitiakitanga…over all New Zealand’s fishing sectors – recreational, customary, and commercial.”

Click here to view the paper.

Nicola Shepheard
Media Relations Advisor
Tel: 09 923 1515
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– Landmark international study, led by Professor Daniel Pauly from the University of British Columbia, published in Nature Communications in February, ”reconstructed” estimates of global marine fisheries catches from 1950-2010, taking into account types of catches that are omitted or substantially underreported in official figures collated by UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

– It found global catches peaked at 130 million tonnes in 1996, which is 51 per cent higher than the FAO figure of 86 million tonnes

– It also found a sharp decline from this peak, at more than three times the rate suggested by FAO figures

– Dr Glenn Simmons, of the New Zealand Asian Institute at the University of Auckland Business School, led a team of researchers who collaborated with Professor Pauly on the New Zealand research. Their report on New Zealand’s “reconstructed” catch is published on the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia. The full list of authors is: Glenn Simmons*, Graeme Bremner, Hugh Whittaker, Philip Clarke, Lydia Teh, Kyrstn Zylich, Dirk Zeller, Daniel Pauly, Christina Stringer*, Barry Torkington, and Nigel Haworth* (* from the University of Auckland Business School)

Webinar May 17: The View Past Peak Catches: Global Catch Trends in Marine Fisheries


On Tuesday May 17th Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller from the Sea Around Us will conduct a webinar through to discuss catch reconstructions, their recent paper in Nature Communications, and upcoming projects.

Event Date: Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 1pm US EDT / 10am US PDT / 5pm UTC

To register, click here.

How much fish are we really catching from the world’s oceans? Catch data are important in fisheries research, but the availability of reliable and comprehensive catch data is often taken for granted. In a large number of countries, reliable catch data are not available, and the catch data these countries submit to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are incomplete and highly variable. Given the role of FAO in world fisheries, this means that many of the “big numbers” cited when talking or writing about global fisheries are erroneous. We present a “catch reconstruction” approach that we have applied to all maritime countries of the world to overcome this situation. (Read about this effort in the Nature Communications journal article “Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining”.)

In this webinar, we will present our scientific approach, results from several countries illustrating the issues and problems, and the global results as presented in our recent paper. All materials and data for all maritime countries in the world (plus a wide variety of additional data and information items) are freely available for download at We always welcome communications and feedback on our work and the data we present.

Webinar co-sponsored by MEAM,, and the EBM Tools Network.

Biodiversity of Sea Around Us catch data

The Sea Around Us Biodiversity tool gives users access to key information regarding taxa in our database.

When searching for information regarding Bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) in Australia’s EEZ, the following information is displayed:


Other filters that can be used for the Biodiversity tool include LME, RMFO, FAO area, and High Seas regions, for each country; and also filters by taxon level and taxon group.

The Biodiversity tool pulls much of its information from the FishBase database.

Users can also find global catch data for each taxa. For example, below is the interactive graph for Bigeye tuna:


From the Sea Around Us Methods document:

“…there are 2,039 species level taxa in the Sea Around Us catch database (number subject to change over time), which currently belong to 262 genera, 187 families, 19 orders, 11 classes and 5 phyla.”

Fisheries Economics

The landed value of commercial fish in the Gambia, 2005

The landed value of commercial fish in the waters of the Gambia, 2005

If and how well a fishery is managed often depends largely on the economics of that fishery, and central to understanding the economics of a fishery are the availability of data.

The Sea Around Us, in collaboration with the Fisheries Economics Research Unit (FERU), has over the years built extensive datasets of economic information – like ex-vessel prices and subsidies data – which are being made available to policy makers and the public.

Many of the existing price databases today are either incomplete or unavailable to the public. Using the reconstructed catch data from the Sea Around Us, and the economic datasets assembled by FERU, the information we have is well-organized and easy to access.

Further, while the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) publishes processed and product fish prices, they do not present ex-vessel price, i.e., the price at first point of sale a fisher realizes upon sale of their catch. The Sea Around Us does include this price, thus allowing emphasis of the economic value on the core actors of the industry – the fisher.

Therefore, the landed values data the Sea Around Us presents via our website expresses the ex-vessel value (in US$) of the catch to the fisher (i.e., catch multiplied by ex-vessel price), and excludes added value through the economic value chain.

Fishers in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. (Credit: Rafa Prada)

Fishers in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. (Credit: Rafa Prada)

In partnership with FERU, work is ongoing to build and incorporate other economic datasets into the global database of the Sea Around Us.

As Dr. Rashid Sumaila, the Director of FERU writes: “To be able to devise management policies that appropriately take account of fisher behavior and thereby ensure the sustainability of fisheries resources, managers need to have a good knowledge of ex-vessel prices for the species under their management” (Sumaila et al., 2007).

Using our separate fisheries economics tool (, researchers and other interested users can find the time series (1950 to currently 2010) of landed values for the various different taxa in the catches from EEZ’s and LME’s. And, by having landed values, Sumaila writes, researchers can better determine the “local, regional and global economic and social impacts of different management policies.”

But the Sea Around Us and FERU also provide another core economic dataset: Data on fisheries subsidies.

While some subsidies can be beneficial to fisheries; Sumaila found, in another paper, that the “amount of subsidies provided by governments of the world to their fishing sector is quite large and that most of these subsidies lead to overcapacity and overfishing.”

With our fisheries economics tool, researchers can examine the amount of money that countries spend on fisheries subsidies, broken down into categories like fisheries services, research and development, tax exemptions and fuel subsidies, among many others.

And more importantly, we also determine whether the subsidies that are used are ‘beneficial,’ ‘harmful,’ or ‘ambiguous,’ the latter meaning it is not always straight forward to determine the effects of the subsidy.

This information is all directly and easily accessible for researchers, NGO’s and governments to use.


Sumaila, U. R., Marsden, A. D., Watson, R., & Pauly, D. (2007). A global ex-vessel fish price database: Construction and applications. Journal of Bioeconomics 9(1), 39–51.

Sumaila, U.R., Khan, A., Duck, A., Watson, R., Munro, G., Tyedmers, P. & Pauly, D. (2010). A bottom up re-estimation of global fisheries subsidies. Journal of Bioeconomics 12:201–225.

New website tool: Taxon Distribution Maps

Want to know where marine taxa that are part of the Sea Around Us global catch data occur around the world?

On our website we now offer taxon distribution maps that we use in our spatial allocation of global catches. Note that these distributions are based on the taxon distributions parameters as described in our methods. If you click on our mapping tool, there is now a tab that allows users to search for these taxon distributions — and see in what regions they are likely to occur. (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The taxon distribution tab is found within the mapping tool.

Figure 1. The taxon distribution tab is found within the mapping tool.

Similar to our catch allocation mapping tool, which shows where taxa are caught globally, the taxon distribution map uses the same colour scheme to illustrate the relative probabilities of a taxon’s biological distribution: Red indicates a high probability of occurrence, and, on the other end of the spectrum, blue denotes a low probability of occurrence.

Taxon distribution maps are rendered using a variety of data, with many being provided via our research partners FishBase ( and SeaLifeBase ( Several geographic and ecological filters are applied, which includes the type of habitat species are found in — like coral reefs, estuaries, seamounts, continental shelves or slopes etc.. The methods used to derive these distributions should be consulted.

Figure 2 shows the distribution of jacks (family Carangidae), which is a cosmopolitan family.

Figure 2. Taxon distribution map of Jacks (family Carangidae)

Figure 2. Taxon distribution map of Jacks (Carangidae)

Our taxon distribution maps are presented to allow users of our catch data to examine one of the key ingredients of our global catch data allocation.

An unbalanced harvest?


Credit: Tom Weilenmann, via Flickr)

Balanced Harvesting (BH) is a recently proposed approach to fisheries management, and it is touted as a reliable way to preserve ecosystem structure while increasing fisheries catches.

However, many within the scientific community are calling into question the empirical and moral grounds behind such an endeavor.

The logic behind BH follows as such: When fishing pressure is spread across all components of an ecosystem, and targets all taxa depending on their size and productivity – rather than focusing on a few selective species – then the functional structure of that ecosystem is kept intact. This, the theory goes, preserves abundance for future use.

In a paper published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science (Froese et al. 2015), in collaboration with the Sea Around Us, researchers investigated the merits of this theory.

After analyzing several of the methods used in BH research amongst other variables, the authors found “the models used unrealistic assumptions and settings, and that conclusive empirical evidence of BH is lacking.”

With BH, the relative size and species composition of an ecosystem is supposed to be maintained. To do this, fishers would have to catch smaller fish – and moreover, fish that people don’t eat, in order to keep the ecosystem in balance.

Because much of the new catch would consist of these small fish, a large proportion of them would be used as fishmeal for the aquaculture industry. This would be a drastic change from current practices where fisheries try to protect smaller and younger fish in order to maintain reproduction rates.

Moreover, increasing fishing pressure on smaller species and smaller (i.e., younger) individuals of larger species could potentially deplete food consumed by higher trophic predators.

Or, as lead author Rainer Froese writes: “If we wish big fish, we must leave prey for them to feed on.”

Furthermore, the ecosystem is made up of a wide spectrum of other species, many of which are not currently caught, but under BH, would have to be caught.

Using BH would mean that to maintain ecosystem integrity, other creatures – like seabirds, seals, whales, dolphins, and even zooplankton – would have to be targeted regardless of demand. Catching these non-target species would become a “scientific requirement of ecosystem-based fisheries management under BH,” Froese writes.

In a more recent paper published in April 2016 (Pauly et al. 2016), Froese, Sidney Holt, and lead author Daniel Pauly argue that BH not only lacks a firm empirical foundation, but it contradicts a stated mission of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

In the FAO’s own ‘Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing,’ it stresses selective fishing, stating in one section: “In order to improve selectivity, states should, when drawing up their laws and regulations, take into account the range of selective fishing gear, methods and strategies available to the industry.”

Finally, lead author Pauly discusses a “growing circle of empathy,” whereby there is an understanding that non-human species can have intrinsic rights and value. Many organizations already implicitly acknowledged these. The FAO’s ‘Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing’ looks to reduce anthropogenic causes of mortality for non-targeted species, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains a ‘Red List of Threatened Species.’

Therefore, a fishing practice like BH, which promotes an approach to fishing that demands the exploitation of all groups in an ecosystem, runs contrary to this growing global awareness and perspective.

“Deliberately increasing anthropogenic mortality across the widest possible range of species would be a huge backward step,” writes Pauly.


Froese, R., C. Walters, D. Pauly, H. Winker, O.L.F. Weyl, N. Demirel, A.C. Tsikliras, and S. Holt (2015) A critique of the balanced harvesting approach to fishing. ICES Journal of Marine Science

Pauly, D., R. Froese, and S.Holt (2016) Balanced harvesting: The institutional incompatibilities. Marine Policy 69: 121-123.

The Economist highlights China’s illegal fishing fleets

It is no secret that illegal fishing is a substantial problem.

According to FAO, Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing accounts for 15 percent of annual global catch. That’s at least 26 million tonnes lost. And it means that an estimated $10-20 billion is also lost annually from the global economy.

While fishing vessels from many countries engage in illegal fishing practices, China’s practices in particular have garnered a lot of media attention as of late.

A story in The Economist titled ”Trawling for trouble” exposes a growing pattern of illegal fishing infractions by fishers from the rapidly industrializing state.

The government of Indonesia is awaiting a Supreme Court decision that would allow them to destroy ten Chinese vessels caught poaching in Indonesian waters in 2014. While it is accepted by many observers that the vessels were inside Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Chinese government maintains the fishers were, instead, inside “traditional Chinese fishing grounds.”

But Chinese fishers have been caught illegally fishing in other countries as well. The governments of Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have all detained Chinese fishers in their waters (these waters are also contested by China). And Chinese fishers have also been detained in Russia, North and South Korea and Sri Lanka.

Part of the problem is consumption. According to The Economist, “Chinese fish-consumption per person is twice the global average.” To sustain this massive demand, China’s wild catch is equally as large, at around 14 million metric tonnes, compared to the U.S.’s 7 million metric tonnes. As the fish in China’s coastal waters are already greatly overfished, and continue to be depleted (inshore fisheries have 5-30% of the amount of fish they had in the 1950’s), their fleets are actively encouraged to venture further out into the ocean in search of larger catches.

But foreign policy is another reason for China’s aggressive fishing practices. As the article states: “fish can have strategic uses.” Not only does China have the world’s largest distant water fleet, fishing in nearly every country in the world (Pauly et al. 2014), but China also claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, and when a vast fleet of boats extensively operates in these waters, each boat seems to create a physical fact for China’s claims. It seems international rules and norms are being manipulated when one country’s EEZ is described by another country as their own “traditional waters.” Thus, China is one of the few state actors that does not seem to be willing to recognise the globally negotiated UNCLOS provisions for defining and addressing EEZ and territorial water claims.

And this is a fact that is hard to ignore. Yet there are many strategies that can help reduce this practice, as long as flag and host countries are willing to accept and operate within international norms and rules agreed to by the global community. From satellite monitoring, to increased vessel identification, to better enforcement, IUU fishing can be faced head-on.

In future posts we will explore more strategies.


Pauly D, Belhabib D, Blomeyer R, Cheung WWL, Cisneros-Montemayor A, Copeland D, Harper S, Lam V, Mai Y, Le Manach F, Österblom H, Mok KM, van der Meer L, Sanz A, Shon S, Sumaila UR, Swartz W, Watson R, Zhai Y and Zeller D (2014) China’s distant water fisheries in the 21st century. Fish and Fisheries 15: 474-488.

Letter urges canadian government to improve Fisheries Act

The breeding grounds of many types of fish are not currently protected under the Fisheries Act

The breeding grounds of many types of fish are not currently protected under the Fisheries Act (Credit: Bureau of Land Management Oregon, via Flickr)

In 2013, many in the Canadian scientific community were outraged when major changes were made to Canada’s Fisheries Act, stripping away protections for many species of fish.

Now, three years later, the same scientists – along with nearly 50 groups from the legal, conservation and scientific communities – have written a letter to the new Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo urging him to repeal the changes and take further steps to modernize the legislation, which was first enacted in 1868.

“We request that previous habitat protections be immediately reinstated in the Fisheries Act,” the letter stated, which was signed by groups like West Coast Environmental Law and the World Wildlife Fund.

The previous conservative federal government removed sections of the act that protected areas where fish swim and breed. Only fish that are part of a commercial, recreational, or aboriginal fishery are currently protected, while many native species are not.

Under the current legislation, a stream that contains fish that are not related to a commercial fishery are not protected.

Dr. Jeff Hutchings, a fisheries scientist from Dalhousie University, critiqued the legislation in Outdoor Magazine in 2014, only months after the legislation passed.

“The revised act represents a huge setback to the protection of most native fish, as well as aquatic species at risk,” he wrote.

In 2015, when the new fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo was appointed to cabinet, he received a mandate letter from Prime Minister Trudeau instructing him to reinstate the past legislation.

“I take very seriously my mandate from the Prime Minister to restore lost protections of the Fisheries Act,” the minister said in an email to The Globe and Mail.

Salmon spawning. (Credit: USFWS Pacific Region, via Flickr)

Salmon spawning. (Credit: USFWS Pacific Region, via Flickr)

Yet the recent letter by the concerned coalition of scientists, lawyers and environmentalists to Minister Tootoo urged the government to not only restore lost protections, but to further modernize the Fisheries Act, bringing it into the 21st century.

In order to modernize the act, they want the government to first begin consultations with indigenous people, provincial governments, industry, and conservation groups, to find a consensus on the best path forward.

They also want greater attention paid to aboriginal fisheries. The Fisheries Act should ensure “healthy fish populations and habitat that will sustain treaty and aboriginal rights in perpetuity,” the letter says.

One can imagine the changes will be received with a sense of relief for those who study Canada’s marine and freshwater ecosystems.

In the same Outdoor Canada article from 2014, Dr. Hutchings wrote:

“[Canada] watches over the globe’s longest coastline. But this geographical wealth comes with a responsibility to serve as internationally respected stewards of this vast environment. Under the latest changes to the Fisheries Act, however, we are anything but.”

According to CBC News, members of the coalition met with federal officials to discuss the issue on April 11, 2016, in Ottawa.

A new study looks at reforms to improve global fisheries managment


Experts agree that better fisheries management systems are urgently needed.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that if countries can better manage their fisheries then they could help reverse the current ongoing decline in fish stocks due to extensive and widespread overfishing.

The authors confirm several previous studies, including from the Sea Around Us and colleagues, that have argued for many years that overfishing is widespread around the world. The authors state clearly that “… the median fishery is in poor health (overfished, with further overfishing occurring)…” Furthermore, the authors state that “… 32% of fisheries are in good biological health…“, whose converse is that 68% of fisheries are in a bad state, which also matches with other previous studies.

The current study found that if sound management reforms were implemented they could help generate annual global increases in catches and profits; but if current practices continue — often referred to as ‘business-as-usual’ — then there would be a “continued collapse for many of the world’s fisheries.”

The research, under the lead of Dr. Christopher Costello from the University of California Santa Barbara, analyzed a database of 4,713 catch time series representing over 70 percent of officially reported fisheries catches. They found that if all countries could switched to what the authors claim are the best management practices, then global fish populations could double, and fishermen could make substantially more profit.

However, a large number of positive factors would have to fall into place for the study’s scenarios to work. Political gridlock and a massive lack of financial and technical resources generally hamstring most countries — especially in the developing world — from implementing progressive fisheries management strategies. Successful application of stock-specific catch limits (“Total Allowable Catch”) require extensive data and knowledge for regular stock assessments to be performed, and even more crucial, for catches to be monitored and catch limits enforced. Yet in much of Asia and Africa there is an utter dearth of any such assessments, and often even a lack of most basic information on actual catches, including on foreign catches (legal and illegal) taken in the EEZs of countries.


“The median fishery is in poor health (overfished, with further overfishing occurring)”

Scientists working on developing countries often use the catch data that countries officially report to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. for inferences on the status of their fisheries, and so have Costello et al. However, in a recent study by the Sea Around Us, it was found that these data are often inadequate, and do not allow countries to know or fully understand the impacts of foreign industrial fleets in their waters. This research established that in 2010, 30 percent of the global fish catch went unreported globally, and that global catches have been declining strongly since the mid-1990s.

Experts agree that better fisheries management systems are urgently needed. Responding in National Geographic to the paper by Costello et al., Daniel Pauly described the research as “excellent and methodically sound,” and called for improved management, monitoring and enforcement as an essential tool to recover collapsing fish stocks.

Yet what management or even quota system is used matters greatly. In some frameworks the buying and selling of quotas can become quite lucrative, with outside investors often gaining control of entire fisheries by accumulating quotas, with the profits from these quotas moving further and further away from those who actual do the fishing and who depend on fisheries for their livelihoods and for food security.

In countries such as Australia, Chile, Iceland, New Zealand and the US, variations of quota management systems have been in place for years, with a variable range of successes. In the US, which once faced large fisheries collapses, there has been a 70 percent drop in the number of overfished species since 2000, but this is widely attributed to the legal framework, which mandates rebuilding of overfished stocks.

Unfortunately, the number of countries with well managed fisheries is still the exception, and large amounts of investment and political will are needed in order to implement better management practices.

“What matters is that there is a quota that is enforced. The exact technique you use to limit the catch should depend on the country and what is politically acceptable,” said Pauly in National Geographic.

Negotiations to regulate fisheries on the high seas

Many tuna species are caught in the high seas. (Photo Credit:; via Flickr)

Many tuna species are caught in the high seas. (Photo Credit:; via Flickr)

Nearly 43 percent of the globe is covered by the ‘high seas’ — the area of ocean that is outside national jurisdictions.

This vast swath of ocean has limited fisheries regulations, and fish are caught in international waters with few limits.

But today marks the conclusion on the first round of a UN treaty, which looked at “the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity” — and it could mark the beginning of the end of unregulated fishing on the high seas.

The news website Mongabay looked into the issue of regulation as well as the recent negotiations, and interviewed Daniel Pauly in the process. Click here to read that story.

Can we end ‘ghost fishing’?

Fishing nets continue to catch sea life even after they've been lost or abandoned.

Fishing nets continue to catch sea life even after they’ve been lost or abandoned. This is called ‘ghost fishing’.

Grade-schoolers are taught to pick up Styrofoam from beaches, to tear up plastic can-holders, and to recycle garbage rather than toss it in the ocean—all so that sea creatures do not become entangled and marine ecosystems remain free of debris.

Yet as we grow older, it seems we quickly forget these lessons.

This is clear with the problem of ‘ghost gear,’ the result of fishing vessels abandoning or losing their fishing nets, lines, and other gear in the ocean–which then cause major problems for marine life. The FAO estimates that one-tenth of all marine litter is lost or discarded fishing gear—equaling 640,000 tonnes annually.

In response to the growing problem, the FAO has organized an Expert Consultation on the Marking of Fishing Gear from April 4-7, in Rome, to draft guidelines and search for solutions. After the consultation, the draft guidelines will then be reviewed by the FAO Committee on Fisheries for further consideration.

“Abandoned gear is one of the more problematic components of marine litter, since it remains in the oceans and often continues carrying out the capture process, entangling fish in its nets. This process is commonly referred to as ‘ghost fishing,’” it says on the FAO website.

In late March, 2016, several sperm whales were found beached on the shores of northern Germany. After a necropsy was completed, researchers discovered that the stomachs of four of the whales contained large amounts of plastic waste. The items consisted of fishing nets, car parts, and other plastic material.

The debris may not have directly caused their stranding, as it is thought the whales were possibly chasing squid into shallow waters. Thousands of squid beaks were also found in their stomachs. Yet the discovery is nevertheless alarming.

Lost or abandoned fishing nets are often referred to as 'ghost gear.'

Lost or abandoned fishing nets are often referred to as ‘ghost gear.’

One possible solution to prevent the abandonment of fishing gear is to mark it with electronic and acoustic tags, which would presumably make it easier to recover, and easier to hold those who discarded it more accountable. However, regulations are currently very weak.

According to the FAO website, “there are few requirements by governments for ownership marking on gear, and no international regulations, guidelines, or common practices exist for the marking of fishing gear deployed outside of national jurisdictions.”

Ms. Amy Poon, a UBC student supervised by Dr. Pauly, presented in 2005 a masters’ thesis titled “Haunted Waters: An estimate of ghost fishing of crabs and lobsters by trap”. Through a rigorous procedure involving multiple case studies, she estimated that globally, about 4 % of crab and lobster catches are wasted, as they are due to lost and derelict traps. Some of her estimates were as high as 20%.

To prevent these losses, she writes that escape gaps can be built into the nettings of traps, allowing non-targeted animals to find their way out in the event a trap is abandoned. In the United States, federal law mandates both escape vents and degradable panels that allow lobsters and other animals to escape ghost fishing traps. Also, in areas where there is high boating traffic, trap-free lanes can be designated so as to avoid entanglement.

While some countries are following these examples, progress is slow.

Some people are finding solutions through other means. In 2009, a group of divers created the Ghost Fishing Foundation, which brings scuba divers together to find and retrieve abandoned fishing gear. They started in the Dutch North Sea, recovering nets from the ocean floor, and some from ship wreckages. Sometimes they use large cranes to salvage especially large chunks of netting. They now have projects in other countries, like Belgium, Croatia, Malta and the United States.

Despite their efforts, the problem will continue to persist until international guidelines are created. Countries and industry need a framework to follow.

Back at the meeting in Rome, Mitchel Lay from the Caribbean Network Fisherfolk Organization urged that if guidelines are created to prevent abandoned ghost gear, it would be essential for there to be corresponding outreach and communication to the fisheries industry, for implementation to be effective.

And ultimately, any guidelines and regulations will need to be rigorously enforced and monitored, something that is known to pose substantial challenges in most fisheries.

Major award given for innovation in combating illegal fishing

(Photo Credit: giampiero Ridella, via Flickr)

(Photo Credit: giampiero Ridella, via Flickr)

Near the coast of Tanzania it’s not uncommon to hear large explosions reverberate across the water.

They’re caused by ‘blast fishing’ — an all-too-common practice where fishers throw explosives into the ocean to kill swaths of fish, scooping them up as they float to the surface, while many sink to the bottom, wasted.

But an organization called the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) is trying to end the practice, among other forms of illegal fishing. In March 2016 the IOC received the top global prize for their SmartFish program, which is an effort to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Indian Ocean.

The award – named the “Stop IUU Fishing Award” – was given out by the International Monitoring Control and Surveillance Network based in Washington, DC.

The SmartFish program includes over 20 countries in eastern and central Africa and is funded in part from a $25 million contribution from the European Union. Based in Mauritius and with over 30 years of experience with coastal environmental issues, the IOC developed the project to register and license fishing boats.

Once boats are registered and inspections are initiated, it’s harder for them to continue illegally fishing — especially by fish blasting.

It also saves a lot of money for fishers and local governments.

It is estimated that US $10-25 billion is lost annually from IUU fishing. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), IUU fishing accounts for 15 percent of global annual catch with 26 million tonnes lost a year.

The FAO believes ending IUU fishing is a crucial endeavor.

“IUU fishing undermines national and regional efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks and, as a consequence, inhibits progress towards achieving the goals of long-term sustainability,” it says on their website.

Defusing the Blast Fishing industry

Explosives used in blast fishing (Photo from IOC website)

Explosives used in blast fishing (Photo from IOC website)

According to the IOC, blast fishing increased in Tanzania after the year 2000. Up to 50 blasts a day could be heard from the shores of the country’s largest city, Dar es Salaam.

However, since 2011 the government of Tanzania — in coordination with Smartfish — conducted multiple interventions along the coastline, making numerous arrests and confiscating hundreds of kilograms of explosives.

While progress is being made, many hurdles still exist.

“We have been working to combat illegal fishing in East Africa over the past 4 years,” says Marcel Kroese on the IOC website, and a SmartFish MCS Key Expert. “However, the problem of blast fishing is far more complex than previously expected in Tanzania.”

A growing awareness

Several high profile cases of illegal fishing have recently made it into the media, increasing awareness about the problem.

In February, two of the last poaching vessels from the renowned ‘Bandit 6’ were finally caught: the Kunlun in Senegal, and the Viking in Indonesia. The Spanish-owned ‘Bandit 6’ roamed the waters of the global south for years, illegally catching Patagonian toothfish.

In March, the Indonesian government blew up the Viking and sank it, capturing sensational footage in this video.

Then, a few days later, Argentina’s navy shot and sank a Chinese fishing vessel it says was illegally fishing in their waters. China has called for an investigation of the incident.

In 2009, the FAO brokered a treaty between 91 member countries that would help ports restrict incoming boats engaged in illegal fishing. Named the “Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing,” it was the first ever global treaty focused specifically on IUU fishing.

This agreement has now been ratified by around 20 countries (including the USA), and will enter into force once 25 countries have ratified or approved the agreement.

Daniel Pauly presents at the 2015 Batsheva de Rothschild Seminar

DanielPauly_smThe Batsheva de Rothschild fund supports the annual Batsheva Seminars held in northern Israel, covering topics in science with leading experts from Israel and abroad.

Daniel Pauly attended the seminars between November 16-19, giving a lecture titled: “The impact of industrial fishing on the world’s marine ecosystems.”

The full video can be found here, and then under the heading “Fisheries, invasive species and marine conservation.”

Windows Media Player is required.

New research suggests 30 percent of the ocean must be protected

Credit: Matt Kleffer, via Flickr

Credit: Matt Kleffer, via Flickr

In 2010 the United Nations set a goal to preserve 10 percent of the ocean by 2020. Research has shown that when waters are protected, fish supply and biodiversity greatly improve. This leads to more sustainable fisheries.

Yet a recent study questions whether a 10 percent target is ambitious enough – and by extension, even effective.

Published in the journal Conservation Letters, lead authors Bethan O’Leary and Callum Roberts analyzed 144 studies that looked at the most effective coverage of marine protected areas (MPA’s). They found that a majority of studies concluded that a far larger portion of the ocean – at least 30 percent – should be the new target.

Marine reserves are widely acknowledged as essential for protecting fish stocks and preserving biodiversity. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity states: “Well governed and effectively managed protected areas are a proven method for safeguarding both habitats and populations of species, and for delivering important ecosystem services.”

Approximately four percent of the ocean is currently protected.

Credit: Pauline Mak, via Flickr

Credit: Pauline Mak, via Flickr

But why would 30 percent coverage be more effective than 10 percent? The study looked at several objectives that are crucial for MPA’s to work best, from protecting biodiversity, to minimising the risk of population collapse, to satisfying many stakeholders.

When the 144 studies were combined, O’Leary and Roberts found that 37 percent was the optimal MPA coverage to meet the previous objectives. Moreover, when ocean protection was less than 10 percent, only three percent of the objectives were met.

“While achieving 10 percent coverage by 2020 is extremely ambitious politically, our research strongly indicates that 10 percent is only a waypoint towards effective ocean protection,” writes the authors.

Daniel Pauly, Principal Investigator with the Sea Around Us, believes the 30 percent goal is a good compromise between the UN target of 10 percent and another ambitious goal set out by renowned biologist E.O. Wilson – at 50 percent. In his new book, Half Earth: Our Planets Fight for Life, Wilson writes that half the planet’s terrestrial and marine areas must be preserved to stem the well-documented loss of biodiversity.

Credit: guenter from munich, via Flickr

Credit: guenter from munich, via Flickr

E.O. Wilson is not alone with his large goal. Another study, by Sea Around Us collaborator Rashid Sumaila, suggests it would be beneficial to completely end fishing in international waters, also termed the ‘high seas.’

The study, published in Scientific Reports, states that ending fishing on the high seas would not only have a positive effect on global catch, but would help biodiversity and equity. The fish from international waters would be caught only when they venture into the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of maritime countries.

Because less fish would be caught in the high seas, they would be able to regenerate, and thus a greater number would enter the EEZ’s. This spillover effect would not only be higher than present catches in the high sea, but would also lead to a more equitable distribution of these catches, presently made by a few countries with distant-water fleets.

Both the Sumaila and O’Leary/Roberts papers suggest similar conclusions: the current target to protect 10 percent of the oceans is admirable but not sufficient. And this conclusion is echoed by Pauly and Wilson.

But changes could happen soon. Both studies come before a UN Preparatory Committee on March 28, which will look at how international waters can be best protected. Pauly hopes the meeting will provide meaningful results.

“I want them to create a legal framework that would enable at least part of the high seas to be protected. Right now there is no such framework,” he said.

Fishing the Red Sea

Photo Credit: anselmziegler. Via Flickr.

Photo Credit: anselmziegler. Via Flickr.

A line of water carved between the continents of Africa and Asia, the Red Sea has long been a hub of human activity, providing a route of commerce and source of fish for civilizations across millennia.

In a recent book by Dawit Tesfamichael and Daniel Pauly, The Red Sea Ecosystem and Fisheries, the authors elucidate the history of fishing in the region. They examine fishing trends along all sectors, from small-scale to commercial fishing, and complete a detailed catch reconstruction of the region from 1950-2010.

Their sources included historical documents, published and unpublished reports, grey literature, databases, field surveys, interviews, and information on processed seafood products.

The authors found that before 1960 Red Sea catch was low; it peaked in 1993; and ever since it has been declining. Overall, it was 1.5 times higher than the catch officially submitted to FAO by the countries bordering the Red Sea.

As described in the book’s introduction: “The resulting catch trends provide crucial historical records and important guidance for the development of future fisheries management policies, aiming at resource conservation and sustaining the livelihoods of the coastal communities.”

The entire book can be purchased here.


The imperative for increased monitoring of fishing vessels

“The ocean remains the least observed part of our planet” writes Douglas J. McCauley, in a recent Science Magazine article that outlines the issue of monitoring fishing boats in regions of the ocean that are difficult to observe.

McCauley, along with eight other authors, proposes measures that need to be taken to prevent illegal fishing and enhance regulation in these areas.

Illegal fishing is a huge problem, with an estimated $23 billion lost each year due its occurrence. It’s also dangerous. Just recently, Argentinian authorities fired shots at a Chinese vessel fishing in their waters. The boat sank yet the crew was saved.

The researchers propose the increased use of automatic ship identification systems (AIS). Initially conceived as a navigational safety aid to prevent ship collisions, AIS units can be used to publicly broadcast information about a ship’s identity, position, and course. Furthermore, with new mass detection abilities from satellites (S-AIS), they can observe vessels anywhere in the world.

“We demonstrate how AIS data can be used to empower and propel forward a new era of spatially ambitious marine governance and research,” McCauley writes.

He states that AIS is further needed due to the growth of marine protected areas (MPA’s), where, in many cases, all commercial fishing is banned yet illegal fishing still occurs.

These marine reserves currently make up ~4 percent of the ocean, but the UN Convention on Biological Diversity has set a target for ten percent by 2020, an ever increasing area to monitor. The island nation of Palau recently set aside an area of ocean the size of California.

In Kiribati, where another MPA the size of California exists, 97 percent of vessels that fished prior to the creation of the reserve used AIS once the reserve was initiated, displaying the effectiveness of the system, and how it could be successfully adapted to other regions.


S-AIS systems use satellite tracking systems to monitor a range of information about a vessels location, identity, and course.

However, in most areas, two major obstacles currently prevent AIS from being truly effective.

First, only a small fraction of fishing vessels are currently required to carry AIS; and secondly, some vessels who have AIS cheat by turning off their transponders, or modify their transponders to falsify the data.

While there are small steps that can be taken to better enforce AIS uptake (like analyzing ship data for blank spots, and adding “despoofing” algorithms) McCauley states that the best measure is through policy intervention.

He believes that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) should create stricter regulations by requiring all commercial fishing vessels greater than 15 meters – and all vessels that can catch greater than 100 gross tonnes – be equipped with publicly accessible, tamper-resistant AIS systems.

Yet today, each country has widely divergent regulation systems. While in 2015 the EU mandated that all fishing boats greater than 15 fifteen meters must have AIS. In Canada, fishing vessels are completely exempted from carrying the system.

In conclusion, McCauley writes:

“Unfortunately, current lack of legislative support for AIS has stunted this system into a service that best observes vessels that don’t mind being seen. Although the policy shifts we call for require brave revisions of the primacy of privacy on the oceans, failure to close loopholes will continue to foster illegal activities that steal income and biodiversity from developing nations, promote social injustice at sea, and undermine efforts to cooperatively manage the sustained vitality of our shared marine resources.”

Workshop allows teachers and scientists to learn new skills in the Philippines

In early March teachers, marine biologists, and fisheries biologists from the Philippines descended upon the Davao del Norte State College in Panabo City, Philippines, to take part in a three day training workshop run by the FishBase Information and Research Group (FIN) and the Sea Around Us.

The workshop aimed to train the participants to better understand fish biology and fisheries management, using tools like FishBase, SeaLifeBase, and the Sea Around Us. It was sponsored by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Region 11, and organized by the Davao del Norte State College.

On the first day, they attended lectures on fish biology and took part in a “banyera” (i.e., fish landing bucket) exercise. This involved using FishBase’s quick identification tool to identify the types of fish in their buckets, and then measuring these samples for standard, fork and total lengths to obtain weights — using FishBase’s length-weight relationships in order to estimate the total weight of the bucket.

On the second day participants took to the ocean, boating to Samal Island, where they visited a marine protected area (MPA) that protects four endangered species of giant clams. They were able to see how research on the growth, survival, and spawning of these four clam species resulted in conservation efforts.

Then, on the final day, participants learned the importance of maintaining correct fisheries statistics and were introduced to the Sea Around Us database of marine catches.

Throughout the three day workshop participants learned to use different tools to help inform fisheries management.

“There was a general agreement that the monitoring of catch by local government is paramount in being able to provide management options,” said Deng Palomares, a workshop leader, and a senior scientist with the Sea Around Us.

While the workshops were intense, and many topics were covered, Palomares believes some critical and practical information was conveyed.

“Overall we got an important message through: being empowered to understand the consequences of bad fisheries statistics can only be a good thing. As one of the participants said, ‘We need to go forward in little steps. Assuring that our constituents and colleagues understand the processes and techniques properly, so we can implement fisheries monitoring correctly.'”

A rejoinder to comments on “Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining”

Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller
Sea Around Us
University of British Columbia

On January 19, 2016 the journal Nature Communications published our paper titled “Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining” (Pauly and Zeller 2016) which was widely covered by the press, and triggered a very large number of positive comments.

Of particular interest to us was the comments by Sidney Holt, one of the founders of quantitative fish population studies, who wrote us on February 8, 2016: “I have just read your paper with [Dirk] Zeller on sizes of catches. It is excellent and very important. It has reminded me of arguments I had when in FAO in the 1950s, helping [L.P.D.] Gertenbach organise the Fisheries Yearbooks. Our statistical unit insisted that we had to accept what governments told us, but some of us – my Division – said we had, in addition, to add what we knew was unreported. Budget constraints prevented us from doing more”.

This clear endorsement of the basic principle of our catch reconstruction work summarized in Pauly and Zeller (2016) is very encouraging, particularly as it was sent by someone we respect, and who was there when the format of the FAO fisheries statistics was determined. There were many other positive comments, and we thank their authors.

There were a few negative comments, however, such as those posted on on and after January 22, 2016. We believe scientific discourse is normally best carried out in a more collegial setting, such as the sphere of scientific publications, but we are posting the following responses online to clear up any confusion these comments may have created.

Comments by Michel J. Kaiser

Michel J. Kaiser, of Bangor University, U.K., writes: “Catch and stock status are two distinct measurement tools for evaluating a fishery, and suggesting inconsistent catch data is a definitive gauge of fishery health is an unreasonable indictment of the stock assessment process”.

Our publication makes no such suggestion.

Michel Kaiser further adds “Pauly and Zeller surmise that declining catches since 1996 could be a sign of fishery collapse. While they do acknowledge management changes as another possible factor, the context is misleading and important management efforts are not represented. The moratorium on cod landings is a good example – zero cod landings in the Northwest Atlantic does not mean there are zero cod in the water. Such distinctions are not apparent in the analysis”.

This sounds very reasonable, until you recall that the moratorium on industrial fishing of Northern cod was declared in 1992, in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, because Northern cod stock size had consistently been overestimated by Canada’s stock assessment experts, and finally collapsed, such that it could not support any more fishing. The story is well documented (e.g., Walters and Maguire 1996). Any suggestion that the decline of cod catches (cod catches never dropped to zero) was unrelated to the decline in the underlying biomass is incorrect.

Furthermore, Michel Kaiser writes: “Another key consideration missing from this paper is varying management capacity. European fisheries are managed more effectively and provide more complete data than Indian Ocean fisheries, for example. A study that aggregates global landings data is suspect because indeed landings data from loosely managed fisheries are suspect.”

This is true of any study that attempts to compile global fisheries data, including FAO’s definitive and widely used ‘State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture’ reports. That does not mean we or FAO should not undertake such an exercise, but rather that we should do so with the appropriate caveats, which we have.

Finally, Michel Kaiser writes that “the author’s estimated catch seems to mirror that of the official FAO catch data, ironically proving its legitimacy. ‘Official’ FAO data is not considered to be completely accurate, but rather a proportionate depiction of global trends. Pauly’s trend line is almost identical, just shifted up the y axis, and thus fails to significantly alter our perception of global fisheries”.

That the trend line presented by Pauly and Zeller (not by ‘Pauly’ alone) would roughly reflect the reported data is not surprising: after all, we complemented FAO’s and other reported landings data with fisheries that were omitted, which are roughly similar between countries and periods. Thus, we certainly did not challenge the “legitimacy” of official data, but rather their ‘accuracy’ (i.e., completeness). This incompleteness is incidentally the very point made by Sidney Holt. Also, to state that the official and reconstruction catch trend lines are “almost identical, just shifted up the y axis” overlooks the strong decline of reconstructed catches from 1996 (which contrast from officially reported statistics), which is a strong point of contention for other critics (see below).

Comments by David Agnew

David Agnew, Director of Standards at the Marine Stewardship Council, notes that “[t]he analysis of such a massive amount of data is a monumental task, and I suspect that the broad conclusions are correct”. We thank David Agnew for this supportive statement.

However, as is usual with these sorts of analyses, when one gets to a level of detail where the actual assumptions can be examined, in an area in which one is knowledgeable, it is difficult to follow all the arguments. The Antarctic catches ‘reconstruction’ apparently is based on [Palomares and Pauly 2015a] and a paper on fishing down ecosystems (Polar Record; Ainley and Pauly 2014). The only ‘reconstruction’ appears to be the addition of IUU and discard data, all of which are scrupulously reported by CCAMLR anyway, so they are not unknown”.

The reconstructions for Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic waters did not consist only of “the addition of IUU and discard data”. Among other things, these reconstructions (Ainley and Pauly 2014 for the Antarctic Continent; Boonzaier et al. 2012 for Prince Edward Island; Kleisner et al. 2015 for Heard and McDonald Islands; Padilla et al. 2015 for Bouvet Island; Palomares and Pauly 2011 for Kerguelen Island, Palomares and Pauly 2015b for the Falklands, South Georgia, South Sandwich and South Orkney Islands; Pruvost et al. 2015a for Crozet Island; and Pruvost et al. 2015b for St Paul and Amsterdam Island) included allocating catches reported by fishing ‘seasons’ (often spanning from October of one year to March of the next) to calendar years (to make them compatible with data sets from other areas), assigning ‘former-USSR’ catches to the likely Soviet Republics (Russia, Ukraine, etc.), adding subsistence and artisanal catches to the Falkland Islands catches, and more.

We agree that CCAMLR does a good job, as made evident in Figure 3 of our paper (Pauly and Zeller 2016), where the difference between official and reconstructed Antarctic catches is relatively small. Why this should be an argument against our paper eludes us. Finally, yes CCAMLR does include data on discards in their statistics (and ought to be congratulated for doing so). However, discards are not readily and transparently identifiable (i.e., labeled) as such, by fishing country and species in the data sets that can be accessed by the general public.

Then, David Agnew has a problem with 100,000 t of krill somewhere in Figure 3 of our contribution, writing that our data have not “been substantiated, nor referenced in the supporting documentation that I have seen (although I could not access the polar record paper)”. We do not know why he could not access the Polar Record paper (Ainley and Pauly 2014), which is available through Daniel Pauly’s publications page. Alternatively, it could have been requested from the authors, as is standard practice in science. It should not require stating that the inability of one researcher to access a paper is not sufficient basis for labeling the data therein as “not substantiated.”

Finally, David Agnew writes “It is noteworthy that the peak of the industrial catches – in the late 1990s/early 2000s – coincidentally aligns with the start of the recovery of many well managed stocks. This point of recovery has been documented previously (Costello et al. 2012; Rosenberg et al. 2006; Gutierrez et al. 2012) and particularly relates to the recovery of large numbers of stocks in the north Pacific, the north Atlantic and around Australia and New Zealand, and mostly to stocks that are assessed by analytical models. For stocks that need to begin recovery plans to achieve sustainability, this most often entails an overall reduction in fishing effort, which would be reflected in the reductions in catches seen here.”

In our paper we accounted for major management intervention by presenting, in addition to the world’s marine catch the catch that is obtained after removal of the US, Canada, the EU countries, Australia and New Zealand (see Figure 2 in Pauly and Zeller 2016), presumed to be largely regulated by quotas. This remaining catch (which is much higher than the amounts that were subtracted) declines rapidly in the last two decades as well.

This is not surprising in view of the generalized overfishing in most of the world, documented in one of the references cited by David Agnew in his comment (i.e., Costello et al. 2012). As for the low quotas, e.g., in the US, or the EU, we can only reiterate the point made above in conjunction with Northern cod: that low quotas (or fisheries closures) have been and continue to be imposed by fisheries managers only when a stock’s biomass has been unduly reduced by previous overfishing. Thus, long term catch declines are indicators of current or past overfishing (depending on the management regime), but not of healthy stocks (although continuing low catches they may indicate a stock rebuilding scenario being implemented by management).

Comments by Martin Pastoors

Martin Pastoors is Chief Science Officer, Pelagic Freezer-Trawler Association (PFA) in the Netherlands, and he comments on Dutch fishery operations:

  1. Pastoors’s first comment deals with the unreported/unallocated catches in the ICES Working Group reports, of which he writes that we “have interpreted this unallocated catch as unreported catch (whereas in fact they often consist of differences in calculation methods from dead weight to live weight). These unallocated catches were first split into unallocated catches by county (proportional to the size of the reported catch) and then extrapolated for the years where unallocated catches were not available (basically 1950-1990). So this is in fact inflating a somewhat random number to the largest part of the time series.”

Unreported/unallocated catches are, in ICES Working Group reports, the catches that the stock assessment experts that are members of Working Groups for various exploited species add to the officially reported catches of those species, based on their local knowledge of the illegal and otherwise unreported catches of the species in question, prior to assessing them. Not including these catches in our reconstructions would have defeated the entire purpose of our project. We suspect “random numbers” is an exaggeration, since ICES in fact uses them in its stock assessments. In addition, we are aware of and have accounted for these and other dead to live weight conversions in our work.

  1. Pastoors, like David Agnew before, writes that we “did not explain how they attributed the Dutch catch to the Dutch EEZ. I think this is pointless anyway because a large part of the Dutch catch is taken outsize of the EEZ and even outside of the North Sea”.

The technical report that underpins the Dutch catch reconstruction (Gibson et al. 2015), freely available on the page for The Netherlands EEZ on our website, states that we do our data work within ICES statistical areas, and thus do not move catches between such areas. Hence, the catches that Dutch fisheries report (hopefully correctly) by the statistical areas that include the Dutch EEZ-equivalent waters (Areas IVb and IVc), remain within these areas. We are aware that EEZ boundaries (formally declared or not) do not generally play a substantial role in EU fisheries policy and management.

And yes, there are “some pretty normative statements about the fishery” in the catch reconstruction for The Netherlands (Gibson et al. 2015), notably that “they are powerful and destructive due to relying heavily on beam trawling”. We believe the evidence supports this statement (see also Froese et al. 2015 for comments on North Sea fisheries). Dutch beam trawling is particularly damaging in this respect, and has wrecked the bottom communities of trawled areas, including the southern North Sea (e.g., Hiddink et al. 2006).

Also M. Pastoors writes that: “[t]he data that has been compiled is not presented in the report, nor are the conversion factors used. It is impossible to reconstruct what data they have taken from where and what ‘data’ is based on extrapolations and what is based on time series from other reports”.

Space did not allow us to give country-by-country methodological details (for 273 EEZs) in a summary paper such as the one discussed here (Pauly and Zeller 2016). However, as we point out repeatedly in our paper (p. 7, plus a dedicated section titled ‘Documentation of catch reconstructions’ on p. 8, as well as the detailed Supplementary Table S5, which gives the web link for each country’s catch reconstruction report or paper), all underlying catch reconstruction reports and data are publicly available without restriction, from each EEZ page on our website. We regularly receive queries from interested colleagues who have specific questions about one or more specific studies, which we are more than happy to answer in detail.

Comments by Karl-Michael Werner

Karl-Michael Werner, who is a PhD candidate at the University of Bergen, Norway, suggests that our “conclusion that global catches were previously underestimated is not surprising given the implicit understanding that FAO catch estimations have always omitted factors like discards and recreational fishing.”.

The omission of discards by FAO is not based on an “implicit understanding”, but on an explicitly stated policy: FAO treats their database as dealing only with ‘production’, i.e., FAO frames its contents in terms of commodities, rather than in an ecosystem context which would require discards to be included. Moreover, FAO is explicit in suggesting that recreational data should be included, and indeed Finland – which appears to be the only country doing so – has been doing so for many years (Zeller et al. 2011).

On the other hand, we agree with two other points by Karl-Michael Werner, namely that the decline of the Peruvian anchoveta catches and the decrease in global discards (see Zeller and Pauly 2005), which both contributed to the observed global decline, should have been “highlighted as a positive trend and not as part of reduced catches due to overfishing”.

Unfortunately, Karl-Michael Werner then repeated a demonstrably erroneous statement also made by others i.e., that we supposedly selected, when analyzing the time series of total reconstructed catch, the years that yielded the strongest decline. Thus, he writes “[i]t appears that the years 1996, which reported temporarily high catches, and 2010, with temporarily low catches, were arbitrarily chosen in order to produce a specific trend line. 1996 and 2010 represent a local high and a local low, which do not allow for a serious comparison of global catch. These fluctuations could be due to environmental changes and there is little evidence linking them directly to overfishing”.

In reality, and as described in the Methods section of our paper under Analysis (p. 8), we used an established statistical method called segmented regression, which fits a limited number of straight segments to time series and identifies the breakpoints between them. Thus, the year 1996 was never an input that we could choose, but rather an output of the analytical method used (see also Table S2 in the Supplementary Material of Pauly and Zeller 2016).

As for the year 2010, it was not picked as end point because it was a “local low”, but because we decided, more than a decade ago, to shoot for 2010 as preliminary end year for all reconstructions (we are now updating them to 2013). We would argue that careful reading of a paper and its supplementary materials should precede any scientific critique.

Karl-Michael Werner also writes that “[c]atches were higher than expected, which could suggest fisheries are more productive than expected. According to Pauly & Zeller, catches were high because stocks were overfished, but then catches went down due to overfishing as well. This is paradox; how are catch curves supposed to look like in order to be not considered as overfished then?”

Overfishing usually leads to very high catches for a few years, followed by low catches, with the earlier high catches being the cause of the eventual low catches. Indeed, this is what has been and is happening throughout much of the industrialized world, and is one of the reasons why a huge fraction of the fish consumed, e.g., in the EU, comes from Africa.

As for how catch curves are supposed to look: ideally, a fishery should be managed such that the quotas reflect environmental fluctuations, with lower quotas when the state of the environment can be expected to lead to reduced recruitment and vice-versa. Hence catches, ideally, should fluctuate around some mean, without upward or downward trend (assuming climate change does not affect recruitment, growth and survival). When applied globally and for a long time (after stocks have been rebuilt), this should lead to relatively high biomass for most stocks, and a stable global total catch. This is also known as ‘sustainability’, and is or should be the goal of fisheries management agencies throughout the world. Readers may wish to consider Froese et al. (2016) for a clear description as to where fisheries management should be heading.

Final remarks

What is interesting (or distressing) about this exchange, is that whatever you do that hints at problems with the manner fisheries are pursued; you can expect a number of individuals — often the same people — to object. The accusation that we cherry-picked breakpoints to exaggerate downward catch trends, or that we conjured large catches of some species to increase the differences between reported and reconstructed catch trends, is not based on any evidence (see above).

These points and our clarifications also suggest that careful reading of all material associated with a scientific paper should be the norm before considering a critique. A reading of the publicly available material associated with our paper would clearly reveal that we recommended to our catch reconstruction partners a policy of opting for the more conservative solution in cases where the available data offered a choice, which they did implement in their reports.

Readers of the available material would also have noted that the countries that clearly manufacture fisheries statistics (e.g., Myanmar) have ever increasing reported catches, which we could only partly correct (i.e., we consistently applied a conservative approach). This is the reason why, in our Figure 3, FAO area 57 (Eastern Indian Ocean) has exponentially growing catches, which even FAO doubts, as pointed out in our contribution. Yet, we did not present the even steeper decline of the world catch that omitting this FAO area (and the similarly suspect FAO area 71, Western Central Pacific would have generated, although it would have been legitimate given the very high uncertainty associated with these suspect catches, and would have strengthened our case.

These are significant points that the critics overlooked. Better data are needed to address the pressures facing fisheries around the world, and our paper has sought to address one aspect of that need – namely more comprehensive catch data that address the inherent bias in official, reported data. Such data are not only important on a global scale, but are especially important in developing countries, where local fisheries are crucial for food security.


We take this opportunity to thank all our colleagues and friends throughout the world, who freely contributed their time and expertise to describe the fisheries and their catches in their countries.


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The ‘Bandit 6’ have all been caught

The last vessel of the infamous ‘Bandit 6’ poaching ships will no longer be illegally catching toothfish, after the Kunlun, a large rusting boat, was recently seized by Senegalese authorities.

The Bandit 6 consist of six basically Spanish-owned fishing vessels long wanted by Interpol for fish poaching and piracy. The Kunlun was discovered in early February, 2016, abandoned and sinking in a Dakar port.

In a USAID report, which was produced in concert with the Sea Around Us, it was found that Senegal loses around $300 million a year due to illegal fishing in its waters.

Dyhia Belhabib was in Senegal shortly after the ship was seized. She was there to present a report to the government that addressed illegal fishing, and during her visit, was given a tour of the ship by Cheikh Sarr, head of the country’s Department of Fisheries, Monitoring and Surveillance.
Prior to its seizure, the Kunlun had been detained in 2015 in Phuket, Thailand, after eluding authorities in both New Zealand and Australia. But while being held in port, it was able to escape once again into international waters and then to West Africa.

The Kunlun finally docked in Dakar, Senegal, where it was found listing and unattached by ropes. Its crew had unloaded the catch and abandoned the boat—and its name was obscured by a new haphazardly attached sign, “Asian Warrior.”

Local authorities told Belhabib that while the vessel might not have caught significant volumes, the final end of the Kunlun is a symbolic victory for addressing illegal fishing in West African waters.

Meeting with the Minister

While in Senegal, Belhabib also had a meeting with the Minister of Fisheries, Mr. Omar Gueye. During this meeting, she presented him with the country’s catch reconstruction report, and provided details on the value of illegal foreign fishing in Senegal.
The minister expressed substantial concern about the amount of illegal and unreported fishing the report described. He also requested further reports and access to the database numbers on which the report is based.

Furthermore, this summer researchers from Senegal and other West African countries will be spending time in Vancouver, working with Sea Around Us scientists to collaborate on further studies.

Interactive graphs include reported catch line

The Sea Around Us interactive graphs now have a new feature.

A black line that indicates reported catch is now visible in the graphs..

This can be used to better gauge the difference between reported and reconstructed catch.

A review previously done by FAO staff recommended that a line be included to indicate what the reported catch was, and for it to overlay the reconstructed catch graphs.

As can be seen in the following graph, in the waters of Senegal in 1980, where multiple countries fish, the reported catch was around 550,000 metric tonnes, while the reconstructed catch was 1,200,000 metric tonnes. A difference of close to 650,000 metric tonnes.

For more information on the Senegal EEZ,  click here to view the reconstructed catch data.

Mapping Tool: Tutorial

To better understand how the Mapping Tool works, take a look at this 5 minute YouTube tutorial.

The Mapping Tool allows users to:

  • View the catch of multiple countries at the same time.
  • View multiple taxa in the same search.
  • Drag the Map to focus on specific areas of the world.
  • Zoom in and out.
  • Link to accompanying graphs, which show changes of catch per country through time (1950-2010).
  • Search by commercial group or functional group, rather than just taxa.

New Mapping Tool update

The Sea Around Us updated its mapping tool with two new features to allow for easier use.

The mapping tool allows users to view where in the world countries fish, and how their fishing has changed geographically through time.

The first change was made to the “timeframe indicator,” which now allows you to change the year manually to every year between 1950-2010, without having to wait and update the map (image below).

Therefore, if you are looking for information on a specific year, whether it be where Japan caught yellowfin tuna in 1968, or where Canada caught cod in 1979, you can now search with greater specificity.


The second change was made to the color scheme. While the previous color palet showed a gradient of red, the new one shows a multi-color gradient.

This new color scheme provides greater clarity as to which areas of the ocean are heavily fished, compared to those where minimal fishing occurs.

Also, it just looks really good!

For those in government, academia or even NGO’s, this map provides a remarkable tool for understanding fish catch on a global scale.

We are aware that the data being displayed by this tool may contain errors or omissions, which is a common feature of global fisheries data. We continually update and validate these data, and appreciate any feedback regarding observed omissions and errors.

Poaching in Palau

A recent front page story in the New York Times highlighted both the successes and perils that small island nations face when confronted with foreign fishing poachers.

The story, titled “Palau vs. the Poachers,” opens with a man named Bjorn Bergman sitting at his desk in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, using satellite data to track a Taiwanese pirate ship fleeing authorities in Palau.

The ship was believed to have been fishing illegally, and Bergman was communicating data in real time to the authorities as they chased the boat across the ocean.

The country, a group of 250 islands with 21,00 residents, has jurisdiction over 230,000 square miles of ocean. An immense area. The article describes how Palau has used a variety of novel techniques to try and patrol against illegal fishers – like using drones, satellite monitoring, and military-grade radar.

The journalist, Ian Urbina, also tells the story of a fishing patrol gone wrong, where an illegal Chinese fishing boat was being pursued and eventually caught, but not before shots were fired and a fisher died.

Later, authorities discovered that the fishers had very little understanding of fishing, were paid little, lived in harsh conditions, and were only a small cog in a larger wheel of corruption that was difficult to trace back to.

The story is extremely well written and worth a read!

A growing garbage problem

Credit, Charos Pix, Flickr.

Credit, Charos Pix, Flickr.

Many people have heard of the Great Pacific garbage patch, the amorphous mass of plastic waste that according to conservative estimates, is the size of Texas, and floats within a system of circular currents within the northern Pacific Ocean.

According to new research, however, by the year 2050 the amount of garbage polluting our oceans could get even worse.

A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with the World Economic Forum found that, by 2025, the ocean is expected to contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish. And by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish.

Currently, the report found that eight million tonnes of plastic is discarded into the ocean each year. According to the Guardian, this is the equivalent to one garbage truck dumping its contents into the ocean every minute.

The issue is propelled by an incredible increase in plastic production. Since 1964, plastic production increased by 20 times, and by 2050, production is expected to triple. Exacerbating this trend is the way in which plastics are used. According to the report, 86 percent of plastic packaging is used just once.

The effects can be extremely hazardous for marine life.

In a paper published last year by Michelle Paleczny and the Sea Around Us, it was found that, after studying 186 seabird species — 90 percent were estimated to consume plastic.

For a critique of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, click here.

RHAU Donnecke(1)

West Africa and Recreational Fishing

If you scroll through Twitter or scan YouTube in any West African country, chances are you’ll find many recreational fishers shooting video or snapping images of their latest slippery, gilled prize.

In a recent paper published in Palgrave Communications, Dr. Dyhia Belhabib and other collaborators looked to better understand the amount of fish being pulled out of West African waters by recreational fishers.

Using a variety of unconventional means, like analyzing online information from YouTube, Twitter and blogs, and investigating the expenditures of services related to recreational fisheries, like boat rentals, fishing licences, travel, and services such as “fishing safaris,” the researchers were able to assess recreational catches as well as their economic contribution to the West African economy.

While official records essentially ignore recreational fishing in this region, Belhabib discovered that by 2010 the catch for this sector had increased to 34,000 metric tonnes annually.

Recreational fishers tend to travel from other countries to fish in foreign waters. They often stay in hotels and hire guides to help them find the best fishing spots. The researchers found that the economic benefits to West Africa from recreational fishing were staggering.

Recreational catches brought a total annual revenue of US $152 million to the region.

The scientists also wanted to understand how the economic benefits of this sector were different from commercial fishing. To do this, they introduced a metric called RCR – the ‘Recreational-to-Commercial Ratio.”

The RCR for West Africa – averaged out from multiple countries in the region – was 7, meaning that the value of fish caught through recreational fishing was 7 times higher than its value on commercial fish markets.

Moreover, it was found that countries with more stable governments and a greater number of marine reserves had higher RCRs.

Yet statistics on recreational fisheries are still hard to come by. To better improve the management of recreational fisheries in West Africa, the researchers put forth several recommendations.

The rapidly increasing sector could be regulated through fishing licences, bag limits, area restrictions, and an improved emphasis on voluntary reporting.

“Recreational fisheries may generate strong revenue if managed properly and sustainably. They can further offer an alternative livelihood for small-scale fishers whose income is below or approaching the poverty line, such as in Morocco, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau and Ghana,” stated the paper.

How Fish Breathe

Water holds about 30 times less oxygen than air—and water that’s being warmed holds even less for fish to breathe.

In the video above — produced by Oceana — hear Daniel Pauly describe how warming waters worldwide are driving fish toward more oxygen-rich waters near poles.

“A changing planet affects all of us,” he says, “including the fish who are finding it harder and harder to take a breath.”

Invasive Species, The Mediterranean, and Sea Around Us Research

Silverside puffer fish (photo: FishBase)

Silverside puffer fish (photo: FishBase)

The recent expansion of the Suez Canal in August 2015 doubled its shipping capacity, yet many scientists are worried that an increased flood of invasive species will enter the Mediterranean along with the increased marine traffic.

A recent New York Times op-ed, written by Rachael Bishop, included two Sea Around Us collaborators who study the devastating effects of invasive fish in Mediterranean waters.

The first scientist is Dr. Aylin Ulman, a recent Sea Around Us member and a post-doctoral student at the University of Pavia in Italy. She has been studying the arrival of the silverside puffer fish from the Indian Ocean, and has uncovered some alarming trends.

While the puffer fish was essentially non-existent in the waters south of Cypress prior to 2000, by 2010 it accounted for 30 percent of fishers’ catch.

Making matters worse, the puffer fish wreaks havoc for fishers. As Ulman told the New York Times, puffer fish eat 20 to 30 percent of fish caught on long-line hooks and often chew through trawler’s nets.

The increase of pufferfish catch can be seen on the far right of the graph, in pink.

The increase of pufferfish catch can be seen on the far right of the graph, in pink.

Another Sea Around Us collaborator, Dr. Dor Edelist, from the University of Haifa in Israel, described similar trends regarding invasive species in the Mediterranean.

In the 1970’s, invasive species accounted for 21 percent of Israeli trawler catch. Today, they account for over 50 percent.

Partly due to the increase of invasive species in the region – many of which are voracious predators – native species have seen their stocks fall.

The New York Times quoted research by the Sea Around Us that shows octopus catch off the coast of Cypress declined from 175 tonnes per year in 2001, to below 50 tonnes in 2009.

While scientists and environmentalists have called for measures to stem the further increase of invasive species into the Mediterranean from the Suez Canal, so far their calls have gone largely unheeded.

Try our interactive graphs

Greenland Graph (2)

The Sea Around Us provides interactive graphs that display a wide variety of catch information.

Users are able to view, analyze and download data and references across multiple regions, including Exclusive Economic Zones, Regional Fisheries Management Operations, Fishing Country, FAO areas and Large Marine Ecosystems.

Mapping Graph-min

Users can also view trends across time — from 1950-2010 — within each area, as they relate to taxon, commercial group, and functional group, among many others.

All allocated catch data are available for download via CSV file. For further information on how to use the graphs, click here.

And to sign up for our email News Alert for more Sea Around Us information, click here!

Try our Mapping Tool

Want to see where countries fish around the world? And where they fished globally through time — from 1950-2010?

Watch the above tutorial on how to use our interactive Mapping Tool.

And to use the Mapping Tool — click the link here.

Media following Global Paper

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

On Janurary 21st the Sea Around Us published in the journal Nature Communications the results of over a decade of research.

Data were collected from over 200 countries and territories to reconstruct the amount of fish that is being pulled out of our oceans.

After the research was published, media from around the world reported on the story. Here is just a sampling of those stories:

The GuardianOverfishing causing global catches to fall three times faster than estimated

The Washington PostWhy we’ve been hugely underestimating the overfishing of the oceans

BBCGlobal fishing catch significantly under-reported, says study

Nature NewsIndependent study tallies ‘true catch’ of global fishing

Le Monde (France) – La surpêche et le déclin des ressources ont été largement sous-estimés

El Pais (Spain) – La humanidad pesca 32 millones de toneladas de peces a escondidas

O Globo (Brazil) – Peso do pescado global é subestimado, diz pesquisa

The Missing Fish

The trailer for a new documentary about Danial Pauly and the Sea Around Us has just been released.

Produced by the Living Oceans Foundation, the documentary — “The Missing Fish” —  traces Pauly’s mission to understand and study global fish catch.

Travelling to different areas of the world, from Senegal to Newfoundland to Nicaragua, Pauly and a team of researches piece together data that are not included by countries in their official reports.

The documentary will be released by summer — check out the trailer here!

Sea Around Us study finds 30 per cent of global fish catch is unreported

Fish basket on head
Countries drastically underreport the number of fish caught worldwide, and the numbers obscure a significant decline in the total catch .

The new estimate, released today in Nature Communications, puts the annual global catch at roughly 109 million metric tons, about 30 per cent higher than the 77 million officially reported in 2010 by more than 200 countries and territories. This means that 32 million metric tons of fish goes unreported every year, more than the weight of the entire population of the United States.

Researchers led by the Sea Around Us, a research initiative at the University of British Columbia supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Vulcan Inc., attribute the discrepancy to the fact that most countries focus their data collection efforts on industrial fishing and largely exclude difficult-to-track categories such as artisanal, subsistence, and illegal fishing, as well as discarded fish.

“The world is withdrawing from a joint bank account of fish without knowing what has been withdrawn or the remaining balance,” said UBC professor Daniel Pauly, a lead author of the study and principal investigator of the Sea Around Us. “Better estimating the amount we’re taking out can help ensure there is enough fish to sustain us in the future.”

Big Catch in Decline_Graphic_v3

Accurate catch information is critical for helping fisheries officials and managers understand the health of fish populations and inform fishing policies such as catch quotas and seasonal or area restrictions.

For the Nature Communications study, Pauly, his co-author Dirk Zeller, and hundreds of their colleagues around the world reviewed catch and related data from more than 200 countries and territories. Using a method called catch reconstruction, they compared official data submitted to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) with estimates obtained from a broad range of sources, including academic literature, industrial fishing statistics, local fisheries experts, fisheries law enforcement, human population, and other records such as documentation of fish catch by tourists.

“This groundbreaking study confirms that we are taking far more fish from our oceans than the official data suggest,” said Joshua S. Reichert, executive vice president and head of environment initiatives for Pew. “It’s no longer acceptable to mark down artisanal, subsistence, or bycatch catch data as a zero in the official record books.

“These new estimates provide countries with more accurate assessments of catch levels than we have ever had,” said Reichert, “along with a far more nuanced portrait of the amount of fish that are being removed from the world’s oceans each year.”

“Data are integral to maintaining global fisheries,” said Raechel Waters, senior program officer for ocean health for Vulcan Inc. “Without an accurate understanding of fish catch, we risk underreporting or misreporting, which can handicap countries in their efforts to implement effective fisheries policy and management measures.

“This is particularly important for countries that do not have the resources to conduct comprehensive fishery assessments,” said Waters.

The Sea Around Us is a research initiative at The University of British Columbia that assesses the impact of fisheries on the marine ecosystems of the world, and offers mitigating solutions to a range of stakeholders. The project was initiated in collaboration with The Pew Charitable Trusts in 1999, and in 2014, the Sea Around Us also began a collaboration with Vulcan Inc to provide African and Asian countries with more accurate and comprehensive fisheries data.

For media: Download b-roll footage here

Link to Sea Around Us Fact Sheet

A copy of the paper is available at:

Video: Reconstructing the Catch (3 min)

Documentary trailer: The Missing Fish (3 min)


Valentina Ruiz Leotaud, the Sea Around Us, +1 604-827-3164,

Heather Amos, University of British Columbia, +1 604-822-3213; cell;+1 604-828-3867


2016 Peter Benchley Ocean Award recipients announced

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 1.48.19 PM

Great minds and passionate ocean advocates will again be recognized this year at the world’s preeminent honors for ocean conservation: the 2016 Peter Benchley Ocean Awards.

Last year Dr. Daniel Pauly was awarded for Excellence in Science for his lifetime of rigorous and original scientific research.

The ceremony will be held at the renowned Monteray Bay Aquarium in California, and this years winners will include:

For Excellence in National Stewardship – President Tommy Remengesau Jr. of the Republic of Palau

In October 2015 President Remengesau Jr. signed into law legislation protecting 80 percent of Palau’s territorial waters from all extractive activities, including fishing, drilling and mining. The size of the marine reserve is the size of the state of California. Two months later, in December 2015, President Remengesau also signed an international treaty targeting illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) pirate fishing. Several vessels have already been caught under this law.

For Excellence in Science – Dr. Barbara Block

Dr. Barbara Block is a marine biologist and Stanford professor who is renowned for her research of tunas, billfish, sharks and other migratory marine animals. Through her research she has expanded the body of knowledge of highly migratory fish behavior, physiology, and ecology. She has further studied the interaction of many marine species with the ocean through satellite tagging and tracking techniques on a global scale. For over a decade she established and was the leader of a decade-long project for the Census of Marine LIfe called the TOPP (Tagging Of Pacific Predators) which recognized an animal-rich current found off the western shores of North America called the “Blue Serengeti.”

For a full list of the award recipients, please visit the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards


Nation of Palau protecting 80 percent of its ocean waters

(Photo: LuxTonnerre/Flickr)

(Photo: LuxTonnerre/Flickr)

Midway through December, 2015, the Pacific Island nation of Palau created a marine protected area (MPA) the size of California, helping to conserve tuna populations and a host of other marine species.

“We will not restore the health of our planet without repairing the well-being of the ocean,“ wrote Tommy E Remengesau Jr. – Palau’s president – in a column in The Guardian newspaper.

“Our climate is partly driven by our ocean, and marine reserves are one of many important tools that can be used to build the ocean’s resilience against the impacts of climate change,” he added.

Over the next five years all commercial fishing in 80 percent of Palau’s waters will be phased out. In the remaining 20 percent, local and small-scale commercial fishing with limited exports will still continue.

The Global Ocean Legacy (GOL) project, a philanthropic partnership that promotes the creation of marine reserves, has been working with the government of Palau to provide education and consultation services for the marine reserve process.

What is remarkable about the Palau MPA, and the majority of protected areas advanced by the GOL, is that they are designated ‘no take.’ This means that commercial fishing and extractive industries are prohibited.

According to a recent study published by Lisa Boonzaier and Daniel Pauly from the Sea Around Us, only .5 percent of the world’s MPA’s are considered ‘no take.’

Dr. Pauly believes these protected areas will help restore much of the fish population that was affected by industrial fishing.

“You can see that the biomass of fish that was once exploited — soon increases,” he said in an interview.

Palau is hoping that the revenue lost from fishing will be gained through tourism. The island nation is already a top ten global diving destination, with around 90,000 divers visiting annually, and estimates of close to 180,000 visitors arriving in 2016.

“In the long run, a shark in the water is worth five or six times more than a shark sold for its fin,” said Dr. Pauly.

Dr. Deng Palomares, a senior scientist with the Sea Around Us, has conducted several studies for the GOL looking at the rich biodiversity of Palau’s marine ecosystems.

The Sea Around Us: A successful trip to Tunisia

Tunisia is the southern Mediterranean country where the events collectively known as the “Arab Spring” started in 2011, and the only country where these events lead to a democratic outcome, for which four major Tunisian political groups recently received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Between late November and early December 2015, Daniel Pauly went to Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, for a period of 5 days, to present lectures and to meet researchers and Tunisian government representatives working on fisheries and marine resources conservation. Dr. Pauly was accompanied by his Tunisian graduate student, Myriam Khalfallah, who co-organized the lectures and the meetings. This visit aimed not only to present the catch reconstruction results for Tunisia and the world, but also to assemble a team of Tunisian experts to improve and update the reconstruction work done for Tunisia.

From Left to right: Mr. Mohamed Salah Romdhane (INAT/UR03AGRO1), Mrs. Amel Jenhani (INAT), Myriam Khalfallah, Dr. Daniel Pauly, Dr. Frida Ben Rais-Lasram (INAT/ UR03AGRO1/GANBAS), Dr. François Guilhaumon (IRD), Khaled Abdou (INAT), and Mouna Messai (INAT).

From Left to right: Mr. Mohamed Salah Romdhane (INAT/UR03AGRO1), Mrs. Amel Jenhani (INAT), Myriam Khalfallah, Dr. Daniel Pauly, Dr. Frida Ben Rais-Lasram (INAT/ UR03AGRO1/GANBAS), Dr. François Guilhaumon (IRD), Khaled Abdou (INAT), and Mouna Messai (INAT).

On the 30th of November 2015, Dr. Pauly and Myriam Khalfallah visited the Fisheries Department of the National Agronomic Institute of Tunisia (INAT), where they met senior researchers and graduate students of the Research Unit for Ecosystems and Aquatic Resources (UR03AGRO1). This meeting led to an agreement on future scientific collaborations; notably, with Dr. Frida Ben Rais-Lasram, one of the senior researchers who previously collaborated with the Sea Around Us on the Tunisian catch reconstruction, and who also co-organized Dr. Pauly’s lecture at INAT. This lecture, titled “Fisheries and Global Warming, and their Effects on Marine Ecosystems”, occurred later that day at the auditorium of the institute, in the presence of its Director. Around 60 people, from students and professors to government representatives, fishers, and NGOs representatives, attended the lecture, which was followed by a lively debate on the effectiveness of fisheries management in Tunisia.

On the 1st December 2015, Dr. Pauly gave a lecture at the National Institute of Marine Sciences and Technologies (INSTM) to a public of around 50 researchers, and governmental and fisheries institutions representatives. The conference, titled “Appropriate approach for the management of Mediterranean fishery resources,” sparked another debate on the future of fisheries and aquaculture in Tunisia. Later in the day, the Director of INSTM gave Dr. Pauly and Ms. Khalfallah a tour of its premises, followed by a meeting with a dozen researchers and graduate students from the different units of the institute. As a result, many of these researchers and students expressed their interest in collaborating with the Sea Around Us.

Meeting with graduate students and researchers at the INSTM with the presence of Mr. Hechmi Missaoui, director of the INSTM

Meeting with graduate students and researchers at the INSTM with the presence of Mr. Hechmi Missaoui, director of the INSTM

The next day was spent – in part – on a visit to the National Bardo Museum, where on March 18, 2015, terrorists murdered 21 tourists, and where, consequently, there were still few visitors. This museum is renowned for its collection of Roman mosaics, the largest in the world, and of which a large number show marine animals and fishing scenes. 

Roman mosaics of fish from the Museum of Bardo

Finally, on the last day, Dr. Pauly and Ms. Khalfallah visited Mr. Youssef Chahed, the Tunisian Secretary of State (i.e., vice-minister) for Fisheries. Dr. Pauly commented on the catch reconstructions of the Sea Around Us for Mediterranean countries, and expressed his interest in working with Tunisian fisheries research institution on improving and updating this work for Tunisia.

From left to right: Mr. Youssef Chahed the Tunisian secretary of state of fisheries, Daniel Pauly, and Myriam Khalfallah

From left to right: Mr. Youssef Chahed the Tunisian secretary of state of fisheries, Daniel Pauly, and Myriam Khalfallah

Tunisia is, with Malta and Hong Kong, one of the rare countries to explicitly use what may be called ‘correction coefficients’ to account for fisheries catches that are not visible to government personnel sampling port landings. These coefficients are different for each fishery and they are applied to the reported catch in order to take into account the unreported catch, i.e., unreported commercial and subsistence catches. However, these coefficients, which were first estimated in the 1970s, were not updated since. Catch reconstructions, which estimate the unreported components of fisheries, provide an approach to update these coefficients. Of course, such work cannot be completed without the help and involvement of Tunisian experts.

Mr. Chahed was very interested in the potential of this work, and he encouraged the Sea Around Us to establish formal arrangement with Tunisian fisheries research institutions to pursue it. Also, he introduced Dr. Pauly and Ms. Khalfallah to the Director of Fisheries Resources Management of the National Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DGPA), who agreed to collaborate with the Sea Around Us on the updating of the correction coefficients, as a way to improve the Tunisian fisheries statistical system.

From left to right: Myriam Khalfallah, Daniel Pauly and Mr. Mehrez Besta (DGPA)

From left to right: Myriam Khalfallah, Daniel Pauly and Mr. Mehrez Besta (DGPA)

Overall, this trip was very productive and had very positive outcomes. A team of Tunisian researchers, graduate students and governmental representative is currently being formed to start working on the catch reconstruction improvement and update for Tunisia.

New government aims to protect 10 percent of Canadian coastal waters by 2020

British Columbia coastal waters (Photo credit: David Geselbracht)

British Columbia coastal waters (Credit: David Geselbracht)

In the Hecate Strait windstorms are frequent, salmon are plentiful, and white stands of silica, called Glass Sponge, cover the ocean floor.

It is a wide, shallow, and stunningly scenic stretch of water that sits between the BC mainland and the islands of Haida Gwaii, and portions of it may soon be protected after a new federal government pledge.

Prime Minister Trudeau recently confirmed he will set aside 5 percent of Canada’s ocean waters for protection by 2017, and as much as 10 percent by 2020.

The resulting area would be the size of Saskatchewan.

“We will improve the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the parks and beaches where our children play, said Mr. Trudeau. “From coast to coast to coast, that means investing in the protection of our oceans.”

The United Nations Convention on Biodiversity has set a target to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. A growing body of evidence indicates oceans are threatened by climate change, acidification, and the depletion of many marine species.


(Credit: David Geselbracht)

Canada’s current ocean protection is minimal. Despite having an incredibly vast coastline, bordering three different oceans, only 1.3 percent of its waters are protected.

“Previous governments talked about creating marine protected areas (MPA’s), yet they wouldn’t do anything — and as a result, Canada was way behind international targets,” said Daniel Pauly, Principal Investigator at the Sea Around Us.

Furthermore, only 0.11 percent is considered “no take,” which means the waters are off-limits to industries like commercial fishing and oil and gas drilling.

Dr. Pauly, who is also on the advisory panel for the Global Ocean Legacy, an organization dedicated to preserving large swaths of the ocean, believes the more oceans are declared “no take,” the better.

“MPA’s that are not “no take,” are not completely protected,” he said.

Dr. Pauly and researcher Lisa Boonzaier published a study earlier this year that found, despite the 10 percent target, only 4 percent of the global ocean is currently protected.

Hunter Tootoo, the federal Fisheries Minister, met with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society to identify portions of Canada’s oceans in need of protection, and the Hecate Straight is already on the list.

The government announcement comes on the heels of other large profile efforts to protect marine areas. On Tuesday, December 15, the island nation of Palau enacted landmark legislation closing off 80 percent of its ocean waters, an area larger than the state of California.

And earlier this year, the UK also announced it would create the world’s largest continuous marine reserve in waters around the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific.

China’s Marine Fisheries at a Crossroad: key issues of a forum held in Xiamen, November 10-12, 2015

The author, Yuwei Wang, a student of Xiamen University, and Daniel Pauly

The author, Yuwei Wang, a student of Xiamen University, and Daniel Pauly


Forward by Daniel Pauly:

The event held in the modern city of Xiamen, documented below, and at which several colleagues from UBC also participated (William Cheung, Vicky Lam, Mimi Lam, and Tony Picher), was the main reason for my recent trip to China. However, I took this opportunity for a presentation at the very modern Third Oceanographic Institute in Xiamen, and for a one day-visit to Greenpeace China, in their Beijing Headquarters. Greenpeace China has only 4 staff working full time on ocean and fisheries issues, and even though they are motivated and well informed, the challenges they face seem overwhelming. On the other hand, their more numerous colleagues working on energy and pollution clearly face even worse challenges, as evidenced by the foulness of the air on that day. Altogether, a very instructive trip.

Following essay by Yuwei Wang, Xiamen University

From November 10-12, 2015, an international event on “Sustainability of China’s Fisheries [in a] Fast Changing World” was held in Xiamen, Fujian Province, China. The primary goal of this forum, organized by Professor Bin Kang, of Jimei University, was to enable the fisheries, mariculture and marine conservation communities in China to interact with international colleagues. Following a day of formal presentation starting with a keynote by Dr. Daniel Pauly titled “Why reliable catch estimates matter: global comparisons of trends in marine fisheries”, the forum concluded with three workshops, devoted to the issues of each of these communities. I joined the workshop on the management of China’s domestic marine fisheries, which was led by Drs. Daniel Pauly and Chang IK Zhang, an influential researcher from (South) Korea.

Most workshop participants were concerned about the decline of the marine fisheries resources of China, particularly in the East China Sea, which for historical and political reasons, is a very sensitive area. Thus, international cooperation between the three countries exploiting the East China Sea, China, Japan and Korea is required, notably to share data and conduct joint assessments of the stocks they all exploit. Dr. Zhang, building on his broad international experience, strongly argued that a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) is needed that would coordinate joint research activities and the organize the required data sharing, while maintaining an appropriate degree of confidentiality with regards to sensitive issues.

However, some Chinese researchers pointed out that official data and reports are, in China, kept very distinct from the various datasets gathered and the analyses published by scientists who, moreover, are not provided enough support for them to collect data and perform stock assessments. The workshop participants agreed that this policy of relying exclusively on secret or semi-secret ‘official’ data and reports while ignoring broadly available and vetted scientific data and analyses may have the further decline of Chinese fisheries as outcome.

This bleak prospect is aggravated further by the Government not having earlier engaged with small-scale fishers/boat operators, whose enormous number (and hence fishing power) it is therefore unable to stem, at least currently. Dr. Zhang, in this context, expressed surprise that, in contrast, e.g., to Korea, the majority of Chinese coastal fishers are usually not member of associations. He suggested that in fact, without these fishers being part of association that could control their activities and mitigating the damage they do (indirectly, e.g., through peer pressure) is nearly impossible. It is thus encouraging that the Chinese government has recognized this problem, and has begun, in some provinces, to encourage the self-organization of coastal fishers.

Even if the issues of fisher organization and data reliability were solved, and regular stock assessments were performed for the major resources species, the question of the management regime to adopt would still remain. Should a quota system be introduced in China? How should quota be set and allocated? Should quotas be transferable?

There are successful and failed examples of quota management all around the world. The US quota system appears to work, and its judicious use has led to a rebuilding of previously overexploited stocks on most of that country’s fishing grounds. The quota system also currently works well in Iceland, but it experienced serious disruptions. Iceland has an individual transferable quota (ITQ) system which started in 1990, notably for cod fishing. However, most of these quotas (remember: they were transferable!) were gradually acquired by a Wall Street-based US corporation which went bankrupt in the financial collapse of 2008, thus forcing the Icelandic Parliament to pass legislation to repatriate quotas that should never have left the country.

Dyhia Belhabib in The Gambia


Dyhia Belhabib with Fatima F. Sosseh-Jallow, deputy permanent secretary (DPS), Ministry of Fisheries (on the left), and Ebou Mass Mbye, acting principal Fisheries and head of the Monitoring Control and Surveillance Unit (on the right).


In late November Dyhia Belhabib from the Sea Around Us was in Banjul, The Gambia, to speak at a workshop funded by the MAVA Foundation through the project Sea Around Us in West Africa.

The purpose of the event was to explain catch reconstruction data, the methods behind the data, and to gain feedback from stakeholders in the country.

The room was humid and bustling and was filled with fishers, government representatives, and a host of other organizations eager to discuss the future of fisheries in the country. Dyhia found everyone to be extremely engaged in the conversation.

“There was a lot of participation; everyone in attendance expressed their opinions and their concerns,” she said.

The Gambian government rely on fisheries data to make policy and management decisions, and therefore the quality of the data affects the quality of the decision making.

Fishers, who want their fisheries to be sustainable, suggested they would be able to participate in data collection, to make up for data that sometimes is not available.

“The artisanal fishers wanted to voluntarily report catch data, and they wanted to be taught how to use the logbooks,” said Dyhia.


Dyhia is being interviewed by the Gambian TV


In addition to the fishers’ keen interest in reporting data, the government stated that they would provide additional agents to travel to fishing regions and help collect data.

“So on the one hand you have a government that is willing to spend effort to collect data, and on the other side, you have the fishers who are willing to provide the data themselves,” said Dyhia.

Ebou Mass Mbye, acting Principal of Fisheries in The Gambia, stressed the importance of reliable and comprehensive information for fisheries sector management. As reported in the Daily Observer, a major newspaper in The Gambia:

“He sincerely hoped that this one day workshop would be successful and would lead to better knowledge and understanding of catch reconstructions.”

Dyhia believes the workshop went a long way in educating the various fishers, NGO’s and government officials in attendance.

“It was great – I was not expecting so much positive feedback,” she said.

For more information read an article about the Sea Around Us in the Daily Observer, a media outlet in The Gambia.


Vicky Lam: Visit to Xiamen and Qingdao, China


Panorama view of Qingdao

The 2015 Forum on Sustainability in China’s Fisheries, in a Fast Changing World, was held in Xiamen, China, along the southeastern coast of the country.

The forum brought together local and international scientists and researchers who study marine fisheries and aquaculture in China and other parts of the world. The objective of the forum was to discuss the current status of Chinese fisheries, and the challenges and opportunities for attaining sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.

Members of the Global Fisheries Cluster at UBC were invited to the event, including Daniel Pauly, William Cheung, myself, IOF faculty member Tony Pitcher, and Research Associate Mimi Lam.

William gave a talk that highlighted the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on global marine biodiversity and fisheries, and he used the projected change in species distributions and catch potential in the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea as examples. Daniel presented the reasons why reliable catch estimates are so important and showed some examples from the Sea Around Us catch reconstruction project.


William presenting at the Third Institute of Oceanology, State Oceanic Administration


Vicky and Daniel at the dinner in Xiamen

On the last day of the forum there was a group discussion session. Daniel led a discussion on marine fisheries, and William led a discussion on climate change and marine biodiversity. William’s group identified a gap in the literature in reviewing the current understanding of climate change effects on China’s fisheries. Thus, the discussion of his group mainly focused on the planning and development of a review paper on this topic.

On November 11, I was invited to give a presentation at a workshop on blue economy best practice sharing in the APEC region, which was held at the APEC centre in Xiamen. In this workshop, participants discussed all the issues related to the economic aspects of the marine and freshwater ecosystems: like ecotourism, coastal eco-aquaculture, wetland ecological restoration and coastal blue carbon. I gave a summary of my study on the impact of climate change on the fisheries economics at both the global scale and along the northwestern coast of British Columbia.


Seafood restaurant at Xiamen

Following the sustainability forum Daniel, William and I were then invited by the Third Institute of Oceanology with the State Oceanic Administration to give a talk at their institute. The audience showed great interest in both catch reconstructions and climate change impacts on fisheries.

After all the meetings in Xiamen, Daniel left China for another meeting in Israel.   William and I headed to Qingdao because we were invited to visit the Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Sciences. During this visit, William presented his work on the impact of climate change on global fisheries, and I shared my experiences in catch reconstruction with the group.

Overall, most of the Chinese researchers found the catch reconstructions to be very valuable for their research, especially for those estimating the catch of the Chinese distant water fleet (DWF) in West Africa. Many scientists also realized the urgency for addressing the mpacts of climate change on Chinese fisheries. During this trip, we met with fisheries researchers in diverse fields and received a great deal of positive feedback on our research. We all hope that there will be more chances for our group to collaborate with the Chinese researchers in the future.

What fish can tell us about the Paris climate talks.

The Paris climate talks have begun and the world is watching in rapt attention as global leaders stake-out our carbon future. Meanwhile, in Canada, a recent profile of Dr. Daniel Pauly in Macleans magazine sought to understand our climate crisis from a different angle – namely, our past.

The profile, written by Evan Solomon, looks at Dr. Pauly’s ground-breaking research into “shifting baselines,” an idea he developed in the 1990’s that seeks to understand current fish population numbers in relation to their historical numbers.

“You need to know the past in order to anchor the events in the present,” said Dr. Pauly. “We know now that about half of the knowledge about fish who are not here anymore is lost every generation. Half!”

So how does Dr. Pauly’s fish population research relate to increasing carbon emissions?

“This idea is so important for climate change and the conference in Paris,” said Dr. Pauly. “The changes going on are so rapid and deep, but the loss of knowledge and contextualization from one generation to another is so subtle that often strong changes cannot be perceived.”

The Macleans article describes Canada’s baseline target for carbon dioxide limit as creeping upwards. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada set its baseline target to 1990 levels. Then, after Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, the baseline was reset: this time, to 2005 levels.

“Suddenly, that was the new normal,” Solomon writes.

Over the years successive negotiators at climate conferences have allowed baseline carbon dioxide emission targets to rise. Over time, these became the new normal, allowing carbon emitters – much like fishing countries – to avoid making difficult changes.

“Shifting baseline is also called collective amnesia,” said Dr. Pauly. “You don’t know the loss because it was never transmitted to you properly. You forget how it was so you find the present acceptable, normal, when it is not that at all.”

Ask an Expert: Will oceans be adequately discussed at COP21?

From November 20 to December 11, leaders from more than 195 countries will meet in Paris to discuss the future of the planet. But will oceans be on the agenda?

COP21, the “Conference of Parties”, is the 21st United Nations Conference on Climate Change. It is being hyped as the most important climate event since COP15 in Copenhagen, which produced the Copenhagen Accord — a political agreement that was deemed by many to be a failure. Here Yoshitaka Ota, Nereus Director (Policy), and William Cheung, Nereus Director (Science) and long-time Sea Around Us partner, discuss whether these negotiations will be successful, what’s at stake for the future of the world’s oceans, and what else can be done to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Why is this year’s event so important?

William Cheung: This will be the one to set the limits. The target is to lower global warming to a 2 degree Celsius increase by the end of the century. Current projections have the increase at 4 to 4.5 degrees. A 2 degree increase is the point where we can avoid major risk.

Yoshitaka Ota: This is the time when the global community has to come up with a consensus — south and north, developing and developed countries. We have to move forward beyond natural and regional interests.

Boats (Nereus Article)


Do you think this commitment is possible?

Cheung: It will be difficult but we need to make every effort to achieve that. Before the discussion, there was an invitation to each country to submit commitments to reduce their CO2 emissions. But if we sum up all the existing commitments, the estimate is that it will reduce global warming to 3.5 degrees by the end of the century, which will lead to major impacts on ocean ecosystems and their goods and services. Thus, the current commitments by the countries are not sufficient. There is still a major gap to fill. It is a challenge that all the countries should recognize and resolve in this meeting.

The effects of climate change are expected to impact developing countries the most, where there is often a large dependence on fisheries and where adaptability is more difficult. Image: “Fishing Boats, Madagascar” by Rod Waddington, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Why is this approach to global climate change negotiations not working?

Ota: In addition to setting agreements between countries, which is often difficult to achieve, this round of negotiations is trying to also add a bottom-up strategy. Each country is setting their own commitments before COP21. But the efforts are not enough to achieve the reduction we need. More work to agree on more ambitious emission limits needs to be done.

Are ocean issues being properly discussed in these negotiations?

Cheung: Historically, a lot of the discussions didn’t consider the oceans. Recently, with the push from the NGOs, scientists and other stakeholders, the importance of the oceans in the climate change debate is more visible. Given the demands and services that the oceans provide — fisheries, marine life, carbon absorption, and cultural impacts — not achieving the targets will add to the costs of insufficient actions.

What do you think the general public doesn’t know about climate change effects on oceans?

Cheung: The global ocean has already done a tremendous service to us by absorbing 93% of the additional heat caused by these emissions since the 1970s. The ocean also has captured 28% of CO2 emitted from our (and our ancestor’s) activities since 1750. However, this is achieved with great costs. As the ocean absorbs heat and CO2, its ability to moderate more CO2 emissions actually reduces. Also, acidification, warming, and deoxygenation of the oceans impact marine organisms and ecosystem services. Without the ocean, the earth is not liveable.

Ota: Our entire global environment and earth system is supported by the ocean. People with homes near the ocean are already moving because the sea levels are rising. But for many people, the concept of the ocean is that it’s far away and not their immediate concern. They think we will lose coral reefs and that the ocean will alter slightly. They think it’s a minor alteration and that we can rely on the ocean’s recovery capacity and its accommodating nature for it to come back. But there are certain changes to the ocean that are irreversible because of climate change. If your children’s children can never see coral reefs or a beautiful ocean, that’s deprivation. We shouldn’t create environmental injustice intergenerationally.

Coral (Nereus Article)


“There are certain changes to the ocean that are irreversible because of climate change. If your children’s children can never see coral reefs or a beautiful ocean, that’s deprivation,” says Yoshitaka Ota, Nereus Director (Policy). Image: “Coral Reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge” by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CC BY 2.0.

How is the situation different for developing versus developed countries?

Cheung: Marine areas that are more severely impacted by climate change both on land and in the oceans are in developing regions. For example, tropical Indo-Pacific regions, where there are many developing countries with a large dependence on fisheries resources, are projected to have a large decrease in potential catches because of climate change.

Ota: The issue of oceans is quite holistic, because it includes both the environmental functions of oceans at the same time as the human dimensions. With this COP, we understand the impacts of climate change on human society. Almost every sector of our society will be negatively impacted. But there is also an important discussion that we need to have on equity and social justice.

More vulnerable people are more susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Adaptability is more difficult in developing countries because they have fewer resources. The countries that rely on fisheries are not the big countries, and they are most affected by climate change. We have to share the burden, without making vulnerable people even more vulnerable. There are many things at play — north and south divisions, developing and developed divisions. Even within society, there are gender, indigenous and intergenerational issues. Our kids are going to be affected by and have to live with the results of these discussions and we need to show them that we can think beyond our own interests.

If these negotiations are not successful in lowering CO2 emissions to a sufficient level, what else can be done?

Cheung: Although COP is really important, there’s a lot of important work to be done afterwards. We have to monitor the commitments made by each country. There are bottom up changes like provinces, cities, and private sectors setting more ambitious emission limits than their countries have committed. There can be bolder changes in green technology and reducing emissions at individual levels. This creates an environment that pressures other organizations and cities to do the same. This can fill in the gaps at the country level that they may not be able to achieve at the international negotiations.

For further information or interview requests, please contact: Lindsay Lafreniere Communications Officer, Nereus Program Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries The University of British Columbia






Sea Around Us in West Africa: by Melanie Ang

“Fish do not need passports or visas. They don’t stay within a specific EEZ. Climate change is affecting our fisheries and what we set out to do in one country has little effect if we do not work together as a region.”

– Salifu Ceesay, PRCM forum, Praia (Cabo-Verde) 2015

Earlier this month I embarked on an exciting adventure to West Africa, to participate in a conversation on climate change and West African fisheries, together with Dr. Dyhia Belhabib, the Sea Around Us West Africa Lead, and Dr. Vicky Lam, a Sea Around Us-Nereus Post-Doctoral Research Fellow.

Our whirlwind journey spanned 16 days and 4 countries, including a Sea Around Us side-event on climate change impacts and adaptation at the PRCM 2015 (Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme for West Africa), and a catch reconstruction-focused workshop in The Gambia.

Armed with countless bottles of mosquito repellant, a suitcase filled with Sea Around Us brochures and a promising itinerary, we touched down at our first destination in Africa , Praia in Cape Verde (this was mine and Vicky’s first time in the African hemisphere). At the week-long PRCM 2015 conference we had the pleasure of meeting many interesting people and hosting a side-event, chaired by Dyhia, alongside some of our West African collaborators, Salifu Ceesay (The Gambia) and Elimane Abou Kane (Mauritania).

The Sea Around Us side event, titled “Climate change impacts in West Africa and possible routes of adaptation,” was very well attended and the room was full. In attendance were representatives from the Mauritanian Institute for Fisheries Research (IMROP), The Gambian National Fisheries Department (including the director and the ministry secretary), IUCN West Africa, several NGO’s, the United Nations Environmental Program, fisher’s organizations (e.g., CAOPA), and fishers themselves, as well as our partner the MAVA Foundation, among many others. After the presentation, all participants passionately shared their experiences at a round-table discussion. With representation from most West African countries, spanning Mauritania to Sierra Leone, topics for discussion included the impacts of foreign fishing vessels, climate change observations, and the decline and migration of fish stocks. Several delegates highlighted the need to think of fisheries management in a more regional manner.

The remainder of the week was spent engaging in discussions with the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), SRFC (Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission), MESA (Monitoring for Environment and Security in Africa) and other groups. Outside the conference, we enjoyed delicious seafood, and touring around Santiago island on an excursion organized by the PRCM. The 8th PRCM concluded with an urgent call for a more unified and collective approach in fisheries management strategies.

Following the PRCM conference, Vicky began her journey back to Vancouver, en route to China for another conference, while Dyhia took a short trip to Gland, Switzerland, for a MAVA Foundation strategic meeting, before re-joining me in Dakar, Senegal, for the next major Sea Around Us engagement event of our trip. Together with Dyhia’s husband Allan and her baby Ilyas, we drove from Dakar to Banjul (The Gambia). What was originally supposed to be a short three hour drive, turned into an eventful twelve hour journey, featuring an interesting episode at the Senegalese-Gambian border crossing, multiple police checkpoints and one extremely chaotic ferry crossing in Barra. Exhausted but relieved to arrive in Banjul, we were eager to immerse ourselves in the joint workshop on catch reconstructions between the Department of Fisheries of the Gambia and the Sea Around Us.

The workshop was attended by over 40 participants from diverse backgrounds, including various governmental departments, research units, educational institutions, industry members, media staff and the country representative of the FAO in The Gambia. The primary objective was to discuss the Sea Around Us Gambian catch reconstruction and approaches to further improve the overall fisheries catch reporting in the country. We conversed on the importance of fisheries observers and the protection and effectiveness of these observers, as well as the effect that desensitization may have on accurate reporting and data collection at sea.

James Gomez, the Director of Research from the Ministry of Education in The Gambia, highlighted the importance of interdepartmental collaboration. He urged for better policy to facilitate information sharing, stating: “Data that is useful for the nation should not be hard to access.” I thought the workshop was a success, with recommendations ranging from updating data collection forms to better reflect the fish species currently caught, to building capacity and provide data collection training to staff, to validating fisheries catch data with all stakeholders to reduce discrepancies.

Although our West Africa trip had quickly come to an end, and we find ourselves back within the Global Fisheries Cluster ( at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the engagement aspect of the project continues and our partnerships in West Africa are today more integrated.

A collaborative research initiative between the Sea Around Us and the various Departments of Fisheries from the seven West African countries is expected to launch in early 2016. Each country will nominate candidates to visit the Sea Around Us for 10-15 days on a scholarship. Candidates will attend training seminars, work on catch reconstructions and other related issues identified, and work towards a peer reviewed publication. The partnership, funded by the MAVA Foundation, will provide valuable training to West African fisheries researchers, and facilitate an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach to examining fisheries issues, furthering collaboration between researchers at the Sea Around Us and in West Africa.


A presentation by Dr. Daniel Pauly and Dr. Dyhia Belhabib on catch reconstructions

Last October Dr. Daniel Pauly and Dr. Dyhia Belhabib gave a presentation in Seattle to a group of Sea Around Us website users, describing new data tools and reiterating past and current research.

Dr. Pauly described why catch reconstructions are important and how they are conducted, and Dr. Belhabib  narrowed in on a specific case study in Gabon.

The case study in Gabon — as Dr. Pauly described — “could be replicated over 200 times” as numerous other case studies have been completed globally.

The video presentation was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, available here.

Fish alter migration patterns as global waters warm

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 10.22.34 AMWater spills from the edge of a giant, melting iceberg on the cover of the November 2015 issue of Science.

The special issue focused on the effects of climate change on our ocean systems, and highlighted research by Dr. William Cheung, an Associate Professor with the Changing Ocean Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, and Director (Science) of the Nereus Program. The journal used a map Dr. Cheung and his team created that describes the effects of changing water temperatures on fish species migration.

“This is the first global map that projects changes in species distribution and its impacts on marine biodiversity under climate change,” said Dr. Cheung in an email.

The map depicts the projected increase of fish species found in waters in higher latitudes as global waters warm. But while the number of species increases near the poles, many would disappear from equatorial waters.

Image - William Cheung Map

The Arctic and Southern oceans (red areas) could see up to two new species per half-degree of latitude by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions remain high.

The map was used in an article about boarfish – a bright orange, small and spiny fish that is exploding in numbers in the north Atlantic. As author Marianne Lavelle writes in Science:

“The boarfish has become one symbol of an emerging global issue: the often surprising disruptions that climate change can create in the world’s fisheries, as marine populations move, flourish, and wither as a result of warming seas.”

But the boarfish is only one among many species that are changing migration patterns due to climate change.

A study conducted by researchers at Rutgers University, who analyzed more than 40 years of census data on 350 species off North America, found that some 70% of species were shifting their ranges or moving to shallower or deeper waters because of changing water temperatures.

A previous study by Dr. Cheung – which was co-authored by Dr. Daniel Pauly from the Sea Around Us, and published as a letter in Nature – found that as water temperatures in high latitudes warm, an increase of tropical fish should be found in fishermen’s nets.

With the Paris climate change conference starting on November 30th, Dr. Cheung wants to see ocean warming on the agenda.

As scientists, politicians, and media from around the world descend on the capital city to try and forge a consensus on how to battle climate change, he believes warming of the oceans should be a priority in the discussions.

“Any solution without considering the ocean is incomplete,” he said.

New Mapping Tool video tutorial

The Sea Around Us Catch Allocation Map is an interactive tool that allows users to view global catch using different parameters, like country, year, functional or commercial group, and taxa, from 1950 until 2010. Two or more countries can also be viewed at the same time.

The embedded video is a short and concise guide on how to use the tool.

Click here to try the tool out yourself.

And if you have further questions as to how it works, click here for more information. You will find diagrams like the one below that are complimentary to the video.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more updates!

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 10.05.39 AM



Users weigh in on Sea Around Us website

New Homepage Map


The Sea Around Us is gaining feedback from its scientific and research users to create more robust tools and stronger web content.

On Tuesday October 26, several researchers met in Seattle, Washington to discuss improved methods for disseminating and displaying data on the Sea Around Us website.

Scientists from the Ocean Health Index, the University of Washington, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among several other organizations, provided practical feedback about improvements that could enhance the utility of the web services provided by the Sea Around Us.

“Everyone was interested in the process by which the Sea Around Us reconstructs catch data, and how they can optimize the extraction of data for their research needs from the website,” said Dr. Deng Palomares, senior scientist with the Sea Around Us.

The researchers provided feedback for potential additions to the tools and data – like a user’s guide for maps; an easier system for providing feedback on data or potential corrections; and even an area for policy suggestions for non-scientific users.

Many of the researchers were impressed with the mapping tool. The tool creates visual impressions of where fish are caught and what countries are catching them – throughout time from 1950 to 2010.

“They were very impressed by the mapping tool and its potentials and said it was the most powerful tool we have ,” said Palomares.

“It was important to receive feedback today from user groups, and how they appreciate and utilize the Sea Around Us website,” she added.


Only four per cent of the ocean is protected: Sea Around Us research

Small Island

Photo by: Azrul Aziz

Despite global efforts to increase the area of the ocean that is protected, only four per cent of it lies within marine protected areas (MPAs), according to new research.

Sea Around Us scientists Lisa Boonzaier and Daniel Pauly found that major swaths of the ocean must still be protected to reach even the most basic global targets.

In 2010, representatives from nearly 200 countries met in Nagoya, Japan, and adopted the United Nations’ Aichi Targets, in a bid to stem the rapid loss of biodiversity. The countries committed to protecting at least 10 per cent of the ocean by 2020.

“The targets call for much more than just 10 per cent protection,” said lead author Ms. Boonzaier. “They require that protected areas be effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected, all of which will help to ensure that MPAs contribute to more than percentage targets and meet the goal of conserving biodiversity.”

In the past decade, however, some improvement has been made. In 2006, only an estimated 0.65 percent of the ocean was protected.

“Given the creation of very large marine protected areas in recent years, notably though the Global Ocean Legacy Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, there is a chance that the Aichi Targets can be reached, which would be a major achievement,” said  Daniel Pauly, co-author of the paper and director of the Sea Around Us.

The research is published in the journal Oryx.

For more information, see

Dr. Daniel Pauly participates in White House science forum

Dr. Daniel Pauly at a White House event on citizen science.

Dr. Daniel Pauly at a White House event on citizen science.

Last week Dr. Daniel Pauly was invited to the White House to participate in a forum on citizen science and crowdsourcing.

The event, held on September 30, 2015, and hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the Domestic Policy Council, aimed to “celebrate the successes of citizen science and crowdsourcing,” and “raise awareness of the benefits these innovative approaches can deliver,” according to the White House website.

Dr. Pauly was there to discuss FishBase, the global database of fish he co-founded in the 1990s that is now the largest and most accessed online database for fish in the world. Each month it receives 50 million “hits” from over half a million unique viewers.

While experts initiated the database, it functions, in large part, from the input of thousands of citizen users.

“Much of the data sets in FishBase were initiated by communities from the bottom up, and then later, were picked up by academics,” said Dr. Pauly in an interview.

FishBase includes descriptions of over 33,000 species, and over 300,000 common names in almost 300 languages, 55,300 pictures, and references to 51,600 works in the scientific literature.

“FishBase has gathered a lot of data from its users—from photos, common names, forums and blogs. There is a huge openness of the database, and it is going to increase” said Dr. Pauly.

The forum, which was titled “Open Science and Innovation: Of the people, by the people, for the people,” highlighted the work of several other innovative citizen science endeavours.

For instance, 28,000 astronomy enthusiasts have made 1.4 million classifications of potential interstellar debris using NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer; and 5,500 active participants have helped record over 1.5 million observations related to plants and animals for the USA National Phenology Network, leading to contributions in 17 peer-reviewed publications.

“Citizen science and crowdsourcing projects can enhance scientific research and address societal needs, while drawing on previously underutilized resources,” said the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, John P. Holdren, in a memorandum.

Drawing on his experience with FishBase, Dr. Pauly agrees. “Governments are realizing they cannot progress in many areas without citizen participation. The idea of citizen science is not only compatible with democracy and the environmental sciences; it is essential for them,” he said.

A complete video of the event can be found here.

Links to Facebook pages for FishBase, and its partner organization SeaLifeBase.

New app to simplify fisheries data collection

Dr. Box presents the Fish Landing app to a workshop at the FishBase symposium in the Philippines. The workshop was co-sponsored by Oceana Philippines, the Philippine (), and Sea Around Us.

Dr. Box from the Smithsonian Institution presents the Fish Landing app during a workshop at the FishBase symposium in the Philippines associated with the 25th and 10th year anniversaries of FishBase and SeaLifeBase (Sea Around Us partners). The workshop was co-sponsored by the FishBase Information and Research Group (FIN), Oceana-Philippines, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Philippine Department of Agriculture, and the Sea Around Us.

On the northern coast of Honduras local fishers noticed the amount of fish they caught was decreasing year after year. What’s more, it was becoming increasingly difficult to catch the amount of fish they needed to make a living.

Compounding their plight was the fact that because their catch went to local buyers and then on to domestic markets—no real catch data were available. Without these data, it is incredibly difficult to manage a sustainable fishery.

A new app could help change this. The Fish Landing app helps local buyers track the species and size of fish caught, fishing spots frequently used, and the profiles of local fishers.

The app was developed by a team of researchers from the Center of Marine Studies (CEM), and the Smithsonian Institution, led by Dr. Stephen Box from the Smithsonian.

“The wealth of data which will be collected using these tools will greatly contribute to data analysis, and can be a primary basis for any plans related to fisheries management and sustainability,” said Dr. Box at the workshop, which was organized and moderated by Dr. Deng Palomares.

The researchers initially used a paper-based system to try and track catch data, where fishers, upon returning from the ocean, would fill out forms detailing the number and species of fish they caught. At the end of each month these papers were given to researches who then laboriously digitized and analyzed the data. While relatively effective for some small communities, on a larger scale it was highly inefficient.

The Fish Landing app helps to streamline this process. Local buyers—who receive the majority of fish from the fishers—use an Android phone or iPad to keep track of the data. Through its picture-based operation system the app is easy to use.

But why would buyers want to participate? The app is a one-stop shop for business purposes, where buyers can track fish caught, money earned and paid, and who their clients are. Fishers also get more precise information about what and how much they catch and earn, and governments are given data that can be used for fisheries statistics. Data packages to be shared with governments or management agencies can be customized and adjusted to local needs and sensitivities.

Furthermore, governments will finally be able to understand the large role that small-scale fishers play in contributing to the economy and food security.

At the workshop where Dr. Box presented the Fish Landing app, two other closely-associated tools were also presented. These included a decentralized registration system that easily and rapidly creates “fisher identity cards.” Often, these are the only pieces of ID that the fishers possess.

The other tool is an onboard, cheap, self-contained, and solar powered GPS system that will help in understanding the amount of time fishers spend in certain waters, the competition for fishing grounds among fishers, and the seasonal patterns in seascape use, among a suite of other factors.

Daniel Pauly, Principal Investigator of the Sea Around Us, believes these tools together could transform the accumulation of fisheries data.

“These three items could revolutionize data acquisition for and by artisanal fishers in developing countries, including the Philippines where the presentation by Dr. Stephen Box generated considerable interest,” he said.

Dirk Zeller, Senior Scientist of the Sea Around Us, thinks these tools are a state of the art approach that not only improve data collection but also the management of small-scale fisheries, which recently received clear recognition through an endorsement by the Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (COFI), of the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication.

“These tools and their associated direct and easy access to the data generated, will also empower local communities in their engagement in small-scale fisheries management,” he said.

The app and related tools are also being tested in Myanmar. Interest from the Philippine government and some NGOs expressed at the workshop may lead to the use of the fisheries app package, at least in some pilot areas. Dr. Mary Ann Bimbao (Executive Director of FIN) and Dr. Deng Palomares (Senior Scientist of the Sea Around Us) are in follow-up discussions with some members of the BFAR and Oceana-Philippines for future work.

Daniel Pauly participates in international fishing documentary


Daniel Pauly on set in Newfoundland, Canada. Photo credit: Rick Stanley

Daniel Pauly recently returned from Newfoundland, Canada, where he was working on an international fishing documentary.

The film, produced by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Ocean Foundation near Washington D.C., will be filmed in five locations including Honduras, South America, the U.S., Bahamas, Senegal, Africa,  — and, of course, Newfoundland, Canada.

As Pauly explains, the film explores the role of small-boat fishermen and how they contribute to the economy.

“There is a lack of awareness from the government,” he says. “They don’t understand how these fisherman fit into the economy, and so they tend to favour bigger fishing companies.”

Pauly is the film’s on-camera investigator who also serves as link between the countries.

The film is currently in production and is aiming for release in spring 2016.


Sea Around Us attends meeting to support conservation assessment for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean

A senior researcher with the Sea Around Us recently attended a three-day meeting earlier this month to discuss conservation of biodiversity with Antarctic experts in Monaco.

Deng Palomares, who recently worked on an Antarctic report for the Sea Around Us, said the meeting was an important step in identifying and assuring that Antarctic research focuses on the gaps in current data.


“It was a very successful endeavour seeing that the experts who participated in the assessment came from a multidisciplinary background,” Palomares said. “One of the most significant contributions of those three days is the engagement promised by these experts to continue their work in the Antarctic.”

Co-organized by the Government of the Principality of Monaco, the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, SCAR, and Monash University, the meeting was meant to assess whether the conservation of the biodiversity of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean is meeting the targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

The meeting also aimed to provide guidance for action that can effectively help deliver further conservation successes for the regions. Another goal was to identify key areas for work and indicators to help guide that work, which resulted in the Antarctica and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020: The Monaco Assessment.

“The initial expert assessment indicates a biodiversity outlook for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean which is no better than that for the rest of the globe,” said professor Steven Chown of Monash University, who co-organized the meeting.

HSH Prince Albert II of Manaco, who closed the meeting June 10, emphasized that activity in the Antarctic region — including not only fishing and tourism, but also some scientific activities — has drastically increased.

“I am convinced that common action from all countries and parties, can improve the situation for the better,” HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco noted. “I can assure you that my Government and my Foundation will make every effort possible to ensure that science continues to prevail in this land with international cooperation”

Organizers and attendees left feeling hopeful that there will be effective action over the next five years to dramatically improve the state of biodiversity in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

You can read more on The Monaco Assessment here


13th Annual FishBase Symposium in Philippines to take place this fall


A group shot from the 2014 FishBase Symposium that took place at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The 13th annual FishBase Symposium will take place September 1, 2015, hosted by the FishBase Information and Research Group, Inc. (FIN) in Los Baños, Philippines to mark the 25th and 10th year anniversaries of FishBase and SealifeBase, respectively.

Convened by Drs Mary Ann Bimbao (FIN) and Deng Palomares, Sea Around Us Senior Scientist, the theme for the Symposium is FishBase and SeaLifeBase for Teaching and Research in Aquatic Science. It aims to promote a deeper understanding of why and how FishBase and SeaLifeBase can be used for teaching and research in the Philippines.

Invited speakers come from local universities and research institutions, FishBase Consortium members who themselves use FishBase in teaching ichthyology courses and offer FishBase workshops regularly, and students from universities and secondary schools in the Philippines.

Dr Daniel Pauly, Principal Investigator of the Sea Around Us and co-maker of FishBase will give the keynote address. Dr Dirk Zeller, Sea Around Us Project Manager, will also attend the Symposium.

Other anniversary celebration activities include a poster exhibit of FishBase and SeaLifeBase, a book-giving activity to local libraries, students’ hands-on orientation on FishBase and SeaLifeBase and an art competition expressing underwater relationships and connections.

Schedule of Events:

1 Sept. 2015 (Tuesday): 13th Annual FishBase Symposium
1-4 Sept. 2015 (Tuesday-Friday):  Poster exhibit, Book-giving to libraries, Art competition, Students’ hands-on orientation on FishBase and SeaLifeBase, Media splash
2-4 Sept. 2015 (Wednesday-Friday): FishBase Consortium Annual Meeting

Events Coordinators:

  • Dr. Maria Lourdes D. Palomares, FIN Associate Scientific Director and Chair of the FishBase Consortium
  • Dr. Mary Ann P. Bimbao, FIN Executive Director

New research reveals population trends for world seabirds

RHAU Donnecke(1)

A Rhinoceros Auklet (seabird) eating sandlance (Photo: Daniel Donnecke)

New Sea Around Us research has found drastic decline in the monitored portion of the global seabird population.

The paper, published in PLoS ONE, reports that the monitored portion of the global seabird population decreased overall by 69.7 per cent between 1950 and 2010.

According to Michelle Paleczny, a lead author of the paper, and recent graduate of the zoology program at UBC, these findings likely reflect a global trend because of the large and representative sample. A decline this drastic can cause changes in island and marine ecosystems in which seabirds play a variety of vital roles.

“Decline in seabird abundance stands to disrupt natural processes in island and marine ecosystems in which seabirds play an important role — by acting as predators, scavengers, cross-ecosystem nutrient subsidizers, and ecosystem engineers,” Paleczny says.

In order to investigate global patterns of seabird population data, the researchers assembled a global database of seabird population size records and applied multivariate autoregressive state-space (MARSS) modeling to estimate the global path of all seabird populations with sufficient data. They obtained data from primary sources including journal articles, books, and unpublished reports.

Several human activities are known to threaten seabird populations, including entanglement in fishing gear, overfishing of food sources, climate change, pollution, disturbance, direct exploitation, development, energy production, and introduced species. Seabird populations are strongly affected by threats to marine and coastal ecosystems, and can indicate  the status of marine ecosystem health.

“Knowing this information helps us to measure and assess the overall effect that human activities and threats have had on seabirds and marine ecosystems over time,” Paleczny explains.

You can read the full report here

Recreational fishing accounts for half of all fish caught in The Bahamas

By: The PEW Charitable Trusts

Tourist fishing is big business in The Bahamas, but exactly how big was not known until now.

Scientists with the Sea Around Us— a scientific initiative at the University of British Columbia supported by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts—conducted a catch reconstruction, reviewing a range of data sources to estimate unreported catch. They found that recreational anglers landed about 8,000 metric tons a year over the past 60 years—approximately half of all fish caught in the country. This more accurate estimate may allow the government to better protect the local food supply.

“We depend heavily on tourism, but it can be a double-edged sword,” says Nicola Smith, a marine ecologist from Nassau and a doctoral candidate at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “You could get into serious ethical issues if the majority of the natural resource needed for sustenance is diverted for tourism and not being closely monitored.”

In The Bahamas, no one is keeping regular count of all the fish that tourists catch at sea or eat in restaurants. The government tracks only large-scale commercial catch, a common practice in many countries because commercial fishing is often considered more important to the local and national economies and because small-scale operations can be difficult to monitor. This limitation largely excludes categories such as artisanal, recreational, subsistence, and illegal fishing, as well as discards—fish that are caught and thrown away—and masks the true extent of fishing worldwide.

“The government is not systematically counting any of it, despite its importance for tourism,” Smith says. “The legislation to monitor and regulate recreational fishing has lagged behind the advertising.”

As the lead author of the Sea Around Us study, co-authored by Dirk Zeller of UBC, Smith is looking at the bigger picture. Her analysis worked to “reconstruct” the catch by all fisheries sectors in The Bahamas from 1950 through 2010 as part of a global project focused on identifying total fish catch, including previously uncounted data from many countries and spanning several decades.

Catch reconstruction is based on the idea that some catch information exists outside official fishery statistics and that it can be pulled together to produce a more complete picture of the catch. In the case of The Bahamas, Smith estimated catch by subsistence fishers using population data and a conservative assumption of per-capita consumption. She estimated how much fish the tourists were landing by combining catch limits with data from government tourism surveys.

Another category of catch proved especially difficult to estimate: small-scale commercial fishing. Fishermen in this sector sell much of their catch directly to restaurants rather than to processing plants, which are monitored by the government. Smith interviewed fishers and hotel purchasing managers and found that it was common for artisanal fishers to moor at a dock to sell fish directly to a hotel restaurant. It remains unclear what proportion of the country’s entire catch can be attributed to this practice. For this study, the researchers conducted a survey to estimate per-visitor fish consumption, then calculated total catch using hotel room occupancy data.

What’s the catch?

The reconstruction showed that the total catch in the past six decades was about 885,000 metric tons, more than double the official estimate of 321,000 metric tons. The research also produced more detailed estimates of catch for artisanal, recreational, and subsistence fishing (see details in this PDF) .


This information could be useful for managers as they monitor the country’s fisheries and try to ensure that tourists and residents have fish to eat. More results from catch reconstruction, including global catch estimates, will be available later in 2015.

New data on reported and unreported marine catches now available online

Researchers with UBC’s Sea Around Us project have launched a new web platform at that provides the first comprehensive coverage of both reported and unreported fish caught by every country in the world.

It reveals that official catch reports considerably underestimate actual catches around the world. For example, researchers found there was considerable unreported foreign fishing between 1950 and the early 1970s on Canada’s East coast. In fact, more than half of fish caught were unreported at one point. Much of this ‘catch’ consisted of so-called discards.

UBC professor Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller plan to publish a global estimate of fisheries catch in a peer-reviewed paper.

“The new Sea Around Us data have significant global scope and are long awaited by many groups worldwide,” said Zeller, senior researcher and project manager for Sea Around Us. “Accurate estimates are important for policy makers and fisheries managers to make economical and sustainable decisions about our fishing policies and fisheries management.”

The new data combine estimates of unreported catches — determined through extensive literature searches, consultation with local experts, and calculation of discarded fish — with officially reported data for small and large-scale fisheries for every country. The data emerged from a decade-long catch reconstruction project.

“We know these data will have major global impacts and now they are accessible in a visual, simplified and comprehensive way,” Pauly said.

Accurate catch data provide important insights into fisheries, fish populations and underlying ecosystems, and such data can have economic impacts.

The Sea Around Us is currently funded by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. This is the first time the project has released new data in over five years. It can be accessed at


About UBC’S Sea Around Us
The Sea Around Us was initiated in 1999, and aims to provide integrated analyses of the impacts of fisheries on marine ecosystems, and to devise policies that can mitigate and reverse harmful trends while ensuring the social and economic benefits of sustainable fisheries. Sea Around Us has assembled global databases of catches, distributions of fished marine species, countries’ fishing access agreements, ex-vessel prices, marine protected areas and other data – all available online.

Sea Around Us is a long-standing collaboration between the University of British
Columbia and The Pew Charitable Trusts, and since 2014 is supported by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

About The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation
Founded in 1988, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is dedicated to transforming lives and strengthening communities by fostering innovation, creating knowledge and promoting social progress. The Sea Around Us program is another example of how the Foundation supports the use data and technology to inform conservation priorities and actions.

View this press release on UBC News here

Daniel Pauly wins prestigious Peter Benchley Ocean Award


The Sea Around Us’ principal investigator Daniel Pauly is a winner of the prestigious Peter Benchley Ocean Award for “Excellence in Science.”

Pauly accepted the award on May 14 at the eighth annual awards ceremony at the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington D.C.

The awards team noted Pauly has become a world leader in identifying overfishing as a threat to marine ecosystems and global food security — and that he’s an outspoken advocate for taking corrective action.

“Since I am a marine biologist and fisheries scientist, this means that throughout my career, I have tried to create concepts, models, software and databases that enable colleagues to do their work more effectively,” Pauly said in his acceptance speech.

The Peter Benchley Ocean Awards acknowledge outstanding achievement, and the only major awards program dedicated to recognizing excellence in marine conservation solutions across a wide range of sectors.

Other winners this year included The Economist, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Sea Around Us collaborates with West Africa on catch reconstructions

Senegal-Mbour picture2

Sea Around Us recently announced its collaboration with West African countries on catch reconstructions through the West African Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Partnership (PRCM).

Daniel Pauly, principal investigator of the Sea Around Us, said his team is keen to work with stakeholders in the coastal zone in the order to ensure catch reconstruction data is accurate.

“We want to ensure our data reflects reality,” Pauly said. “In order for this to be successful, there needs to be a joint effort with all stakeholders.”

Other reasons behind the collaboration are to help formulate policies, to assist in the design of fisheries data acquisition schemes that can be implemented locally, and to facilitate research partnerships.

For more information click here


Daniel Pauly talks to Juliet Eilperin about the future of oceans and fisheries

Daniel Pauly talking to Juliet Eilperin in Washington, D.C.

Daniel Pauly and Juliet Eilperin in Washington, D.C.

On December 15, in Washington D.C., The Pew Charitable Trusts hosted a conversation between Sea Around Us’ Daniel Pauly and Juliet Eilperin, a White House correspondent for The Washington Post. The event marked a 15-year partnership between Pew and Sea Around Us.

Before her role as White House correspondent, Eilperin spent eight years as the national reporter for environmental science, policy and politics. At the event, she talked to Pauly about his research, and his contributions to science, and his critical approach to the exploitation of fisheries across the globe.

After his conversation with Eilperin, Pauly took questions from audience members about academic fisheries research, aquaculture and warming oceans.

If you missed the event, you can watch a the full video here

Sea Around Us, Oceana organize workshop for the National Symposium of Fisheries

Sea Around Us and Oceana have organized a workshop on Philippine fisheries as part of the National Symposium of Fisheries. The workshop will be held at the Luxent Hotel, Quezon City, Philippines on November 4-5.

The workshop will acquaint Philippine fisheries practitioners with the catch reconstruction work (Palomares and Pauly 2014) recently published as a Fisheries Centre Research Report at the University of British Columbia.

One of the primary objectives of the workshop is to provide practitioners with alternative terminology — including industrial fisheries, artisanal fisheries, subsistence fisheries and recreational fisheries — to help clarify current issues within the Philippine’s marine fisheries.

This session will also involve brainstorming exercises to inspire a re-thinking of data collection methods and create a preliminary work plan to implement these methods.

“We would like to be able to inspire a re-thinking of the Philippine fisheries catch statistics collection system, which has not been improved on since it was put in place in the 1960s,” said Maria Palomares, a senior research fellow at Sea Around Us. “We hope that the workshop will provide enough evidence that such a re-thinking is necessary to establish a solid and implementable catch statistics collection system.”

The workshop will also help introduce Philippine fisheries practitioners with Oceana, who have recently set up an office in the Philippines.

For more information on the symposium, visit


Sea Around Us heads to Philippines for National Symposium of Fisheries

On November 3, experts from the Philippines, Oceana and the Sea Around Us will gather in Quezon City, Philippines to attend the National Symposium on Fisheries organized by Oceana-Philippines.

Sea Around Us Professor Daniel Pauly will give the keynote address on the global reconstruction work the Sea Around Us has conducted, with particular emphasis on how this was done for the Phillippines. The Sea Around Us team will then present the challenges posed and the opportunities created as a result of this reconstruction study on Philippine marine capture fisheries.

The symposium aims to gather the perspectives from select stakeholders in the fisheries sector, the justice system, academics, non-governmental organizations and members of the business community. This is an inaugural activity for the organizer, Oceana-Philippines, which was established by Oceana early this year.

Over the course of two days, there will be panel discussions and open forums.  Topics discussed will include the state of fisheries, challenges, impacts, reform proposals and discussions on best practices in sustainable fisheries governance and law enforcement.

For more information on the symposium, visit


Sea Around US receives $2.6 million grant from The Paul G. Allen Foundation to improve data on world fisheries


The University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us project has received $2.6 million (U.S.) from The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to provide African and Asian countries with more accurate and comprehensive fisheries data to help them better analyze and support their ocean resources and local economies.

“This generous support will help UBC fisheries researchers work with countries to better understand the industry’s impact on marine ecosystems and its social and economic benefits,” UBC President Arvind Gupta said. “The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is giving our researchers an exceptional opportunity to work with global communities.”

The project, led by UBC Fisheries Centre Professors Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller, will provide comprehensive catch data and data collection methods to policy-makers and nongovernmental organizations working with countries in West Africa, East Africa, the Arab world and South Asia.

Researchers will help countries use this data to address national policies related to four main problem areas:

  • Increased public transparency of access agreements for foreign vessels to fish in a country’s waters;
  • Improving inadequate methods for recording or estimating fish catches;
  • Improving poor policy and management environments for local small-scale fisheries; and
  • Illegal fishing by foreign fleets.

“This project is significant for the global fisheries community,” Pauly said. “The data collected will help governments make informed national policy decisions by balancing economic growth with resource preservation.”

Sea Around Us started this project June 1, 2014, and it will run to June 1, 2016. The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s funding will also support FishBase, the Philippines-based research partner of Sea Around Us, which aims to create the largest and most extensively accessed online database about fishes on the web. 

You can read the full press release here

Study finds fish catches in Panama vastly under-reported

New Sea Around Us research estimates Panama’s total fish catches were vastly under-reported — by almost 40 per cent — between 1950 and 2010.

The recent study, led by Sea Around Us’ Sarah Harper and co-authored by Kyrstn Zylich, Dirk Zeller and  Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Héctor Guzmán, was published in Marine Fisheries Review’s most recent issue.


Panamanian artisanal fisher cleaning his daily catch

The research not only found a high number of fish — including tuna, shellfish and shark — taken from Panama’s waters was unaccounted for, but it also revealed data deficiencies.

“Fisheries catch data collection, as is the case in many countries, focus mainly on large-scale operations and the commercial sector under the assumption that small-scale fisheries are insignificant,” Harper said. “This catch reconstruction highlights the substantial under-reporting of small-scale catches.”

Other major components missing from official Panamanian data include discarded bycatch, which is often overlooked but can be considerable, according to Harper. Poor fisheries monitoring, data collection and lack of human resources to spot errors also contribute to data deficiencies.

Accurate catch accounts are important to the national economy, especially in Panama, where fish like lobster and shrimp are major exports.

“Given the important economic and food security contributions of Panama’s fisheries, efforts must be made by fisheries governing bodies to improve catch data collection and reporting,” Harper said.


12th annual FishBase symposium comes to UBC


The 12th annual FishBase symposium, organized by the FishBase Consortium’s Vice Chair, will be held in Vancouver at the Beaty Auditorium at the University of British Columbia September 8, 2014.

The symposium is a joint event between the Sea Around Us, the Beaty Museum and the Fishbase Information and Research Group based in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines. It’s being held in tandem with the FishBase Consortium Annual Meeting with support from the French Consulate in Vancouver.

This year’s symposium is titled: Big Old Data and Shiny New Insights: Using FishBase for Research, which reflects the theme of the event.

“The symposium is really about putting the value where its worth and telling people that hey, FishBase is used in research, and therefore merits continued support,” said Dr. Maria Lourdes D. Palomares, the Consortium’s vice-chair and Sea Around Us senior researcher.

Invited speakers, who consist of FishBase users, collaborators or educators, will talk about the importance of FishBase in big data research meta-analyses.

“We are extracting new knowledge, some of which were instrumental in shifting paradigms in the fish biology and fisheries world, out of this huge accumulation of data,” Palomares said.

FishBase is an online information system on all fishes in the world that has been active for 25 years.  For more information on the symposium, its schedule and speakers, visit the Facebook page, the event page or the eventbrite page

Discussing catch reconstructions in Senegal

Senegalese prime minister opening the Forum

The Prime Minister of Senegal opening the Forum of the Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme for West Africa (©PRCM)

By Dyhia Belhabib 

If I had to summarize my previous journeys in Senegal in one word, I would certainly use ‘denial’ for the first trip, ‘hope’ for the second, but many words for my last visit to Dakar last November when Dr. Daniel Pauly and I represented the Sea Around Us Project at the Forum of the Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme for West Africa (Programme Régional de Conservation de la zone côtière et Marine; PRCM). The description of the Forum that can be found on the PRCM website underlines the importance of this event (

The theme of the Forum was ‘Investing in coastal and marine conservation for the wellbeing of populations’, and as suggested, its goal was to put forward ideas about the use of nature with a view to improve the wellbeing of people relying on it. Many different stakeholders were present (e.g., NGOs, professional fishers, scientists, decision-makers) and were eager to discuss sustainability and conservation.

I was delighted to meet again our collaborators and colleagues from Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Morocco, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, as well as from the Fishery Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC) countries, notably Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. On a lighter note, a young man from Tanzania presented his journey as he biked from Chile to Tanzania, raising awareness about the environment and funds for Tanzanian students along the way. He also reminded me that I am not the only person in this world who needs a visa to go to conferences and talk about issues and potential solutions for a sustainable use of the ocean. After all, if fish needed a visa, the issue of illegal fishing would not be that bad. Illegal fishing was actually one of the topics of the Forum, and our colleague Duncan Copeland talked about how to implement efficient, non-expensive solutions to tackle illegal fishing. While some Mauritanian representatives claimed that illegal fishing was no longer as significant as it was in the past, a representative from Guinea-Bissau stated that the coastal waters of “Bissau looked like Hong Kong at night”, referring to the lights of the industrial fishing boats illegally venturing into artisanal fishing grounds at night. Afterwards, I was not able to make up my mind between ‘content’ — as ‘admitting’ is the first step towards ‘healing’ — or ‘sadness’ — as the issue of illegal fishing is now so important, that being politically correct is no longer an option.

The presence of journalists made for a great opportunity for the Sea Around Us Project to share our knowledge of West African fisheries with the public, and to emphasize the implications of our catch reconstruction work. For example, I had the opportunity to clarify some points such as “women’s catches are not substantial, therefore, it is not an important activity”. Indeed, one can argue that if this activity allows women to be financially independent and provide their households with food, then, it is of paramount importance, regardless of the volume of the catch (especially if vulnerable species are targeted).

At the end of the day, the Forum was a very productive experience for the Sea Around Us Project, as NGOs, research institutes, and regional organizations were eager to use and work with the catch reconstruction results. Indeed, they all agreed that looking at the impact of local small-scale fisheries, filling data gaps, and contributing to capacity building in the region is an important process. For example, we discussed catch reconstructions with representatives from Morocco (who were keen to work with us) and from the FCWC region (with whom we recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding), as well as with traditional community representatives such as the Imraguen, who constantly remind us of the reasons why we are fighting to save our oceans.

After the Forum, Daniel and I had the honour of having an informal lunch with his Excellency the Minister of Fisheries of Senegal, Haïdar El Ali, who informed us of his decision to invite the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to act in Senegal. It was pleasant to have a conversation with him as he seemed to be a person who is deeply driven by conservation. As we came back from Dakar, we also learned that Senegal had just arrested illegal Russian fishers despite diplomatic pressure from Russia. This action was backed by numbers the Sea Around Us Project estimated with colleagues from USAID and many other Senegalese organizations.


Breaking ground on illegal fishing in Senegal


Photo credit: Dyhia Belhabib


One of our PhD students Dyhia Belhabib headed a study that revealed catch numbers in Senegal have been misreported largely due to high levels of illegal fishing.

Belhabib’s research —a joint project with Sea Around Us and US Agency for International Development— found that the number of industrial catches is vastly underestimated.  She worked with the DPM, World Wildlife Fund and data from the U.S. Navy, in the study that began in March 2012. It was published earlier this month.

In effect, the study has increased Senegal’s awareness of illegal fishing vessels. Earlier this month, they arrested members of an illegal Russian vessel for fishing in Senegalese waters.

Belhabib’s report stated that official reports and fishers’ accounts document the presence of illegal vessels—which are thought to be a major cause of problems for Senegalese artisanal fisheries.

Belhabib noted that artisanal fisheries have increased in both time and space.

“They go out more often and travel further away,” she said.  “It’s been undetected for years.”

Senegalese artisanal fishing numbers have been reported at 80 per cent, but Belhabib’s research discovered the numbers are closer to half artisanal fishing and half industrial.

She stressed the importance of the findings, as they’ll help fishery decision-makers make more informed policy choices.

“These findings can help solve the problems of over-capacity in Senegalese waters,” she said.


You can read more about the study here:

See press on illegal fishing in Senegal here:

Ensuring better fisheries management in West Africa

This week, the Sea Around Us Project’s Principal Investigator, Daniel Pauly, and one of our PhD students, Dyhia Belhabib, attended the Regional Marine and Coastal Forum held in Dakar, Senegal, where representatives from eight West African countries gathered to discuss the status of fisheries in the region and their future. Their goal was to engage the countries in tackling unreported fishing.

By working with researchers at the Sea Around Us Project to assess their fisheries from 1950 to 2010, these countries have identified the extent of unreported fishing in their waters – which is often as much as double what is officially reported.

“Fishing operations in West Africa have been catching much more than anyone previously realised and reported,” says Dyhia Belhabib. “The research we are conducting in partnership with West African countries gives them the first complete historical picture of their fisheries.”

In response, some countries in the region have started to take steps to address the gaps and improve fisheries management. In Senegal, the government has developed a fisheries commission and signed an agreement to improve the current reporting and management of its fisheries.

“This joint research is shedding new light on the true extent of past fishing in West Africa,” says Daniel Pauly. “Our hope is that these countries will now adopt the results and use them to contribute to better fisheries management in the future.”

You can read the complete press release in English and French here.

Eating Bluefin

Tuna keychains are prizes in Tokyo’s version of the claw crane game; fresh or flash-frozen varieties available (© Laurenne Schiller )

Tuna keychains are prizes in Tokyo’s version of the claw crane game; fresh or flash-frozen varieties available (© Laurenne Schiller )

by Laurenne Schiller

Typically, when I start writing about the situation regarding the decline of bluefin tuna [1] — which has been primarily driven by demand from the Japanese sashimi market since the late 1970s — my go-to introductory sentences include the words “luxury”, “expensive”, and “wealthy consumer”.  The use of this terminology stemmed from a personal belief that bluefin was part of the upper echelon of gastronomic extravagance: the marine equivalent to a Kobe steak or Périgord truffles. Thus, you can imagine my complete surprise when I was in Tokyo this past month and saw it on the menu of every seafood restaurant in which I ate, or passed on the street. Literally, every single one — from 49th floor fine dining establishments, to curbside take-out lunch stands. I honestly could not believe that this fish was still so ubiquitous and, in many cases, inexpensive, when there is so much international pressure to reduce catches and allow for populations to recover.

Bluefin intrinsically holds a special place in my heart; it was the fish that made me decide to go into the field of fisheries science. And so, for me, the thought of eating it would be akin to how some people would feel about eating dog, or horse, or koala. Still, in going to Japan, I promised my travel companion that I would try everything. This decision was also based on one of my fundamental beliefs that in order to have an opinion (good or bad) on anything, it is important to have experienced it first-hand, and not simply judge based on hearsay or emotion. Still, I know that some may say that a fisheries scientist eating one of the most overfished species in the world could be considered hypocritical, so I will address that thought in a minute.

At any rate, we were less than two days into our travels in Japan when I had to live up to my word. Midway through a ten-course culinary extravaganza at a ryokan [2]  in Hakone, I found myself staring at a small plate of beautifully arranged sashimi. I knew right away that two of the three pieces were bluefin. Although it might sound silly to some, it actually took me a while to get the nerve up to even poke at it with my chopsticks. All I could think about was when I had visited the world-class aquarium in Monterey Bay and seen these pelagic fish up close and personal for the first time. People sometimes wonder if fish can feel and perceive their surroundings; I guarantee that anyone who has ever looked a bluefin in the eye will know the answer to that question. However, I did my best to put sentimentality aside and kept true to my promise. And honestly, it was the most delicious fish I have ever eaten.

Tuna are everywhere in Japan. And I don’t just mean fresh tuna, but tuna culture. There are tuna mascots, tuna murals, tuna t-shirts, and keychains, and stickers, the list goes on.  They even have those rip-off mechanical claw vending machines with tuna toys for prizes. It quickly became obvious that tuna is so much more than just a fish — it is a key component of modern Japan’s cultural identity. And bluefin is the most iconic of all. However, as mentioned above, populations of this species continue to be rapidly overexploited with no serious conservation or fishing targets in place. So, in addition to attending a joint symposium on current ocean issues, the other purpose of my trip to Japan was to serve as a rapporteur among a small group of fisheries scientists. Although the agenda was quite unstructured, the overall aim of our gathering was to discuss current and potential management strategies for Pacific bluefin tuna.

Alas, my revolutionized view of Japanese tuna culture combined with a trip to the morning bluefin auction at Tsukiji Market, and four days of intense discussion on all matters scientific, economic, and political, has made me realize that this is a far more complicated issue than simply setting quotas or raising consumer awareness. Perhaps unlike any other wild biological field, fisheries science is unique in that the wellbeing of the studied organisms has a direct connection to the wellbeing of humanity at large. While my friends have asked me why I want to save the fish, this is not a complete representation of why I do what I do. I don’t just want to “save the fish”. Personally, yes, I do think that bluefin are much more beautiful in the wild than on a plate, but I understand that I am in the minority on this matter. So, ultimately, my goal as a fisheries scientist is to ensure they can survive sustainably into the future as both a vital component of their natural marine ecosystem and also as food for those who enjoy them in that manner.

Which brings me back to my aforementioned point on hypocrisy. In addition to the overarching goal of finding a sustainable fishing solution for bluefin, I study these fish with the hope of being able to provide accurate information to the public so that they may make informed decisions about what they choose to eat. I do not think it is about telling others what to do, but rather about making sure people are aware that there is an ecological cost to everything we do in life; I understand that in going to Japan to (hopefully) do some good for tuna and tuna fishers, I substantially increased my carbon footprint as a result of the flights it took to get there. Ultimately, however, it is important to decide how to act based on all available information. With regard to eating bluefin, I was completely aware of the ecological impact of my decision. And, for me, the cost to long-term sustainability outweighs however much I enjoyed its taste. So, while I can now understand why people love to eat it, I will refrain from doing so again.


[1]  There are three species of bluefin tuna, each residing in a separate part of the world. However, all of these species have undergone dramatic stock depletions since commercial fishing began.

[2]  Traditional Japanese inn.


Daniel Pauly recognised for his scientific contributions

Daniel PaulyThe Sea Around Us Project’s Principal Investigator, Daniel Pauly, has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He is among three UBC researchers to be named this year.

New fellows will be recognized on 15 February 2014 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago.

For a complete list of this year’s fellows, see the AAAS news archives.

A press release is available here.

ELEFAN in (Daka)R


During June, Deng Palomares and Daniel Pauly spent a week teaching a newly updated version of the ELEFAN software at the Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture of the University Cheick Anta Diop of Dakar, Senegal. (Photo: Najih Lazar)

by M.L. ‘Deng’ Palomares and Daniel Pauly

The ELEFAN software and approach for the estimation of von Bertalanffy growth parameters from length-frequency data was developed at the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM), in Manila, Philippines, in the early 1980s by Daniel Pauly and two programmers (Noel David and Felimon Gayanilo). It was disseminated in various versions throughout the world, especially in tropical countries, through a series of training courses during the 1980s and 1990s. It also formed the core of a comprehensive software package called FAO-ICLARM Stock Assessment Tools (FiSAT; [1], [2]), still available from the FAO.

Overall, about 5,500 papers based on the ELEFAN approach, as incorporated in FiSAT and its predecessors have been published in the past 30+ years (as identified by Google Scholar records with “ELEFAN” in the title or the body of the text). However, since its release, FiSAT has been updated only once (FiSAT II; [3]), and it has become outdated in content and form. Thus, the offer was accepted to collaborate with USAID’s COMFISH Project in Senegal to produce an updated version of ELEFAN and to test it in a training course in Dakar before releasing it for wider use as open-source software.

The bulk of the R coding was completed by Aaron Greenberg (with Mathieu Colléter also contributing a routine) just in time for a team consisting of Ted Hart (of UBC’s Biodiversity Research Centre), Danielle Knip and Deng Palomares (of the Sea Around Us Project) to create a stand-alone package copied on 25 USB sticks at the end of May.

Daniel Pauly and Deng Palomares then spent a week in an ELEFAN training course, held at the Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture of the University Cheick Anta Diop of Dakar, teaching the routines behind and the functioning of the ELEFAN package. The group of 25 Senegalese participants consisted of about one-half fisheries scientists and graduate students, and the other half of fisheries inspectors.

While the fisheries inspectors struggled somewhat with the relevance of growth and mortality estimations and clearly preferred Daniel’s lectures on fisheries and climate change issues, the students and scientists benefitted greatly from this training workshop and generated – with Deng’s help – results for sardinella (Sardinella aurita, S. maderensi), white grouper or thiof (Epinephelus aeneus), bonga (Ethmalosa fimbriata) and other species. The results – to our relief – were comparable to those obtained by a group of colleagues (also working for the COMFISH Project) through tedious reading of annual rings on bony structures. Indeed, in the case of octopus (where the cubic root of the weight was used instead of length), results were obtained which could not have been obtained though ageing of bony structures – octopi
have no bones…

Thus, overall, the personnel who had arranged the workshop, notably COMFISH Project Leader Chris Mathews and Najih Lazar, Technical Advisor, both of The University of Rhode Island, were as pleased as we were about both the knowledge that was passed on during the workshop and the performance of the trial version of ELEFAN in R. Obviously, a number of items were noted which require improvement, as well as a swarm of bugs, both of which are due to be fixed in the next two to three months. The high hopes that we have for this new release of ELEFAN in R appear justified.

Daniel used the opportunity of being in Senegal to visit the Département des Pêches Maritimes, where he briefed its Director, Mr. J.-P. Manel, and members of his senior staff on the results of the reconstruction of Senegalese marine catches led by Dyhia Belhabib, with support from the MAVA Foundation and co-authors from the COMFISH project (Ms. Vivianne Koutob), the DPM (Mr. Lamine Mbaye) and WWF-Senegal (Mr. Nassirou Gueye). It was very gratifying that our Senegalese partners acknowledged that they have catch-reporting problems, both with regards to substantial illegal fishing in Senegalese waters and unregulated fishing by Senegalese fishers in the waters of neighbouring countries. This acceptance of reality signifies a level of political maturity that is lacking in many other countries where officialdom prefers to stick its head in the sand.

Daniel also used the opportunity, shortly before leaving Dakar, to hold a press conference with a dozen Senegalese journalists to inform them of a recent study authored by Drs William Cheung, Reg Watson and himself, on global warming and fisheries, which implies a dire future for tropical fisheries. One of the workshop participants suggested to Daniel that the public should be “alerted, but not alarmed” by the trend that this paper describes and the implication for Senegalese fisheries. This point to alert people and not alarm them is an excellent formulation of our job as scientists, and luckily, the Senegalese journalists followed up on it. For those who speak French, you can verify that the Senegalese journalists got the point by reading this article published in Le Soleil Online (, as an example.

Daniel can also attest that Deng was a big success with the national dress that she was given by the participants (see picture, right)!

[1] Gayanilo FC, Sparre P and Pauly D (1996) FAO-ICLARM stock assessment tools (FiSAT). User’s guide. FAO Computerized Information Series No. 8. FAO, Rome. 126 p.
[2] Gayanilo FC and Pauly D (1997) FAO-ICLARM stock assessment tools: reference manual. FAO Computerized Information Series No. 8. FAO, Rome. x+262 p.
[3] Gayanilo FC, Sparre P and Pauly D (2005) FAO-ICLARM stock assessment tools II (FiSAT II). Revised version. User’s guide. FAO Computerized Information Series No. 8. FAO, Rome. vii+168 p.


Correction: This is an updated version of the original article, correcting erroneous affiliations.

Ambassador to West Africa

DSC03963by Dyhia Belhabib

“Our driftnets don’t produce discards.”
“We don’t have illegal fishing – it’s illegal.”
“Your methods are correct, but your results don’t make sense.”
“Don’t tell them we fish in their waters, they will deny us access.”

These were some of the amazing comments I heard during my short visit to seven West African countries earlier this year as part of the “Sea Around Us Project and PRCM: Marine Conservation Research, Collaboration and Support in West Africa.” (PRCM is the Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme for West Africa). During my trip, I met with fisheries experts, researchers, decision-makers, NGOs and industry representatives to ground-truth the catch reconstruction results for the different countries.

I landed in Dakar on 4 April and met with the USAID Collaborative Management of Sustainable Fisheries in Senegal (COMFISH) team early the next day. Going through the presentation of Christopher Mathews (director of USAID/COMFISH in Senegal) for the upcoming meetings, made me realize how sensitive the subject of catch reconstructions was, and how diplomatic I would need to be. I would have to choose my words wisely.

The morning of April 6th, the Senegal workshop began. Around 85 people showed up, notably, the Department of Fisheries (DPM), the Fisheries Research Institute (CRODT), WWF, industrial and artisanal fisheries representatives, the Department of Fisheries Monitoring and Surveillance (DPSP), the US Navy, the local university and women from the fish processing industry, as well as the media. The main goal of the workshop was to validate catch reconstruction results and identify potential collaborators under the project in West Africa. I remembered that in 2012, Senegal denied the existence of any illegal activities in its waters and under-reporting as well, so we had to show some examples to demonstrate that Senegal was not an exception. With Duncan Copeland, our coordinator in West Africa, we prepared a “why bother?” presentation where we brainstormed with the audience on illegal fishing and under-reporting.

The following day, I presented technical details and major results of the catch reconstruction, along with the first estimates of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Dougoutigui Koulibaly, the executive secretary of the Industrial Fisheries Association had a comment, and I was preparing myself to be really diplomatic and nice. He said: I couldn’t eat lunch; if your estimations are remotely correct – and according to the audience, they seem to make sense – we are in trouble and we need to act now. I thought that we had come a long way from last year’s sentiment of, “We don’t have illegal fishing – it’s illegal.” One of the recommendations resulting from the workshop that had to be sent to the minister of fisheries was to create a working group to validate the results by 15 May. Senegal was ready to move ahead, and the people from the administration showed a strong will to participate.

Our next stop: Nouadhibou, Mauritania. We landed in Nouakchott, the capital city, and drove across the stunning, sandy desert to Nouadhibou to meet with staff of IMROP, the Mauritanian Institute of Fisheries Research. The meeting, although very casual, took around four hours and we discussed every single point of the methods. The organiser had us meet with the Association of Artisanal Cephalopod Fishermen with whom I used some mixed academic-Algerian Arabic to make myself understood. I implanted keywords such as “domestic,” “industrial“ and “China” in their minds, waiting for them to blow up. It didn’t work that well, as the fishers told me they didn’t believe the fishing access agreement with China would be of any benefit or harm to them. The fact that China is building infrastructure in the ports probably helped them forget the negative impacts of overfishing. But they said they had noticed shrinking fish sizes, shrinking catches and shrinking prices. We met with the subsistence fishing community and asked about their fishing traditions so that we could consider this community in our reconstruction of fisheries history. While the representative of the national federation told us that they don’t have under-reporting anymore, and illegal fishing is rare, his colleague said they don’t know what is happening in their waters, and there is probably discarding and illegal fishing. Two very different versions; the most realistic one
was obvious.

On our way back to Nouakchott, we stopped for around 15 minutes at the beautiful National Park of the Banc D’arguin (PNBA). I couldn’t possibly go to West Africa without stopping at its most famous national park, where overfishing in the adjacent waters has severely depleted fisheries resources.

I managed to get to Monrovia by traveling from Mauritania through Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire), then Accra (Ghana) before heading back towards Liberia. It was a ridiculous, 48 hour-long trip. I arrived in Monrovia, hardly looking like a human being, and about one hour later, I had the pleasure of meeting with the Bureau of National Fisheries (BNF). One-on-one meetings, it turned out, were the best choice for confirming or contradicting the information others could have given me. The SeaMen Workers Union, a group representing the benefits of workers in the fishing industry, talked about industrial discards and illegal Chinese pair trawling in Liberia. Coordinators and project managers talked about non-commercial fisheries, and the statistics division provided data on discards, transshipping and the real ownership of vessels. Liberia was one of the most challenging countries to reconstruct catches for, as information was scarce. Now it has been enriched by solid, if anecdotal, knowledge. Recently I also learned that after months of battling and collaboration with East African countries, Liberia has won a $2-million case against a Korean operator fishing illegally in its waters!

Crossing the border is always a pain in West Africa; however, the Liberia-Leonean border guards were surprisingly nice and welcoming. The beauty of the villages and the smiles of the children waving at us made the trip less painful and reduced the stress caused by our car breaking down in the middle of the bush. We finally made it to Freetown. The next day, we went to the Ministry of Fisheries, where I had the pleasure of meeting the deputy minister, and a while later, the minister himself. Thereafter we headed up to Guinea – the black hole of illegal fishing in Africa. Before even crossing the border, the friendly Sierra Leone immigration agents warned us: “They are hostiles.”

Indeed, I would add that the country is not only the black hole of illegal fishing, but of corruption, as it was present even in the lowest levels of society. Alkaly Dooumbouya, our collaborator from the fisheries research institute of Conakry (Centre National des Sciences halieutiques de Boussoura; CNSHB) organized a workshop inviting the department of surveillance, university representatives, the ministry of fisheries and the CNSHB. However, it was more appropriate to meet Mr Kaba, the representative of artisanal fisheries, before the workshop, to grasp a realistic picture of fisheries in Guinea. From Mr Kaba, we learned about the politics of fisheries in Guinea, and that the minister of fisheries himself had a fishing company whose vessels were often spotted off Sierra Leone! To tackle this conflict of interest, a new department of surveillance was created under the supervision of the Préfet maritime, an important figure who made himself available for a meeting after the workshop. I also had the pleasure of meeting with some of the legends of fisheries in West Africa, like Ibrahima Diallo, a Guinean fisheries scientist who worked on establishing time series for Guinean fisheries despite many technical and financial challenges. We discussed our research, and in general, people agreed with the methods and partial results, were shocked by the cumulative graphs, but finally accepted the overall outcomes.

After seven nights in Conakry, I was more than relieved to leave Guinea, just because of the perpetual harassment by police officers and immigration agents, some of whom were former mercenaries for Kaddafi.

I was happy finally to see the Bissau-Guinean flag. The immigration checkpoint was in a little village with a friendly imam checking passports. (It occurred to me that this might be an easy way in for drug dealers, as Guinea Bissau is coming to be known as the new Columbia of the world.) Once at the hotel, there was barely enough power for internet access, but we could contact our collaborators from the Bissau-Guinean ministry of fisheries and organise a meeting over Easter – a four-day holiday for 13% of the population that makes the entire nation happy. Meanwhile, we met with local experts from IUCN and discussed possible collaborations, especially on the topic of marine protected areas. We presented our results to Dr Victorino Nahada, the head of the fisheries department. He understood the basic concept and the rationale, as well as the data we used. He didn’t have any negative nor positive comments, but said politely that Guinea-Bissau doesn’t have an industrial fleet, they don’t land here and transhipping is illegal. Then we showed him our satellite pictures of a reefer (refrigerated container ship) operating consistently in Guinea-Bissau waters…

After a stop in The Gambia, I was getting ready to return to Vancouver where a lot of follow-up work was waiting for me. My journey in West Africa could be summarized as productive, intense, emotional and sometimes frustrating, but with a happy ending. I grew up during this intense one-month trip of workshop organisation, presentations and interviews, questioning and interrogations in seven countries of West Africa – amongst them some of the poorest countries in the world. I also learned how difficult it is to be a woman in the manly world of fisheries. I learned to be patient and diplomatic – an aspect of my character that I hadn’t known of myself before. I learned to interview people on very controversial topics and to gain their trust. I was particularly proud to get some of these countries out of their denial concerning illegal fisheries. By the end, I was deemed to be the Ambassador of the Sea Around Us Project in West Africa.

EU Common Fisheries Policy reform, from the inside

by Frédéric Le Manach

In 2009, the European Commission initiated the third reform of its Common Fisheries Policy. Although the basic principles of this new framework – which will stay in place for the next 10 years – were adopted in early February by the Parliament, the Commission is still regularly hearing experts on various topics. This process aims to propose specific amendments to this basic framework, before the final decision around June, once the Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers reach a consensus (yes, this is a rather complex system). One of these hearings was held in Brussels on 19 February, and it focused on deep-sea fishing. Claire Nouvian invited me to attend, and although I was expecting a vivid debate, I was not expecting such vividness.

Claire Nouvian – a Pew Fellow, journalist, director/producer, director of BLOOM (, but principally woman of action – was one of eight experts heard by European Union (EU) members of parliament (MPs) during a special session on deep-sea fisheries. Other names in this group of experts included Tom Blasdale, chair of the ICES Working Group on the Biology and Assessment of Deep-Sea Fisheries Resources (WGDEEP); Phil Weaver from the UK’s National Oceanography Centre; Pascal Lorance from the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer); and Matthew Gianni, co-founder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. I will not go into much detail about these seven talks. To put it in a clamshell, everybody sort of agreed that deep-sea trawling is harmful to many long-lived species (such as fish, sponges and corals) and fragile ecosystems, and that we know very little about them (there are analytical assessments for only three species, and footage is very rarely available).

Claire introduced the French deep-sea fishery, and the bottom-line of her talk was that despite rather important subsidies, the three companies involved in French deep-sea fishing are all in deficit! The example of Scapêche, which takes between 60 and 86% of the total French deep-sea catch, is staggering: between 2002 and 2011 it received €9.34 million from the state, plus an additional €16.9 million cash-injection from Intermarché, the supermarket chain to which it belongs [1]. (If you are looking for a definition of vertically integrated systems, here you go.) Yet during this 2002-2011 exercise, it had €0.1 million of cumulated net losses after tax. A French MP, co-chair of the fisheries committee, then said something along these lines: “Are you saying that such companies are philanthropic? That they give away money to something that is not worth it? I don’t buy it!”

That was it. At this point the extremely politically correct way of telling white lies or saying nothing too controversial was abandoned for a much spicier and polarized argument. A couple of MPs started to shout, accusing each other of being blind or deaf. Others tried to be more constructive, as one British MP and another French MP said that we should start inquiring upon the use of EU citizens’ money, and further refuted the co-chair’s argument that because some fishers were relying on this fishery, we should maintain it despite a high risk of collapse for most stocks.

Then, we ran out of time. Big surprise. My personal feeling is that this hearing was designed to restrict the debate. Controversial topics were kept for the end, whereas they should have been at the forefront. As a result, I am actually quite confused about the outcome of this meeting. Of course, its aim was not to make decisions, but rather to propose amendments to the Common Fisheries Policy proposal that is currently being reformed. However, I cannot guess what these amendments will be. Some MPs are definitely pro deep-sea fishing, others are firmly against it, but a number of them remain undecided and they will likely base their vote on who shouts the loudest. (Please remember that empty vessels make the most noise.)

Isabella Lövin, Swedish MP and author of the must-read book Silent Seas, managed to get the deadline for these amendments postponed to mid-March. I will follow-up with a report on the progress.

You can listen to the entire meeting at:


A journey to South America

A fishing boat at Taganga, a village in Colombia. (Photo: Robin Ramdeen)

by Robin Ramdeen

In the first week of November 2012, the 65th Annual Conference of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) took place in Santa Marta, Colombia. GCFI facilitates the exchange of experiences and ideas in fisheries science, management, governance, conservation and education. The conference was a testament to the region’s commitment to the stewardship of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, and the marine resources therein. The Caribbean Sea is a special place for me, because I grew up in Trinidad and because I discovered my niche in Caribbean fisheries while doing my Master’s thesis on the fishing of queen conch in Tobago. The theme of this year’s conference was “Artisanal fisheries: importance, implications and challenges for management,” a topic which is familiar to many of us. Artisanal fishing is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as fishing carried out by individuals or households requiring low investment in technology and gear. By this measure, the majority of Caribbean fisheries operations are artisanal or small-scale.

The conference’s keynote speaker was Dr Ratana Chuenpagdee, who is no stranger to the Sea Around Us Project. Dr Chuenpagdee completed her PhD under Dr Daniel Pauly’s supervision in 1998 and is now the Canada Research Chair in Natural Resource Sustainability and Community Development at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s. She urged the GCFI conference participants to consider ways to elevate the profile of small-scale fisheries, which – in terms of providing employment for fishers and catches for human consumption – are simply “too big to ignore” [1]. Dr Chuenpagdee is a powerhouse, and I was eager to chat with her at a socio-economic café where I got the opportunity to ask whether we erroneously mislabel our fisheries as small.

In terms of technological capacity, small-scale fisheries are certainly “small” compared to industrial ventures, but they are rather large in terms of the employment they provide for fishers as well as the quantity of catch they supply for human consumption [2]. Undoubtedly, the dearth of quantitative catch data associated with small-scale fishing sectors perpetuates this false notion of their size. As Dr Pauly plainly states in his foreword to the book “World small-scale fisheries: contemporary visions” (edited by Dr. Chuenpagdee), “countries cannot be bothered with the logistical and administrative nightmare that monitoring and reporting on small-scale fisheries often represents” [3]. As a native of the Caribbean and a research assistant with the Sea Around Us Project, I feel it to be my duty to reconstruct this historical fisheries information.

During my presentation at the conference, I explained how using information on catch, effort and seafood demand (i.e., consumption, as per household surveys) allowed me and my colleagues to reconstruct total marine fisheries catches for 10 Caribbean island countries from 1950 to 2010. Unsurprisingly, these catch reconstructions illustrated a substantial level of under-reporting in the Caribbean. For example, the reconstructed catches of Haiti and Jamaica were 3 and 4.3 times higher, respectively, than catches reported by these countries to the FAO, where the data become part of the world “catch” database. Overall, approximately 5 million tonnes of unreported catches were estimated for these 10 Caribbean countries during the 60-year period that we examined, with an average of 54,000 tonnes of unreported catches each year. The main discrepancy was due to unreported and under-reported catches from the artisanal, subsistence and recreational sectors. However, reporting seems to be improving as unreported catches in the early time period accounted for 80% of reconstructed catches, as opposed to 50% in the present time period.

The presentation was well-received and I had a number of scientists and fishers as well as an anthropologist interested in learning more about the Sea Around Us Project. Despite the English-Spanish language barrier, the GCFI spirit demonstrated that we are just one planet, working together for our precious oceans – questioning, sharing and improving things.

[1] “Too big to ignore” is a research network and knowledge mobilization partnership which aims to address the issues and challenges facing small-scale fisheries;
[2] Jacquet J and Pauly D (2008) Funding priorities: big barriers to small-scale fisheries. Conservation Biology 22(4): 832-835.
[3] Chuenpagdee R, editor (2011) World small-scale fisheries: contemporary visions. Eburon, Delft. 400 p.

Down at the World Ocean’s Summit

by Daniel Pauly

The British magazine The Economist hosted a huge “World Ocean Summit” in Singapore earlier this year, designed to find solutions to the ills that beset our oceans. And more precisely, to identify remedies that entrepreneurs could find ways to invest and profit from. It sounded like a reasonable goal, because we tend to live in democratic countries with market economies shaped by private enterprise, so I accepted their invitation. The head of the World Bank attended, as well as ministers from various countries, CEOs of big fishing companies, heads of international environmental NGOs, hedge fund managers, scientists…

It should have worked, but it didn’t really, despite the beautiful resort where the event took place and the flawless organization. I think it was because – mostly subtly, sometimes not so subtly – our very determined hosts, from the Editor-in-Chief to the lowliest of The Economist staffers, were pushing for “market solutions,” insisting that the remedies we identified had to make money for hedge fund managers and other investors.

It sounded all right at first – but how would this work if a health care system, for example, wasdesigned this way? Wouldn’t it leave too many people untreated, because no money can be made off them? Also, are fisheries not a gigantic example of a “market failure,” as economists call the mess we are in? (Although it is a small mess compared with that of our banking system.) But there was no space at the summit to discuss any of these things, and the complementary roles of governments and civil society. Everything that moves had to be turned into a commodity, and even some things that don’t move, like marine protected areas, which were identified as one of the places for profitable investments.

Thus my disappointment and perhaps that of Fisheries Centre Director Dr Rashid Sumaila too, who also attended. I did have the opportunity to address one of the summit’s working groups where I mentioned that the invitation of The Economist, besides being a compliment, also was a challenge, because I am often accused of spreading gloom and doom, in spite of being neither gloomy nor doomy.

The point is that a doctor – and I am one, if not of medicine – must correctly diagnose the disease at hand before being able to propose solutions leading back to health. The disease of industrial fisheries, I suggested, is “expansionitis” and it is caused largely by demand for fish in rich countries. Indeed, industrial fisheries have gone so far that we’re expanding into the world’s oceans at a rate of 1 million km2 and southward by 0.8° of latitude per year. Expansionitis is feeding essentially insatiable markets in Europe, North America and Northeast Asia, from finite fishing grounds in Africa, Latin America and Tropical Asia. Japan and the US import 60% to 70% of their food, the EU 70% to 80%. Industrial fishing is not about feeding the world’s poor.

Then, because we we re supposed to emphasize remedies, I listed those remedies for expansionitis about which there is
widespread agreement:
• Reduce and eventually abolish subsidies to fisheries – they are what feeds expansionitis;
• Rebuild fish stocks in developed countries, so that they need not grab so much of the developing countries’ fish, and export the lessons learned to the developing world;
• Allow developing countries to catch and process their own fish, and export a part of the value-added products to the developed world;
• Create arrangements providing exclusive access (to coastal resources in both developing and developed countries) to small-scale fisheries, which catch far more than industrial fisheries and could catch even more if not exposed to competition from industrial vessels;
• Reduce and eventually ban discards (Norway does it) and consume small fish directly, rather than turning them into fishmeal.
There is a huge reserve there.

But let’s face it: these remedies (all “market solutions,” incidentally) if implemented, would be the result of mostly public policy, which then would benefit the fishing industry in the long-term. In the short term, however, these remedies will be fought against tooth and nail by our friends from the private sector, that is those The Economist wants us not only to work with (which is a good thing), but to put in the driver’s seat. These are the reasons why I felt down at the Ocean Summit.

From the Front Lines of the 2012 AAAS Meeting

This post was written by by Claire Hornby, Sarah Harper, Robin Ramdeen, Dyhia Belhabib, Frédéric Le Manach and Aylin Ulman and appeared in the newsletter.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held its 178th Annual Meeting in Vancouver from February 16-20, 2012. The theme of this year’s conference was “Flattening the world: building a global knowledge society”. Sea Around Us Project members were among the 8,000 attendees, participating and presenting in numerous symposium sessions and volunteering at the Project’s booth in the exhibition hall. Additional notable sessions were presented by other members of the Fisheries Centre.

Highlights from the conference included a symposium titled “Underreported yet overoptimistic: fisheries catch reconstructions and food security”, organized by Sea Around Us Project members Dr Dirk Zeller and Sarah Harper. Dirk gave an informative presentation outlining the methods used in reconstructing countries’ fisheries catches, while Frédéric Le Manach expanded on the importance of this task for tackling issues of human rights and ethics. Frédéric explained that fishing access agreements between the European Union and host countries, citing the example of Madagascar, are perpetuating socio-economic inequalities between most and least-developed countries. The catch reconstruction work for Madagascar made the first step toward revealing some of these inequalities, which suggest that fishing access agreements need to be revised to be more ethical.

In the final part of the session, Nicola Smith, a graduate of the University of British Columbia now working in the Caribbean, described her reconstruction of the catches of the Bahamas. She found that recreational fisheries catches, which account for a large
proportion of the country’s total catches, are entirely missing from official statistics. As is the case for much of the Caribbean, the economy of the Bahamas is dominated by tourism – visitors want to fish and eat seafood as part of their holiday experience. This places intense demand on the local marine environment. The take-home message of this symposium was that proper accounting of all fisheries sectors is a key component of managing fisheries resources in both a sustainable and ethical manner. The examples that Dirk, Frédéric and Nicola presented are just a handful of the 150 or so countries that will be reconstructed by the end of this year. There will definitely be many more interesting stories to tell once the reconstruction of catches for all fishing countries is complete!

Another successful symposium was “Whole-ocean economics” organized by Dr Rashid Sumaila. He revealed the newly developed Eco2 Index, which measures the economic and environmental health of developed and developing countries. Dr William Cheung also presented a conservation risk index that combines economic figures and fisheries population growth rates to reveal the economics/conservation trade-offs of fishing. It was clear from the model that not all developed countries are doing well in terms of conservation. The audience showed a particular interest in the “Whole-ocean economics” session and there was plenty of participation by professors, researchers, non-governmental organization representatives and students. A roundtable session followed the presentations and questions relating to fisheries, marine protected areas and governance generated stimulating discussions. This session succeeded in highlighting the commitment of the Fisheries Centre members to global research and collaboration.

Another symposium organized by the Sea Around Us Project was titled “Leveling the global playing field: global inferences from reliable global samples”. Dr Kristin Kleisner, a postdoctoral fellow with the Sea Around Us Project and organizer of the session, explained how to design sampling methods and why it is important to infer scientifically sound global trends. Dr Thomas Lovejoy, from the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment in Washington DC, then discussed the use of technology to monitor biodiversity trends and species extinction. Closing the symposium, Dr Molly Jahn, from the University of Wisconsin, stressed the need to build a global information system to meet our future needs.

The Sea Around Us Project booth was also a major success. It allowed Project members to share their work with a diverse audience. For Claire Hornby, the AAAS was her first major science conference, and she was excited and nervous to have a chance to interact with scientists of various disciplines from all over the world. It was amazing to see the wide range of people that approached the booth, eager to hear about the Project’s work. Surprisingly, it seemed everyone – no matter if they were a budding scientist of five years old or an established professor – wanted to learn something about fisheries. The majority of attendees that approached the booth knew about the current state of the world’s oceans and the decline of many commercial fisheries. Family day at the AAAS brought many up-andcoming scientists to the booth. Robin Ramdeen, who volunteered that day, described how wonderful it was to see so many primary school children intrigued by the Sea Around Us Project’s display of ocean primary productivity. Their level of understanding of the importance of plankton for producing the energy upon which marine food webs are based was astounding. These inquisitive junior scientists answered their own questions about where energy comes from, both on land and at sea, and about how phytoplankton and zooplankton are essential to the diet of fish via the food web. Importantly, they were able to connect how changes in primary production could affect one of the ocean’s top predators: humans.

These were just a some of the highlights of Sea Around Us Project’s and the Fisheries Center’s contributions to the 2012 AAAS meeting. The conference was yet another example of how committed the Sea Around Us Project is not only to doing good research, but also to communicating its work to the world.

TED Talk: Daniel Pauly on Shifting Baselines

Daniel Pauly’s TED talk on Shifting Baselines is finally up! Watch the video, or read the transcript below:

I’m going to speak about a tiny, little idea. And this is about shifting baseline. And because the idea can be explained in one minute, I will tell you three stories before to fill in the time. And the first story is about Charles Darwin, one of my heroes. And he was here, as you well know, in ’35. And you’d think he was chasing finches, but he wasn’t. He was actually collecting fish. And he described one of them as very “common.” This was the sailfin grouper. A big fishery was run on it until the ’80s. Now the fish is on the IUCN Red List. Now this story, we have heard it lots of times on Galapagos and other places, so there is nothing particular about it. But the point is, we still come to Galapagos. We still think it is pristine. The brochures still say it is untouched. So what happens here?

The second story, also to illustrate another concept, is called shifting waistline. (Laughter) Because I was there in ’71, studying a lagoon in West Africa. I was there because I grew up in Europe and I wanted later to work in Africa. And I thought I could blend in. And I got a big sunburn, and I was convinced that I was really not from there. This was my first sunburn.

And the lagoon was surrounded by palm trees, as you can see, and a few mangrove. And it had tilapia about 20 centimeters, a species of tilapia called blackchin tilapia. And the fisheries for this tilapia sustained lots of fish and they had a good time and they earned more than average in Ghana. When I went there 27 years later, the fish had shrunk to half of their size. They were maturing at five centimeters. They had been pushed genetically. There were still fishes. They were still kind of happy. And the fish also were happy to be there. So nothing has changed, but everything has changed.

My third little story is that I was an accomplice in the introduction of trawling in Southeast Asia. In the ’70s — well, beginning in the ’60s — Europe did lots of development projects. Fish development meant imposing on countries that had already 100,000 fishers to impose on them industrial fishing. And this boat, quite ugly, is called the Mutiara 4. And I went sailing on it, and we did surveys throughout the southern South China sea and especially the Java Sea. And what we caught, we didn’t have words for it. What we caught, I know now, is the bottom of the sea. And 90 percent of our catch were sponges, other animals that are fixed on the bottom. And actually most of the fish, they are a little spot on the debris, the piles of debris, were coral reef fish. Essentially the bottom of the sea came onto the deck and then was thrown down.

And these pictures are extraordinary because this transition is very rapid. Within a year, you do a survey and then commercial fishing begins. The bottom is transformed from, in this case, a hard bottom or soft coral into a muddy mess. This is a dead turtle. They were not eaten, they were thrown away because they were dead. And one time we caught a live one. It was not drowned yet. And then they wanted to kill it because it was good to eat. This mountain of debris is actually collected by fishers every time they go into an area that’s never been fished. But it’s not documented.

We transform the world, but we don’t remember it. We adjust our baseline to the new level, and we don’t recall what was there. If you generalize this, something like this happens. You have on the y axis some good thing: biodiversity, numbers of orca, the greenness of your country, the water supply. And over time it changes — it changes because people do things, or naturally. Every generation will use the images that they got at the beginning of their conscious lives as a standard and will extrapolate forward. And the difference then, they perceive as a loss. But they don’t perceive what happened before as a loss. You can have a succession of changes. At the end you want to sustain miserable leftovers. And that, to a large extent, is what we want to do now. We want to sustain things that are gone or things that are not the way they were.

Now one should think this problem affected people certainly when in predatory societies, they killed animals and they didn’t know they had done so after a few generations. Because, obviously, an animal that is very abundant, before it gets extinct, it becomes rare. So you don’t lose abundant animals. You always lose rare animals. And therefore they’re not perceived as a big loss. Over time, we concentrate on large animals, and in a sea that means the big fish. They become rarer because we fish them. Over time we have a few fish left and we think this is the baseline.

And the question is, why do people accept this? Well because they don’t know that it was different. And in fact, lots of people, scientists, will contest that it was really different. And they will contest this because the evidence presented in an earlier mode is not in the way they would like the evidence presented. For example, the anecdote that some present, as Captain so-and-so observed lots of fish in this area cannot be used or is usually not utilized by fishery scientists, because it’s not “scientific.” So you have a situation where people don’t know the past, even though we live in literate societies, because they don’t trust the sources of the past.

And hence, the enormous role that a marine protected area can play. Because with marine protected areas, we actually recreate the past. We recreate the past that people cannot conceive because the baseline has shifted and is extremely low. That is for people who can see a marine protected area and who can benefit from the insight that it provides, which enables them to reset their baseline.

How about the people who can’t do that because they have no access — the people in the Midwest for example? There I think that the arts and film can perhaps fill the gap, and simulation. This is a simulation of Chesapeake Bay. There were gray whales in Chesapeake Bay a long time ago — 500 years ago. And you will have noticed that the hues and tones are like “Avatar.” (Laughter) And if you think about “Avatar,” if you think of why people were so touched by it — never mind the Pocahontas story — why so touched by the imagery? Because it evokes something that in a sense has been lost. And so my recommendation, it’s the only one I will provide, is for Cameron to do “Avatar II” underwater.

Thank you very much.

Belize: Too Precious To Drill

More than 20 top marine ecologists gathered last week in Belize City to review the status of the country’s marine biodiversity and the potential impacts an oil spill could have on local marine ecology. After the meeting, the participants unanimously agreed that the Belize government should prohibit offshore oil drillings in Belize’s waters, a referendum that will be voted on in late 2011.

Scientists from the University of British Columbia, Boston University, the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, and Belize itself discussed Belize’s marine assets in a symposium titled: Too Precious for Oil: the Marine Biodiversity of Belize.

Among the scientists’ chief concerns were how an oil spill would affect the region’s biodiversity and economic gains from marine resources and tourism. Belize boasts bottlenose dolphins, the largest number of Antillean manatees in the world, a breeding ground for at least 7 different species of sharks and rays, hundreds of different types of sponges, and fisheries for groupers, snappers, grunts, and other reef fishes. In 1996, UNESCO declared the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System a World Heritage Site.

Scientists are also worried that seismic activity makes drilling especially risky. An earthquake in Belize in 2009 had severe impacts on coral reefs. A spill could result in lost revenues to Belize’s fishing and marine tourism industries.

The event was organized by Oceana Belize and the Sea Around Us project, with funding from the Oak Foundation.
ended with the signing of a letter from all the scientists involved urging the government to consider the incredibly rich and diverse marine environment that exists in Belize, the many benefits (tourism and fisheries) this provides and the risk that oil drilling posses to this incredible natural asset.

The conference drew in around 100 people, but there was a media blitz each day and appearances on national radio, television, news and talk shows. Daniel Pauly made daily media appearances and met with the opposition party and other government officials. He and Sarah Harper appeared on two local talk shows. Andres Cisneros aired on Estereo Amour, Belize’s Spanish radio station.

Check back soon for more progress on this initiative.

Daniel Pauly’s Surprise Sail on the Eloquent

Deng Palomares reports on the surprise birthday celebration in the newsletter and below:

Our birthday celebrant, Dr Pauly, was born in post-war Paris in May 1946 and to this day carries a French passport (though he wishes to be Canadian sometime in the future). But, he never really lived in Paris, because Daniel’s roller coaster life seems to always involve traveling. In his younger years, these travels were undertaken as a quest for meaning (which at certain points in his life included religion), purpose and education leading to a doctorate from the Institute für Meereskunde in Kiel, Germany. This degree started Daniel’s journey to far and distant lands, e.g., Indonesia (GTZ project), the Philippines (ICLARM, Manila), Peru and Tanzania (FAO/DANIDA training courses), New Caledonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya and Namibia (FishBase training courses), to name a few. And finally, to Vancouver, where he had the permanent task of being an advisor to graduate students and leader of Sea Around Us team members since the mid-1990s. Still cranking out a long list of publications like a paper mill and still going places as an invited speaker, (the ‘guru’) Daniel, mentor to some of us and professor to many, had an aversion to celebrating his own birthday for some reason he never really identified. This earned him the name ‘KJ’ (for ‘Kill Joy’) among staff at ICLARM in the early days (because Filipinos like parties and especially the food!). We at the Fisheries Centre are lucky that Daniel now seems to enjoy these celebrations (remember his 60th with that big event?). And this year’s birthday (total surprise) bash for our bashful celebrant is unique, his first birthday party onboard a cruise! Daniel had no clue that preparations were under way for his party, thanks to the deft planning committee (Grace, Aylin), those who avidly put their art and cooking skills to work (Leah, Sarah, Kristin, Fred, Veronica) with special mention to Sandra Pauly who provided us with lunch, those who provided the materials for the artwork, the poems and baking paraphernalia, him who told Daniel lies to get him out of the office (Dirk), the photographers and film makers (Dawit, Dalal, Ling Huang) and to all of you who came to the party! It was well worth a sunny afternoon out on a boat, wasn’t it!

Sea Around Us Heads to IMCC2

Join the Sea Around Us and many of our collaborators at the International Marine Conservation Congress, May 14-18, 2011 in Victoria, BC. Find a few of our specific presentations below.

Sunday, May 15
10:15am (15 minutes)
Sarah Harper The fisheries of small island countries

11:05am (5 minutes)
Leah Biery Estimating the Global Distribution and Species Composition of the Shark Fin Supply from the Bottom Up

11:10am (5 minutes)
Rhona Govender Small but Mighty: the Real Contribution of Small-scale Fisheries to Global Catch

2:30pm (15 minutes)
Ashley Strub Global financial investment in marine protected areas

2:45pm (15 minutes)
Daniel Pauly Big reserves are better

4:50 (5 minutes)
Mark Hemmings Changes in Maldivian Fisheries

4:45pm (15 minutes)
Colette Wabnitz The ecological role of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in Hawaiian and Caribbean marine ecosystems and implications for conservation

6pm (5 minutes)
Megan Bailey Do Europe’s Reduction Fisheries Contribute to Sustainability?

Monday, May 16
10:30am (15 minutes)
Vicky Lam Climate change and the economics of global fisheries

10:45am (15 minutes)
William Cheung Global changes in body size, distribution and productivity of marine fishes under climate change: implications for conservation

6:15pm (15 minutes)
Daniel Pauly (on behalf of Wilf Swartz) The spatial expansion of the world’s marine fisheries: 1950 to present

Tuesday, May 17
10:45am (15 minutes)
Michelle Paleczny Are global marine fisheries starving seabirds?

11am (15 minutes)
Marta Coll Spatial overlap between marine biodiversity, cumulative threats and marine reserves in the Mediterranean Sea

2:15pm (15 minutes)
Jennifer Jacquet Public vs. Personal Impressions of the Gulf Oil Spill

2:45pm (15 minutes)
Ashley McCrae-Strub Oil and fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico: potential impacts on catch

3pm (15 minutes)
Kristin Kleisner (on behalf of Rashid Sumaila) Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the economics of U.S. Gulf fisheries

5pm (15 minutes)
Dirk Zeller Arctic fisheries catches in Russia, USA and Canada: Baselines for neglected ecosystems

5pm (15 minutes)
Frederic LeManach Magnitude of missing catches in official fisheries statistics and implications for the local population – the example of Madagascar

Wednesday, May 18
10:15 (15 minutes)
Jennifer Jacquet Intimacy through the Internet: Why Conservation Needs the Web

10:15 (15 minutes)
Sarika Cullis-Suzuki Regional fisheries management organizations: effectiveness and accountability on the high seas

10:45 (15 minutes)
Pablo Trujillo See-Food from Space

11:30 (15 minutes)
Kristin Kleisner Exploring indicators of fishing pressures in the context of the OHI with a focus on correcting the Marine Trophic Index for geographic expansion

3:30pm (15 minutes)
Dalal Al-Abdulrazzak Gaining Perspective on What We’ve Lost

Legislators Meet to Strategize on Global Fisheries Decline

rightOn June 8, World Ocean’s Day, 40 senior Members of Parliament from 15 key fishing nations agreed on a new plan to reverse the decline of global fisheries. The meeting was organised by the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment, (GLOBE) to challenge the current international political failure to address the rapid decline of global fisheries stocks. Among the politicians were scientific and policy advisors, including the Sea Around Us Project’s Rashid Sumaila (photographed here with GLOBE Fisheries Commission Chairman and former UK Biodiversity Minister, Barry Gardiner MP).

The group agreed to the following Priority Actions:
Parliamentary Legislation
• Ratify and adopt robust implementing legislation for all existing UN and FAO international fishery agreements.
• Redirect inappropriate fishing subsidies into programmes that improve fisheries management.
• Implement flexible rights-based management schemes for both coastal and high seas fisheries.
• Prevent fisheries authorities from setting catch limits above scientific recommendations.
• Involve the fishing industry in data collection and co-management of fisheries.
• Mandate environmental impact and stock assessments for all commercially fished species.
• Integrate fisheries and environment policy within government.
• Provide economic incentives for industry initiatives to source legal and sustainable fish.
• Introduce legislation to ban the import and domestic trade of illegally-caught fish (e.g. US Lacey Act).
• Implement a ‘Cap and Restore’ approach for all severely depleted fisheries.
• Adopt modern MPA network targets to propel domestic implementation of MPAs that link in to national and regional networks, alongside comprehensive fisheries management outside of protected areas.

RFMO Members
• Review and reform of RFMO conventions to promote sustainable, ecosystem-based management of marine biotic resources.
• Construct new RFMOs or expand existing RFMOs to manage species and areas currently unmanaged.
• Implement UNFSA requirements for a precautionary, ecosystem-based approach.
• Agree new RFMO rules that prevent decision-making bodies from setting catch limits above scientific recommendations.
• Incentivise RFMO membership by linking it to capacity-building assistance, and agree economic sanctions against non-compliant states.
• Establish RFMO mandates for all flag states to ensure their vessels carry tamper proof monitoring and surveillance equipment.

Coastal and Port States
• Increase and harmonise sanctions against illegal fishing and transhipment vessels across coastal and port states in key regions.
• Establish regional agreements for sharing data on fishing activities and resources for monitoring and enforcement, especially in developing country coastal and port states.
International Actions

New Agreements
• Mandate the UN to review and monitor RFMO performance based on existing benchmark standards for RFMOs in the UNFSA.
• Support the development of a multilateral and enforceable agreement on fishing subsidy reform within the World Trade Organisation.
• Require all fishing and reefer vessels to carry unique identification, such as IMO numbers.
• Hold non-compliant states accountable using the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.
• Adopt modern MPA network targets to propel the creation of marine reserves and networks globally.
• Investigate a new Global Framework Agreement for Marine Spatial Planning in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
New Multilateral Institutions
• Continue and increase support for the International Monitoring Control and Surveillance Network, expanding its mandate to conduct and coordinate global high seas fisheries intelligence-gathering.

Sea Around Us Speaks at the United Nations

This week the Sea Around Us is present for the weeklong UN meeting to review high seas fisheries . Rashid Sumaila’s work is being used to frame fisheries because the $27 billion his team has estimated in yearly subsidies keep unprofitable boats afloat. Former Sea Around Us M.Sc. student Sarika Cullis-Suzuki also joins in the meeting to discuss her work on the effectiveness of RFMOs. As noted in the Pew press release, her study evaluated the 18 regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), the intergovernmental bodies tasked with managing fishing on the high seas, and found they have failed to halt dramatic declines of fish stocks. The study by Cullis-Suzuki and Daniel Pauly, Failing the high seas: A global evaluation of regional fisheries management organizations, appeared in print this week at Marine Policy. Update May 28, 2010: Read coverage from Cullis-Suzuki’s presentation the UN meeting in The Guardian.

Mission Blue a Success

Individuals onboard Mission Blue, a week long TED-sponsored journey around the Galapagos to raise awareness and money for the oceans, have donated more than $15 million to ocean conservation groups to sponsor education, protection of the Galapagos, eliminate fisheries subsidies, and more. The Sea Around Us Project’s Daniel Pauly was one of the many qualified speakers onboard the boat. Watch for an online version of Dr. Pauly’s talk on shifting baselines coming soon…

Daniel Pauly and Others Embark on Mission Blue

This week The Sea Around Us Project’s Daniel Pauly is in the Galapagos Island along with many other notable guests of Mission Blue to fulfill Sylvia Earle’s 2009 TEDPrize wish. TED talks, which is normally hosted in Monterey, California, gathers together remarkable speakers and then makes their talks available online.  This time the meeting is taking place in the Galapagos on the National Geographic boat The Endeavor and  over the four days, attendees of Mission Blue will experience seven fully programmed TED sessions, which include fellow marine scientists Jeremy Jackson, Callum Roberts, Enric Sala, as well as the host Sylvia Earle.  Read about the full line-up and  follow the Mission Blue blog.

Sea Around Us Bridges Science and Society

The theme at the 2010 AAAS annual meeting held in San Diego, CA in mid-February was Bridging Science and Society. Sea Around Us members delivered on this theme in three different sessions. Daniel Pauly presented on a panel that showed the growing consensus among fisheries scientists. Although global overfishing is becoming an accepted premise, questions inevitably arose on the future of aquaculture. Pauly explained that it would be wrong to look at gladiator tournaments and vilify sports, when there is curling; similarly, it would be wrong to look at salmon farming and vilify aquaculture, when there are oyster farms.

Metaphors are powerful communication tools. So are 3-D visualizations, especially in a world that is already too big and too fast-paced to keep track of information. Can we help manage the future by allowing people to see it? To address this question, Villy Christensen co-organized a panel on the use of visualizations to bridge science and society for sustainability.

The Sea Around Us Project’s Sherman Lai showed the game-like tool he and Christensen developed to allow users to visualize the real-time effects of their fishing decisions (see photo). Multiple players can watch how their choices would play out on the underwater world using a video game interface that can also display the embedded EcoSim models. These tools, currently used in immersion labs like our own in the Fisheries Centre, are designed to allow managers to experience the results of potential policies. The panel also discussed the potential for these tools online.

Jennifer Jacquet and her other panel members discussed non-regulatory means of enhancing cooperation – namely through reputation and shame. Ralf Sommerfeld, a recent graduate who worked with the Max Planck Institute, presented several of his new game theoretical studies showing that gossip and reputation can lead to increases in overall cooperation. Jacquet proposed we migrate away from guilt-based efforts in conservation (e.g. eco-labels) and toward shame-based strategies, which we can use to motivate large-scale resource users. To show evidence of this in the real world, John Hocevar, head of oceans campaigns for Greenpeace USA, presented Greenpeace work to affect retailer reputation to encourage greater cooperation.

The Sea Around Us members also participated in the COMPASS marine mixer with scientists and journalists and talks on designing and implementing large-scale marine reserves. AAAS was truly a meeting to bridge science and society.

Daniel Pauly Delivers Keynote at Seafood Summit

Daniel Pauly recently gave the keynote address at the 2010 Seafood Summit in Paris. His talk compared industrial fishing to a Ponzi scheme, where instead of extracting a sustainable interest from invested capital, we use up the capital itself, and hope for other ‘investors’. He discussed the three-way expansion of fishing through the 20th century: geographically, by fishing in distant waters and getting access to African, Caribbean and Pacific waters; by fishing in deeper and deeper waters; and a taxonomic expansion. Pauly then addressed aquaculture and its limitations, particularly the double accounting of carnivorous farmed fish. He finished by talking about conservation efforts and the need to include the small-scale fisheries in the developing world in conservation efforts. His full talk is available through the Seafood Summit website.

Sumaila Asked to WTO and British House of Commons

SWITZERLAND WTO GENERAL COUNCILAt the end of October, the Sea Around Us Project’s economist and director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit Rashid Sumaila teamed up with Oceana spokesperson Ted Danson to meet with WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy to discuss the most recent estimates of global fisheries subsidies and the current state of WTO negotiations on this issue.  The Economist reported on the fisheries subsidies discussion, particularly fuel subsidies here.

Global fisheries subsidies are estimated to be $25-$30 billion a year and encourage overfishing as well as undermine free market philosophy.  The current Doha Round of the WTO is an apt forum for discussing and disciplining harmful subsidies, estimated at $16 billion per year.

From the WTO meetings in Geneva, Switzerland, Sumaila traveled to London to the British House of Commons for another meeting between legislators and scientists.  The Marine Advisory  Group of GLOBE International, a group that supports political leadership on issues of environmental sustainability, gathered to discuss overfishing.

Sumaila found the legislators involved, a multipartisan group primarily from the UK, to be enthusiastic, particularly the MP from the same region as author/journalist Charles Clover.  According to Sumaila, the legislators were very keen on receiving scientific information and data and urged the scientific advisors involved to share their findings candidly.

The Marine Advisory Group will continue to work with Globe International to produce a policy document, which should be completed early 2010, to be taken back to member countries, and presented at a number of UN meetings next year.

HoL GroupSumaila, far left, at a meeting of the Marine Advisory Group of GLOBE International in the UK House of Commons.

Photo by Tak, Flickr.

Thought Antarctica’s biodiversity was doing well? Think again

Photo by Tak, Flickr.

Photo by Tak, Flickr.

Twenty-three experts involved in the study “Antarctica and the strategic plan for biodiversity,” recently published in PLoS Biology, debunked the popular view that Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are in a better environmental shape than the rest of the world. In fact, the difference between the status of biodiversity in the region and planet Earth as a whole is negligible.

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Trends in West Africa Fisheries

Size matters: the impact of artisanal fisheries in West Africa

Trends in West Africa Fisheries

Some artisanal fleets in West Africa have grown so much in terms of number of boats, vessel size and capacity, and the aggregate engine power that they deploy that they have become comparable to the smaller industrial fleets operating in the region.

A new study by the Sea Around Us project reveals that, in the past 60 years, total artisanal fishing effort in the waters that extend from the coast of Morocco to the coast of Angola has increased by 10-fold.

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