Food Trends

World Wildlife Fund warns planet could be out of fish by 2048

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If you’re eating fish just for the halibut, maybe it’s time to rethink your see-food habits. According to the latest World Wildlife Fund, our oceans are running out of fish.

“Unless the current situation improves,” WWF says, citing statistics from a 10-year-old research article, “stocks of all species currently fished for food are predicted to collapse by 2048.”

The global fishing fleet, it says, is “2-3 times larger than what the oceans can sustainably support” — meaning the industry is taking more fish out of the sea than the ones it leaves behind can replace.

According to international NGO, 53 percent of the world’s fisheries — the places where fish are caught — are “fully exploited,” and another 32 percent are “overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion….

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“Several important commercial fish populations have declined to the point where their survival is threatened,” it says.

One particularly tasty species that is close to extinction — sorry, sushi lovers— is the Pacific bluefin tuna. That species' population has plummeted to just 2.9 percent of its historic high. To make matters worse, nine out of 10 Pacific bluefin tuna caught in 2013 were too young to reproduce.

In other words, there aren’t a lot of Pacific bluefin left that have what it takes to make more Pacific bluefin.

“We think there’s a very grave danger of it disappearing unless action is taken in the next two years,” Amanda Nickson, director of Global Tuna Conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts, told Quartz.

But the problem goes way beyond tuna, WWF says, citing “[s]ome newly fished populations, such as monkfish, Patagonian toothfish, blue ling, and orange roughy [that] have already collapsed in some areas.”

Then there are the “billions of unwanted fish and other animals — like dolphins, marine turtles, seabirds, sharks and corals — [that] die due to inefficient, illegal, and destructive fishing practices.”

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There’s a human toll, too. 

When the “inexhaustible” supply of cod collapsed off New England in 1992, it put 40,000 people in Newfoundland — including 10,000 fishermen — out of work, WWF says. A quarter-century later, the cod still haven’t come back.

But while time is running out, there’s still time. In 2010, Grub Street reports, quotas were slashed on the imperiled Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna catch. Now, just six years later, the species has staged a remarkable comeback.

“Over the last twenty years,” Grub Street added, “39 other species in American fisheries have similarly recovered and overfishing is down to its lowest level since 1997.”

The bottom line? Expand that see-food diet. Have a cheeseburger for a change. Give fish a chance.