Beyond duplicity and ignorance in global fisheries


  • Daniel Pauly Fisheries Centre Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver



conservation, overfishing, bycatch, IUU, management, quotas, historic changes


The three decades following World War II were a period of rapidly increasing fishing effort and landings, but also of spectacular collapses, particularly in small pelagic fish stocks. This is also the period in which a toxic triad of catch underreporting, ignoring scientific advice and blaming the environment emerged as standard response to ongoing fisheries collapses, which became increasingly more frequent, finally engulfing major North Atlantic fisheries. The response to the depletion of traditional fishing grounds was an expansion of North Atlantic (and generally of northern hemisphere) fisheries in three dimensions: southward, into deeper waters and into new taxa, i.e. catching and marketing species of fish and invertebrates previously spurned, and usually lower in the food web. This expansion provided many opportunities for mischief, as illustrated by the European Union’s negotiated ‘agreements’ for access to the fish resources of Northwest Africa, China’s agreement-fee exploitation of the same, and Japan blaming the resulting resource declines on the whales. Also, this expansion provided new opportunities for mislabelling seafood unfamiliar to North Americans and Europeans, and misleading consumers, thus reducing the impact of seafood guides and similar effort toward sustainability. With fisheries catches declining, aquaculture—despite all public relation efforts—not being able to pick up the slack, and rapidly increasing fuel prices, structural changes are to be expected in both the fishing industry and the scientific disciplines that study it and influence its governance. Notably, fisheries biology, now predominantly concerned with the welfare of the fishing industry, will have to be converted into fisheries conservation science, whose goal will be to resolve the toxic triad alluded to above, and thus maintain the marine biodiversity and ecosystems that provide existential services to fisheries. Similarly, fisheries economists will have to get past their obsession with privatising fisheries resources, as their stated goal of providing the proper incentives to fishers can be achieved without giving away what are, after all, public resources. Overall, the crisis that fisheries are now going through can be seen as an opportunity to renew both their structure—away from fuel-intensive large-scale fisheries—and their governance, and to renew the disciplines which study fisheries, creating a fisheries conservation science in the process. Its greatest achievement will be the creation of a global network of Marine Protected Areas, which, as anticipated by Ramon Margalef, is the way to make controlled exploitation compatible with the continued existence of functioning marine ecosystems.


Download data is not yet available.


Alder, J., B. Campbell, V. Karpouzi, K. Kaschner and D. Pauly. – 2008. Forage fish: from Ecosystems to Markets. Ann. Rev. Envir. Res., 33: 153-166. doi:10.1146/annurev.environ.33.020807.143204

Alder, J. and D. Pauly (eds.). – 2006. On the multiple Uses of Forage Fish: from Ecosystem to Markets. Fish. Centre Res. Rep. 14(3): 1-109.

Alder, J. and U.R. Sumaila. – 2004. Western Africa: a fish basket of Europe past and present. J. Env. Dev., 13: 156-178. doi:10.1177/1070496504266092

Bearzi, G.E. Politi, S. Agazzi and A. Azzelino. – 2006. Prey depletion caused by overfishing and the decline of marine megafauna in eastern Ionian Sea coastal waters (central Mediterranean). Biol. Conserv., 127: 373-382. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2005.08.017

Beverton, R.J.H. 1990. Small pelagic fish and the threat of fishing: are they threatened? J. Fish Biol., (Suppl. A): 5-16. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8649.1990.tb05015.x

Bonfil R, G. Munro, U.R. Sumaila, H. Valtysson, M. Wright, T.J.M, Pitcher, D. Preikshot, N. Haggan and D. Pauly. – 1998. Impacts of distant water fleets: an ecological, economic and social assessment. In: The footprint of distant water fleet on world fisheries. Endangered Seas Campaign, pp. 11-111, WWF International, Godalming, Surrey: Castillo, S. and J. Mendo 1987. – Estimation of unregistered Peruvian anchoveta (Engraulis ringens) in official catch statistics, 1951 to 1982. In: D. Pauly and I. Tsukayama (eds.), The Peruvian anchoveta and its upwelling ecosystem: three decades of changes, pp. 109-116. ICLARM Studies and Reviews 15.

Chavance, P., M. Ba, D. Gascuel, M. Vakily and D. Pauly (eds.). – 2004. Pêcheries maritimes, écosystèmes et sociétés en Afrique de l’Ouest : un demi-siècle de changement. Actes du symposium international, Dakar - Sénégal, 24-28 juin 2002. Office des publications officielles des communautés Européennes, XXXVI, collection des rapports de recherche halieutique ACPUE 15, 532 pp.

Christensen V., S. Guénette, J.J. Heymans, C.J. Walters, R. Watson, D. Zeller and D. Pauly. – 2003. Hundred year decline of North Atlantic predatory fishes. Fish Fish., 4: 1-24. doi:10.1046/j.1467-2979.2003.00103.x

Clarke, S.C., M.K. McAllister, E.J. Milner-Gulland, G.P. Kirkwood, C.G.J. Michielsens, D.J. Agnew, E.D. Pikitch, H. Nakano and M.S. Shivji. – 2006. Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets. Ecol. Lett., 9: 1115-1126. doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2006.00968.x

Costello, C., S.D. Gaines and J. Lynham. – 2008. Can catch shares prevent fisheries collapses? Science, 321: 1678-1681. doi:10.1126/science.1159478

Cury, P.M., Y.-J Shin, B. Planque, J.M. Durant, J.-M. Fromentin, S. Kramer-Schadt, N.C Stenseth, M. Travers, and V. Grimm. – 2008. Ecosystem oceanography for global change in fisheries. Trends Ecol. Evol., 23: 338-346. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2008.02.005

Floyd, J. and D. Pauly. – 1984. Smaller size tuna around the Philippines - can fish aggregating devices be blamed? Infofish Marketing Digest 5/84: 25-27.

Gelchu, A. and D. Pauly. 2007. Growth and distribution of portbased fishing effort within countries’ EEZ from 1970 to 1995. Fish. Centre Res. Rep., 15(4): 1-99.

Gladwell, M. – 2000. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Little, Brown and Company, New York.

Hardin, G. – 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162; 1243-1248. doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243

Hardin, G. – 1972. Exploring new ethics for survival: the voyage for the spaceship Beagle. The Viking Press, New York.

Hilborn, R. – 2006. Faith-based fisheries. Fisheries, 31: 554-555.

Hites, R.A., J.A. Foran, D.O. Carpenter, M.C. Hamilton, B.A. Knuth and S.J. Schwager. – 2004. Global assessment of organic contaminants in farmed salmon. Science, 303: 225-229. doi:10.1126/science.1091447

Jackson, J.B.C., M.X. Kirby, W.H. Berger, K.A. Bjorndal, L.W. Botsford, B.J. Bourque, R. Cooke, J.A. Estes, T.P. Hughes, S. Kidwell, C.B. Lange, H.S. Lenihan, J.M. Pandolfi, C.H. Peterson, R.S. Steneck, M.J. Tegner and R.R. Warner. – 2001. Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science, 293: 629-638. doi:10.1126/science.1059199

Jacquet, J. and D. Pauly. – 2007. The Rise of Seafood Awareness Campaigns in an Era of Collapsing Fisheries. Mar. Policy, 31: 308-313. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2006.09.003

Jacquet J, and D. Pauly. – 2008. Trade secrets: renaming and mislabelling of seafood. Mar. Policy 32: 309-318. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2007.06.007

Jacquet, J. and D. Zeller. – 2007. National conflict and fisheries: reconstructing marine fisheries catches for Mozambique. In: D. Zeller and D. Pauly (eds.). Reconstruction of Marine Fisheries Catches for Key Countries and Regions (1950-2005). Fish. Centre Res. Rep., 15(2): 35-47

Kaczyinski, V.M. and D.L. Fluharty. – 2002. European policies in West Africa: who benefits from fisheries agreements? Mar . Policy, 26: 75-93. doi:10.1016/S0308-597X(01)00039-2

Kent, G. – 2003. Fish trade, food security, and the human right to adequate food. In: Report of the expert consultation on international fish trade and food security. Casablanca, Morocco, 27-30 January 2003, Rome. FAO Fish. Rep., 708: 49-70.

Komatsu, M. and S. Misaki. – 2003. Whales and the Japanese: how we have come to live in harmony with the bounty of the sea. The Institute of Cetacean Research, Tokyo.

Lomborg, B. – 2001. The skeptical environmentalist: measuring the real state of the world. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Ludwig, D., R. Hilborn, C. Walters. – 1993. Uncertainty, resource exploitation and conservation: lessons from history. Science, 260: 17 and 36.

Mace, P.M. – 1997. Developing and sustaining world fisheries resources: the state of science and management. In: D.H. Hancock, D.C. Smith, A. Grant and J.P. Beumer (eds.), Developing and sustaining world fisheries resources: the state of science and management, pp. 1-20. Proc. Second World Fish. Congress, Brisbane, Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Australia.

Macinko, S. and D.W. Bromley. – 2002. Who Owns America’s Fisheries? Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Macinko, S. and D.W. Bromley. – 2004. Property and Fisheries for the Twenty-First Century: Seeking Coherence from Legal and Economic Doctrine. Vermont Law Rev., 28:623-61.

Margalef, R. – 1968. Perspectives in Ecological Theory. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

Milazzo, M. – 1998. Subsidies in World Fisheries: A Re-examination. World Bank Tech. Pap., 406: 1-87.

Morato, T, R. Watson, T.J. Pitcher and D. Pauly. – 2006. Fishing down the deep. Fish Fish., 7: 24-34. doi:10.1111/j.1467-2979.2006.00205.x

Muck, P. – 1989. Major trends in the pelagic ecosystem off Peru and their implications for management. In: D. Pauly, P. Muck, J. Mendo, and I. Tsukayama (eds.). The Peruvian upwelling ecosystem: dynamics and interactions. ICLARM Conf. Proc. Manila, 18: 386-403.

Myers, R.A. and B. Worm. – 2003. Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature, 423: 280-283. doi:10.1038/nature01610

Pang L. and D. Pauly. – 2001. Chinese marine capture fisheries from 1950 to the late 1990s: the hopes, the plans and the data. In: R. Watson, L. Pang and D. Pauly (eds.). The marine fisheries of China: development and reported catches. Fish. Centre Res. Rep., 9(2): 1-27.

Pauly, D. – 1995. Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome of fisheries. Trends Ecol. Evol., 10(10): 430. doi:10.1016/S0169-5347(00)89171-5

Pauly, D. – 2006. Major trends in small-scale marine fisheries, with emphasis on developing countries, and some implications for the social sciences. Marit. Stud. (MAST), 4(2): 7-22.

Pauly, D. – 2007a. On bycatch, or how W.H.L. Allsopp coined a new word and created new insights. Sea Around Us Proj. Newsl., November/December 2007, (44): 1-4.

Pauly, D. – 2007b. The Sea Around Us Project: Documenting and Communicating Global Fisheries Impacts on Marine Ecosystems. AMBIO: J. Hum. Environ., 34(4): 290-295. doi:10.1579/0044-7447(2007)36[290:TSAUPD]2.0.CO;2

Pauly, D. – 2008a. Worrying about whales instead of managing fishing: a personal account of a meeting in Senegal. Sea Around Us Proj. Newsl., May/June 2008, (47): 1-4.

Pauly, D. – 2008b. Agreeing with Daniel Bromley. Marit. Stud. (MAST), 6(2): 27-28.

Pauly, D. and J. Maclean. – 2003. In a Perfect Ocean: fisheries and ecosystem in the North Atlantic. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Pauly, D. and R. Watson. – 2005. Background and interpretation of the ‘Marine Trophic Index’ as a measure of biodiversity. Philos. Trans. R. Soc.: Biol. Sci., 360: 415-423. doi:10.1098/rstb.2004.1597

Pauly, D., V. Christensen, J. Dalsgaard, R. Froese, and F.C. Torres Jr. – 1998. Fishing down marine food webs. Science, 279: 860-863. doi:10.1126/science.279.5352.860

Pauly, D., V. Christensen, S. Guénette, T.J. Pitcher, U.R. Sumaila, C.J. Walters, R. Watson and D. Zeller. – 2002. Towards sustainability in world fisheries. Nature, 418: 689-695. doi:10.1038/nature01017

Pauly, D., J. Alder, E. Bennett, V. Christensen, P. Tyedmers and R. Watson. – 2003. The future for fisheries. Science, 302: 1359-1361. doi:10.1126/science.1088667

Pauly, D., J. Alder, A. Bakun, S. Heileman, K.H. S, Kock, P. Mace, W. Perrin, K.I. Stergiou, U.R. Sumaila, M. Vierros, K.M.F. Freire, Y. Sadovy, V. Christensen, K. Kaschner, M.L.D. Palomares, P. Tyedmers, C. Wabnitz, R. Watson, and B. Worm. – 2005. Marine Systems. In: R. Hassan, R. Scholes, N. Ash (eds.), Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current States and Trends, vol. 1. pp. 577-511. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Pauly, D., W. Graham, S. Libralato, L. Morissette and M.L.D. Palomares. – 2009. Jellyfish in ecosystems, online databases and ecosystem models. Hydrobiologia, 616(1): 67-85. doi:10.1007/s10750-008-9583-x

Pikitch, E.K., C. Santora, E.A. Babcock, A. Bakun, R. Bonfil, D.O. Conover, P. Dayton, P. Doukakis, D. Fluharty, B. Heneman, H.D. Houde, J. Link, P.A. Livingston, M. Mangel, M.K. McAllister, J. Pope and K.J. Sainsbury. – 2004. Ecosystem-Based Fishery Management. Science, 305: 346-347.

Radovich, J. – 1981. The collapse of the California sardine industry: what have we learned? In: M.H. Glantz and D. Thomson (eds.), pp. 107-136. Resource Management and Environmental Uncertainty. Wiley, New York.

Roberts, C. – 2007. The Unnatural History of the Sea. Island Press, Washington D.C.

Rose, A. – 2008. Who killed the Grand Banks: the untold story behind the decimation of one of the world’s greatest natural resource. John Wiley and Sons.

Rosenberg, A.A., W.J. Bolster, K.E. Alexander, W.B. Leavenworth, A.B. Cooper and M.G. McKenzie. – 2005. The history of ocean resources: modeling cod biomass using historical records. Front. Ecol. Evol., 3(2): 84-90. doi:10.2307/3868514

Sáenz-Arroyo, A., C.M. Roberts, J. Torre, M. Cariño-Olvera and R. Enríquez-Andrade. – 2005. Rapidly shifting environmental baselines among fishers of the Gulf of California. Proc. R. Soc. B., 272: 1957-1962. doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3175

Stergiou, K.I. – 2002. Overfishing, tropicalization of fish stocks, uncertainty and ecosystem management: resharpening Ockham’s razor. Fish. Res., 55: 1-9.

Stergiou, K.I., A.C. Tsikliras and D. Pauly. – 2009. Farming up the Mediterranean food webs. Conserv. Biol., 23(1): 230-232. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01077.x

Sumaila, U.R. and D. Pauly (eds.). – 2006. Catching more bait: a bottom-up re-estimation of global fisheries subsidies. Fish. Centre Res. Rep., 14(6):1- 114.

Sumaila, U.R. and D. Pauly. – 2007. All fishing nations must unite to cut subsidies. Nature, 450: 945. doi:10.1038/450945a

Sumaila, U.R., L. Teh, R. Watson, P. Tyedmers and D. Pauly. – 2008. Fuel price increase, subsidies, overcapacity, and resource sustainability. ICES J. Mar. Scien. 65: 832-840. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsn070

Ward, M. – 2004. Quantifying the world: UN ideas and statistics. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Watson, R. and D. Pauly. – 2001. Systematic distortions in world fisheries catch trends. Nature, 414: 534-536. doi:10.1038/35107050

Wood, L, L. Fish, J. Laughren and D. Pauly. – 2008. Assessing progress towards global marine protection targets: shortfalls in information and action. Oryx, 42(3): 340-351. doi:10.1017/S003060530800046X

Zeller, D. and D. Pauly. – 2005. Good news, bad news: Global fisheries discards are declining, but so are total catches. Fish Fish., 6: 156-159. doi:10.1111/j.1467-2979.2005.00177.x

Zeller, D. and D. Pauly (eds.). – 2007. Reconstruction of Marine Fisheries Catches for Key Countries and Regions (1950-2005). Fish. Centre Res. Rep., 15(2): 1-163.




How to Cite

Pauly D. Beyond duplicity and ignorance in global fisheries. scimar [Internet]. 2009Jun.30 [cited 2023Oct.1];73(2):215-24. Available from: