Catch Reconstruction: Finding the Missing Fish

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Fisheries data collected around the world largely exclude smaller types of catch, including artisanal, subsistence, and discards.

Industrial fishing is big business. Official global statistics show that commercial operations take approximately 80 million metric tons of fish from the oceans each year. However, as scientists uncover the extent of small-scale fishing—which often goes unreported—this amount may actually be much larger.

According to a study, published Jan. 19, 2016, most countries focus their data collection efforts on industrial fishing, in part because small-scale operations can be difficult to track. The resulting data largely exclude smaller types of catch such as artisanal, subsistence, and illegal fishing, as well as discards, masking the true extent of fishing worldwide.

One promising approach, described in the study is to better capturing the scale of fishing around the world is “catch reconstruction,” which offers estimates using an array of sources and methods.

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Reconstructing the Fish Catch
Similar to the way you piece together a 500-piece puzzle or collect evidence to solve a mystery, scientists are looking for missing catch data in the long shadows cast by fishing activities that are currently unaccounted-for around the world. Fisheries scientists have long recognized the importance of thorough, accurate catch data in understanding the pressures on target species. However, it is often challenging to collect such data.Official data doesn’t include small-scale, recreational, or artisanal fishing. And it doesn’t include bycatch or illegal fishing data. One promising approach to understanding the influence of these activities on a fishery is “catch reconstruction,” which offers estimates of catch using a variety of sources and methods. These estimates are not a substitute for the global data reported by countries to FAO. Rather, they are a supplement that can indicate important trends and provide guidance on how best to improve data collection. A global catch reconstruction will be completed in early 2015, with estimates from 1950 to 2010 broken down by year and type of fish for more than 200 countries and territories. This research is led by the Sea Around Us project of the University of British Columbia and supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.For more information about catch reconstruction, visit www.pewtrusts.org or www.seaaroundus.org 

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