Fish stocks could be more sustainable and productive


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The health of fish stocks is one of the main determinants of fisheries performance, meaning the sustainable management of fish stocks is fundamental to achieving the socio-economic objectives governments and stakeholders have for fisheries. Regular stock status assessments are vital for fisheries management, as they allow the limiting of harvests at sustainable levels, and fisheries manager to adjust in their actions in response to exogenous factors impacting fish stocks (e.g. climate change). Without good data to guide fisheries management, the harvesting of stocks risks impacting the sector’s economic, social and environmental sustainability. In extreme cases, overfishing can lead to severe declines in stock abundance, with devastating impacts on local communities and ecosystems.


One in five assessed fish stocks needs rebuilding, many could be more productively harvested


The OECD Review of Fisheries 2022 finds that in the 32 OECD countries and emerging economies covered, 64% of assessed stocks are in good health. However, 18% of assessed stocks fall below sustainability standards and the health of the remaining 18% could not be determined as assessments were not conclusive (see left panel below). Further, just under half of the stocks in good health – 30% of all assessed stocks – are also harvested in a way that optimises productivity (i.e. they are abundant enough to allow the volume or value of catch to be maximised) (see right panel below). Thus, there is scope to produce more fish, generate more value for fishers, and increase environmental sustainability by improving the health of fish stocks.


Variation in the number of assessed stocks, and stock status is important at the country-level.


While several countries – Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – report all assessed stocks to be in good health, few stocks were assessed in these countries (with the exception of Korea). In other countries, over half of the stocks assessed fall below biological sustainability standards.


Natural variation in stock health, or the impacts of factors not linked to fishing, such as climate change, can have significant impacts on the health of stocks and lead to unexpected declines (or increases) irrespective of management regimes.

Heath of assessed fish stocks at country level, 2021 
Total number of assessments in backets

Source: OECD (2022), OECD Review of Fisheries 2022.                                                                           

There are also many reasons why countries assess different numbers of stocks. The number of stocks that are commercially exploited, which is a factor of both the size of the sector and the marine areas of the country, is perhaps the most important one. The capacity of national authorities to conduct stock assessments also varies and can impact the number of assessments reported in the data set. Finally, in some cases where a large number of species are exploited in the same area, for example in tropical reef fisheries, it may not be practical or even possible to conduct individual stock assessments, which will also impact the number of stock assessments.


This makes it difficult to draw strong conclusions from these data alone, and stock status should thus not be interpreted as a measure of management success. However, assessing stocks where the health status is either unknown or undetermined should be a priority for fisheries managers and governments.

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