Responsible Fishing & Sustainability

According to the FAO State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, annual seafood production from global marine capture fisheries peaked in 1996 at 86.4 million tonnes, and had generally been in decline since, with 80.9 million tonnes of seafood captured in 2013 (FAO 2016). Although global capture percentages fluctuated over the four years since the 2016 report, production has increased to 84.4 million tonnes of seafood captured in 2018, an increase of 5% from the previous average (FAO 2020).

Although global total marine captures increased, annual catches were still below the peak of 86.4 million tonnes in 1996. Global consumption of food fish increased at an average annual rate of 3.1% between 1961 and 2017, almost twice the rate of annual world population growth (1.6%) for the same period (FAO 2020). With the human population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050, and with fish being a major source of dietary protein, and the primary source of protein for 3.3 billion people (FAO 2020), sustainable management of global fisheries has never been more important.

What is a sustainable fishery?

Currently, the best definition of a sustainable fishery scientists have for quantifying the amount of fish that can be captured from existing stocks to ensure the ocean can support the long-term extraction of seafood is based on the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) method. Because a natural system (a fishery) has the capacity to replenish itself, a sustainable yield can theoretically be maintained indefinitely if that system can continue to support the continuous renewal of its resources (fish) without depletion.

A sustainable fisheries management model

A sustainable fisheries management model is based on a scientific understanding of the maximum allowable rate and intensity of extraction in a fishery to avoid depletion of the population, stock, carefully manages the rate and intensity of that extraction, in a way that enables fish populations to grow and replenish stocks to sufficient levels, so the fishery can sustain continued extraction over the long-term.

A sustainable fisheries management model:

  • Promotes responsible fishing practices and methods of extraction
  • Favours small-scale, artisanal fishing practices
  • Favours low-impact, highly selective fishing techniques
  • Recognizes and honours fish as critical elements in healthy marine ecosystems, not simply as commodities or economic units
  • Ensures there is enough fish available to meet the survival, growth and reproductive needs of all marine organisms, including cetaceans
  • Guarantees plentiful seafood available for future generations of human populations
  • Avoids over-exploitation of marine species or biodiversity loss
  • Does not irreparably damage marine or terrestrial ecosystems
  • Does not engage in human rights violations or slavery, and provides people reliant on fishing for their economic livelihood a living wage
  • Assists in maintaining a healthy ocean and a stable global climate

The desired outcomes of a sustainable fisheries management model include:

  • Prevention of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) practices
  • Reduction or elimination of fishing subsides that encourage overfishing
  • Establishment of scientifically measured and monitored catch quotas
  • Development of fishing regulations for fleets and farms based on scientific evidence
  • Significant reduction or elimination of bycatch
  • Small-scale, closed-loop containment aquaculture systems internalizing the ‘cost’ of environmental impact
  • Food security and poverty alleviation for indigenous coastal communities
  • Efficient, timely management and recovery strategies for depleted fisheries
  • An ecosystem-based, precautionary-principled approach, utilizing multiple-species management plans and strategies
  • Government fisheries policies that set rules and regulations for responsible fishing and enforce penalties for non-compliance

Fisheries policy

The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries is a code of practice and set of principles to encourage sustainable fishing and conservation of the marine environment via consensus (FAO 1995). Many international bodies and environmental organizations actively campaign for legislative change in support of sustainable fisheries management. Various solutions proposed and actioned by government, industry and marine conservation organisations have already created realistic, sustained changes within the fishing industry.

Advantages and disadvantages of fisheries policy and management of global fisheries will be discussed in monthly newsletters, as part of the ongoing Seafood Free September campaign to promote sustainable seafood (see Sustainable Seafood & Informed Choice under Solutions) and the establishment of marine protected areas (see Marine Protected Areas & IMMAs under Solutions), relying on science and statistics as evidence of their effectiveness.

© 2016 – 2021 Seafood Free September


FAO. Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries Rome, FAO. 1995. 41 p.

FAO. 2016. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016. Contributing to food security and nutrition for all. Rome. 200 pp.

FAO. 2020. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020. Sustainability in action. Rome.