The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) routine reports on global fisheries catches normalise staggering levels of human predation.
They estimate that 78.8 million tonnes (mt) of ‘wild caught’ fish were hauled from the sea, in 2020 (FAO 2022, vxiii). This is forecast to increase to 96 mt by 2030 (FAO 2022, xxv). These are the known and reported numbers of animals taken–many more went unreported (Reid 2023).
Human consumption of marine animals has doubled since fifty years ago and will likely increase by 15 percent by 2030 (FAO 2022, vxiii). While having no direct oversight of global fisheries, the FAO is responsible for promoting the industry and ensuring its ongoing growth. In its recent campaign, the FAO represents expansion of industrial fisheries as a ‘blue transition’ and justifies increases as necessary to feed growing human populations (2022). It is relatively silent on the numbers of marine animals killed to also feed the bodies of human companion species, or to be reconstituted as fish meal to feed ‘livestock’, or those rendered as waste (Reid 2023).
For decades, marine biologist Daniel Pauly has highlighted how scientists and fisheries managers such as the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, grossly underestimate the decline of fish populations. Pauly argues that estimates of fish population numbers are routinely compared to late twentieth century baselines but, in fact, humans have been ‘fishing down the food web’ for decades and centuries earlier (See Daniel Pauly 1995, 2019; Watson and Pauly 2013; and Probyn 2016). It wasn’t until the 1990s that scientists involved in the History of Marine Animal Populations (HMAP) project offered a documentary basis (albeit incomplete) for piecing together the scale of historic fisheries catches. With this material we can begin to imagine the magnitude of change from past oceans (Reid 2023)