Data gap in global fish catch Fisheries sector needs serious re-examination – study

Louise Maureen Simeon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A new study showing discrepancy in global fish catch is forcing a serious re-examination of the Philippine fishery sector.

According to the study done by the University of British Columbia (UBC), about 32 kilograms of fish catch goes unreported every year.

Annual global catch is pegged at roughly 109 billion kilograms (109 million metric tons), 30 percent higher than the 77 billion officially reported in 2010 by more than 200 countries and territories.

“If the new catch estimates are considered realistic, they should imply a serious re-examination of the Philippine fisheries statistics system, “ the study recommended.

The discrepancies were attributed to the fact that most countries focus their data collection efforts on large-scale industrial fishing and exclude difficult-to-track categories such as artisanal, subsistence, and illegal fishing, as well as discarded fish.

The study compares data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization with estimates from a broad range of sources including academic literature, local fisheries experts, fisheries law enforcement, human population, and documentation of fish catch by tourists.

“Accurate catch information is critical in helping fisheries managers understand the health of fish populations and inform fishing policies, such as catch quotas and seasonal or area restrictions,” the study noted.

“It’s been a known fact that we don’t sustainably utilize our marine resources.  This study reveals that we’re doing much worse.  If we continue to exhaust our marine resources, there will be nothing left for the future.  We have to give our oceans a chance to restore its natural bounty,” said Oceana Philippines vice president Gloria Ramos.

Reconstructed catch data on Philippine marine fisheries from 1950 to 2010 revealed discrepancies with FAO statistics. 

Data from FAO showed that fish catch went up from 0.24 million tons per year  in the 1950s to 0.9 million tons per year in the 1970s.

Commercial fishing, which accounts for 66 percent of the fish catch, expanded into the open water by the 1980s, resulting in a higher rate of increase that reached about 2.4 million tons per year by 2010.

Adding data for other types of fisheries, the study showed that fish catch in the Philippines should have been lowered by four percent between the 1970s and the 1980s, and higher by two percent in the late 1990s to 2000s.

Marine conservation organization Oceana Philippines urged the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to work and revisit the data on fish catch in the country.

“Discrepancy in reporting fish catch will affect the baseline data, which is an important component for fisheries management. If our baseline data is wrong, our fisheries management strategies will not be accurate and not effective,” Oceana Philippines senior scientist Jimely Flores said.

The BFAR, for its part, believes there is no harm in re-examining fisheries and fish catch data. “In fact, we are doing fish catch data monitoring now using our national stock assessment and online catch reporting system which we believe is the more accurate way although limited in coverage,” BFAR national director Asis Perez said in a text message.

The FAO collects fisheries catch data from its member countries and makes this dataset available to scientists and policymakers.

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