Fish are a significant part of many diets, but the fisheries are in trouble around the world. 25% of global marine fisheries are considered over-exploited (peak fish likely occurred in the late 1980s), 50% are fully exploited, and only 25% have not yet reached maximum yield (FAO, 2011). The major fishing areas with the highest proportions (71−80 percent) of fully exploited stocks : Northeast Atlantic, Western Indian Ocean and Northwest. The top 10 most exploited species are anchoveta, Atlantic herring, chub and Chilean jack mackerels, Japanese anchovy, skipjack and yellowfin tunas, Alaska Pollock, blue whiting and the largehead hairtail (about 30 % of caught fish) (Worm et al., 2006).
Only a quarter of Canada’s fish stock are considered to be at healthy levels and the lack of species diversity in Canada’s seafood industry leaves many coastal communities vulnerable to further stock declines (Oceana, 2016). Changes to the Fisheries Act in 2012 eroded the scope of habitat protection, despite the fact that habitat destruction is seen as “the single greatest factor responsible for the decline and loss of commercial and noncommercial species on land and in water .” (Hutchings and Post, 2013)
Fishing technology (e.g. large boats with industrial trawling and processing capacity) is a key part of the problem, generating ecosystem damage and disrupting many fishstocks via bycatch). The Canadian situation is emblematic. 91% of Canadian fishing vessels are inshore (smaller, lower technology boats) but they only represent 57% of the total catch. Many livelihoods are threatened including 51,000 marine fishery workers in Canada (Sundar, 2012). The fishery is plagued by high levels of corporate concentration. Between 65-85% of Canada’s seafood is exported (Govinder et al., 2016)
The sector experiences high levels of market and policy failure. Fish are mobile, so managing them requires a global approach. But our ability to monitor fish stocks and define sustainable yield is in question, partly because we're still living with the assumption that fish are an inexhaustible resource. We are exploiting a “common” resource (nobody owns the fish) but global governance is only partly successful and many fisheries are poorly regulated. Fish pricing doesn’t reflect externalities (damage to ocean environments, reproductive and growth rates, bycatch effects, etc) (Jaquet, 2010).
Aquaculture is often presented as a solution but the dominant approaches have many problems (Klinger and Naylor, 2012). Globally, about half of consumed fish and seafood now come from aquaculture, though only 24% in Canada. But there is widespread disruption of marine systems including that escaped cultivated fish are competing with wild species. Aquaculture makes extensive use of wild fish as feed, and 23% of production goes to non-food uses including feed. Pesticides and antibiotics serve as contaminants in aquatic systems, generating significant questions about food quality and safety. The aquaculture sector also suffers from high levels of corporate concentration.
The inland fishery is also in serious jeopardy. Overfishing, habitat loss and pollution have all reduced stocks or resulted in consumption advisories to avoid contaminants. These problems are particularly acute for many First Nations and Inuit communities.