Gregory L. Britten, Carlos M. Duarte, Boris Worm (2021), Recovery of assessed global fish stocks remains uncertainPNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.2108532118

Concerns over overexploitation have fueled an ongoing debate on the current state and future prospects of global capture fisheries, associated threats to marine biodiversity, and declining yields available for human consumption. Management reforms have aimed to reduce fishing pressure and recover depleted stocks to biomass and exploitation rates that allow for maximum sustainable yield. Recent analyses suggest that scientifically assessed stocks, contributing over half of the global marine fish catch, have, on average, reached or even exceeded these targets, suggesting a fundamental shift in the effectiveness of fisheries governance. However, such conclusions are based on calculations requiring specific choices to average over high inter stock variability to derive a global trend. Here we evaluate the robustness of these conclusions by examining the distribution of recovery rates across individual stocks and by applying a diversity of plausible averaging techniques. We show that different methods produce markedly divergent trajectories of global fisheries status, with 4 of 10 methods suggesting that recovery has not yet been achieved, with up to 48% of individual stocks remaining below biomass targets and 40% exploited above sustainable rates. Furthermore, recent rates of recovery are only marginally different from zero, with up to 46% of individual stocks trending downward in biomass and 29% of stocks trending upward in exploitation rate. These results caution against over-optimistic assessments of fisheries writ large and support a precautionary management approach to ensure full rebuilding of depleted fisheries worldwide.