Major Fishing Countries

By the early 1990s, China had emerged as the nation with the largest fish catches, totalling 16.5 million US tons in 1992. The Chinese catch is largely from fish farming. Japan is second, with about 9.4 million US tons. Peru is next, with a catch of 7.5 million US tons. Chile, Russia, and the United States follow, in that order. India, with a catch of 4.6 million US tons, is the seventh-largest fishing nation. The Pacific countries of Indonesia, Thailand, and South Korea complete the list of the ten main fishing nations. Britain, once a major fishing country, is now only a minor player, having caught only 895,000 US tons in 1992.

Over-fished fisheries

In 1948 the total world fish catch was about 19 million metric tons. The total catch rose to over 60 million metric tons by 1970, almost 77 million metric tons in 1972, and in 1989 – a record year – over 110.2 million US tons. The 1992 total was 108 million US tons. Despite the huge size of total world catches, fisheries scientists believe that the sustainable limits to the landings of many important commercial species of marine fish were reached long ago. Decreasing catches of valuable fish, such as cod and haddock, were payed for by capturing less desirable species that would have been thrown out in the past – pollock, pilchard, whiting.

In 1994 the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) announced that 13 of the world’s 17 major ocean fisheries are overfished. Overfishing, the harvesting of a species to a point where it can’t reproduce itself in serious numbers, is in large part responsible for the decline of cod, haddock, halibut, herring, several species of tuna, and whale. Not enough of these fish remain in the seas to maintain spawning stocks; the fishing industry has been consuming its capital.

Technology is one reason for the huge increase in fish landings since the 1960s. Catches were so rich that private industry and governments both poured money into higher quality fishing fleets. Since the 1980s, for example, the European Union quadrupled its support for fishing, subsidizing the building of new boats and arranging for member countries to exploit fishing grounds in other members’ jurisdictions. Since 1975, the number of trawlers on the high seas has increased by 30 percent, and the major fishing nations now suffer from overcapacity: the European Union could land its present catches with only half its present fleet.