September 23, 2010
China Top Fish Consumer

Expect more fisheries depletion.

WASHINGTON—China leads the world in tonnage of fish caught annually as well as the amount of fish consumed, according to new findings reported in National Geographic magazine.

It is troubling that even at current still fairly low per capita GDP ($6,567 per capita GDP in purchasing power parity in 2009) China already consumes more fish than any other country. Consider that at current GDP 98 countries (even Namibia!) have higher per capita GDP. Imagine what China's fish demand will be at double and eventually triple and quadruple its current per capita GDP. The ocean's fisheries already are harvested at an unsustainable level.

Japan is number 2 and the US is number 3. Enough Asian nations are industrializing that current Japanese and US fish consumption levels from wild catch are not sustainable.

The research, conducted by the University of British Columbia in collaboration with the National Geographic Society and The Pew Charitable Trusts, ranks the top 20 nations that have the greatest impact on ocean ecosystems through catching or consuming marine wildlife.

China's top ranking results from its enormous population, despite its very low per capita footprint of fish catch and consumption. Japan is high on the list too, a result of its rate of consumption (often by importation) of fish rather than its catch. The "top 20" lists of fish catch and consumption are unveiled in the October issue of National Geographic magazine.

The United States comes in third in both lists, due to its relatively large population and tendency to eat top predator fish such as Atlantic salmon. Peru ranks second in the world in catch though is not in the top 20 fish-consuming countries because Peruvians on the whole eat little seafood.

One might argue that the growth in fish consumption will come from aquaculture. Sure. But overfishing of fisheries will increase even as fish farming doubles and doubles again. Fishing fleets are already more than double sustainable size.

Humanity's demand for seafood has now driven fishing fleets into every virgin fishing ground in the world, the scientists say. A report by the World Bank and United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that even if the number of boats, hooks and nets now used were cut by half, the world would still end up catching too many fish to be sustainable for the future.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 September 23 09:39 PM  Trends Resource Depletion

Biobob said at September 24, 2010 1:10 AM:

It's the same old story, Randall, with the 'tragedy of the commons' a persistent meme. The reality is that only strict enforcement of realistic harvest limits where that is possible will avoid fisheries depletion. Species with global migratory patterns or pelagic life styles are likely doomed.

Randall Parker said at September 24, 2010 7:52 PM:


You bring up an interesting point: Which fish in American or Canadian waters spend most of their lifecycles in American or Canadian waters? Which fisheries can we save?

PacRim Jim said at September 24, 2010 8:11 PM:

Pirate submarines could solve the overfishing problem.

Wolf-Dog said at September 24, 2010 10:49 PM:

within 10 years genetically engineered fish meat will be grown in laboratory conditions, and this will be harvested in factories.

Biobob said at September 25, 2010 12:12 AM:


All of the Anadromous Salmonids, shad, most herring, pollack, haddock, shellfish, octopus, squid, crabs, etc can possibly be saved. These are the inshore species that generally live within the 200 mile economic zone protected by many countries, at least in theory. Most species of Tuna, many shark species, sailfish, marlin, swordfish, etc are likely to be harvested to near/actual extinction. Many whale species will suffer as their food stocks are removed by human harvest, like the ballooning krill harvesting underway in the antarctic, unless international agreements are made and enforced.

I expect regional wars/conflicts to erupt as marine species/resources significantly decline, and countries jostle over conflicting claims and poaching.

Randall Parker said at September 25, 2010 1:00 PM:


Thanks for the overview. Makes sense. So any species that travels longer distances and/or sits at the top of food chains is likely toast. How tragic.

Even the 200 mile economic zones won't work in cases where lots of countries have contiguous short coast lines. The US and Canada will protect their coasts. The Russians will probably eventually adopt sustainable practices. The EU countries can get it together for northern coasts. But the Med has too many different countries not part of the EU. So the Med is going to be badly hit. Ditto the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean coasts of Africa.

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